Inevitably, people get hurt in the workplace. For the average person it’s really nothing serious. A hand slammed in a door. A toenail bent back from stubbing it on something. Getting whipped across the face by some young interns hair as she turns away as fast as she can for catching you peeing in the coffee pot. It happens.
Unfortunately, when someone gets hurt on a construction site it’s usually a major injury. I have seen cuts and burns and bruises the likes of which would haunt you for a while. Once I saw a guy step on a nail so hard it went through his work boot bottom and through his foot. When he pulled his boot off, a stream of blood shot out of the bottom of his foot like someone had turned on a tap. Again, these are all rare occurrences but they do happen.
I like to think that’s where the stereotype of the rugged construction worker comes from. I have cut myself wide open and fixed it with paper towel and electrical tape in order to get the job done. It’s something we look for in every prospective employee but it’s also something you really don’t know if someone has inside them unless faced with an injury.
Our season had just started and it was booming. A hard winter followed by a quick thaw left homes with water issues all over our area. We were struggling to keep up with the demand. We had no choice but to hire more new employees quickly. It’s easily one of my least favorite things ever. Right up there with a possible root canal from a dentist known for explosive diarrhea and an aversion to washing his hands after wiping.
One of the first guys that showed with a resume was a young, thick-bodied kid who listed security guard as his previous occupation. During the brief conversation I had with him he seemed to fit the bill perfectly. Great attitude. Muscle to spare. Exactly what I needed. A bulldozer to just move stuff around.
The morning of his first day, he showed up early and was already sitting in my work truck when I arrived. The rest of the team showed up and we headed to the job. A huge new home that we had no idea what it would look like when we got there or what the product we would install was. When we arrived the house was perfectly set up but the shingles were sitting stacked neatly on the ground. After a brief conversation with the site manager it was agreed that we would just carry all hundred or so bundles for a more money. For me it was win/win. Make more money and test out the new guy right off the bat.
It was a heavier product than normal and I hoisted a bundle across my shoulder and headed up the ladder. Looking back over my shoulder I noticed the new guy struggling to lift a bundle onto his shoulder.
” Just awkward,” He yelled up when he noticed me looking. I nodded and left him to figure it out as I surveyed the best place to start. The rest of the team soon joined me and after a brief discussion we set to work. I noticed the new guy hadn’t yet joined us and I turned to Dart to see where he was.
” Where the fuck is he?,” I asked.
” No idea,” Dart answered ” He was right behind me when I was on my way up.”
I stood up and stomped over to the ladder and stopped in my tracks when I looked down. There laying in the sand surrounding the new build, holding his back and crying was the new guy. I flew down the ladder and dropped to my knees beside him.
” My back,” he groaned ” I broke my back….”
My heart stopped. He had been on the job site for all of six minutes. He hadn’t even made it up the ladder once and here he was with a broken back. He let out a racking sob that choked me up. I did everything I could to keep him still. My hands grabbed his shoulders and I kept reassuring him he would be fine. I screamed for the rest of the team to call for help, get an ambulance, something, anything. His groans were getting worse and I started to fear he would be paralyzed.
A shadow fell over me and I looked up to see Dart staring down at the scene. Here on the ground was his older brother holding a huge younger man as he cried whispering that he would be just fine. The echo of his laughter rippled through the structure and I instantly snapped at him.
” It’s not fucking funny,” I yelled.
” Ask him when he broke his back,” Dart called down with a snort.
I turned my gaze back down and asked ” When did you break your back?”
The response was not what I expected.
” Almost two years ago.” He snuffled ” I tried to climb the ladder but fell of the first step.”
” And you thought laying here crying was the best way to handle it,” I growled at him.
” I figured someone would just take me home,” he exhaled with a tremulous sob ” Am I still going to get paid?”
” Sure ,” I said ” I was paying you thirteen dollars an hour and you worked for six minutes. Lets take you home and I will write you your cheque for the dollar and thirty cents I owe you.”