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Grace is at hand: Post photographer Jon Lakey back to work after chainsaw accident

By Susan Shinn
sshinn@salisburypost.com
Looking back, Jon Lakey can think of about a dozen different ways he could’ve taken that branch off the pine tree.
It was his first day of vacation. He and his family had been doing yard work all day, digging post holes to build a barn.
There had not been rain in some time.
“We were digging this mighty hard dirt,” says Jon, 41. “I decided to do something else.”
Wife Marti, also 41, had been after him for the better part of a year to cut the branch from a pine tree hanging over the pasture.
Her horse, Roy, loved to scratch his back on the branch, but Marti was afraid she’d get thrown into it one day.
“It was an unusual limb,” Jon says. “But I saw the practicality of removing it.”
He’d been using a chainsaw all afternoon, clearing away small trees to make room for Roy’s new barn.
“It was a pretty good-sized limb,” Jon says, “about as big as my arm. Using a bow saw would’ve taken me 12 minutes. A chainsaw would have taken 12 seconds.
“It was just another little thing to take care of while the saw was out.”
Jon grabbed the chainsaw and stepped up on a ladder to the second or third rung, his son Samuel, 14 1/2, steadying him.
“I wasn’t square with the limb,” Jon says. “I was kind of coming at it from the side. I was sawing up, probably at a 45-degree angle. As soon as I sawed it, the limb turned loose. The end of the limb hit the ground first, and the force of it came back toward my head.
“I reached out and took my right hand off the saw and grabbed the limb to deflect it. My left hand dropped. The chainsaw was decelerating but the blade was still moving pretty quickly. My left hand couldn’t support the weight of the saw in the angled position.
“It bounced right off my knuckles. That’s all it was. Just a quick bounce.”
Jon reaches out and demonstrates ó just a light touch on the knuckles.
“That’s all it needed,” he continues. “Chainsaws are indiscriminate on what they hit. They are designed to remove large chunks of matter quickly.
“I like to say the darn thing bit me.”
The chainsaw “bit” Jon, a Post staff photographer, across the knuckles of his right index and middle fingers.
His shooting hand.

At first, Jon felt no pain.
“I didn’t know how bad it was,” he says.
Marti had been changing Roy’s water.
“I heard the chainsaw running and then the chainsaw stopped,” she says. “Then I heard Jon say, ‘That don’t look good.’ ”
Everyone came to him, including his other two children, son Spencer, 17, and daughter Sarah Jane, 10.
His dad took one look at his hand, then looked at Jon and Marti and said, “You gotta go to the hospital.”
“I didn’t panic,” Jon says. “I was really mad at myself. Why did I do that? All the questions.”
Once the limb came back on him, he says, he knew exactly what he’d done wrong.
“But that was all irrelevant,” he says. “My fingers were still attached.”
He couldn’t lift them.
Samuel, a Boy Scout, ran and grabbed some rags, and they wrapped up his injured hand and applied pressure.
“I was very upset,” Marti says. At first, the couple thought he’d lose his fingers.
“I prayed before we even left the driveway,” Marti says.
Within minutes, Jon and Marti arrived at Rowan Regional Medical Center’s emergency department.
“I had sawdust all over me,” Jon says. “I’d been working all day. We were both dirty.”
He was seen right away.

By this time, Jon was going into shock, feeling lightheaded and nauseous.
He was told he had lacerated the tendons on top of his right index and middle fingers.
“I wish I’d had a camera,” Marti says. “It was something out of a horror movie. It was an incredible sight, actually. It’s just unique looking into parts of the hand. I could see bones. I could see where the tendons were lacerated.
“It was a really bad cut.”
Hospital personnel cleaned up his hand, stitched him up and sent him home.
He would have surgery a week and a half later.
Although Jon wanted surgery immediately ó “I wanted them to fix it now,” he says ó his surgeon was afraid his skin would not survive such a jagged cut.
So he waited at home.
“I was feeling fine,” Jon says. “I felt stupid. I was really mad I had done that to myself the first day of my durn vacation.
“It was a constant conversation with myself. It was all internal.”
He pauses.
“This is where it gets good.”

When you’re taken out of your normal daily routine, when you can’t do what you want to do, Jon says, what do you do?
“It becomes a time of reflection.”
Jon does that a lot anyway ó but not to the degree he’s done the last couple of months.
“I had plenty of time to sit and think,” he says. “I thought for eight weeks. I thought about all my friends and all the people who came by to help.”
Work on the barn continued on. The family kept at it. People from church came, too.
“I couldn’t sit in the house and mope,” Jon says. “I’d hand somebody a hammer or a drink.”
Marti’s dad and Jon’s dad “worked really good together,” Jon says. “That’s a blessing. It really is.”
Jon’s mom died 11 years ago, so his father ended up spending the rest of June and most of July at the house.
“Marti’s parents were here. The kids were loving it,” Jon says. “It was a perfect time to cut my hand as far as support.”
“He was so positive,” Marti says. “He’s the rock around here, because he’s the cheerful one.”
She adds, “Really, I felt guilty because I wanted that limb down. Jon is a safe person.”
Spouses often want to take on the other’s pain, Marti says. “This was the one time I didn’t want to switch places with him.”
Jon was apprehensive the day of surgery.
“The doctor said it was a nasty, imprecise wound,” he says. “It was not a good spot to have a cut.”
Outpatient surgery took two hours. Jon slept the rest of the day and all the next day.
Then his nerve block wore off, and the pain hit.
“I was amazed at how much pain it was,” he says. “I can’t even describe it.”
His whole hand was swollen. It’s still stiff in the mornings.
He started rehab the week after surgery. His goal was to be able to close his hand 95 percent of the way to a fist.
Occupational therapy helped him practice buttoning buttons, zipping zippers, everything you take for granted, he says.
At first, his fingers were rigid, like a board.
“You were trying to move something that didn’t want to bend,” Jon says.
Instead of taking several camping trips, Jon and Marti were working on his hand.
“We were home, which wasn’t bad either with gas prices,” he says. “We had a lot of home, quality time.”

The healing process has been longer than either of them expected, Marti says, but it’s drawn the whole family closer together.
“It makes you realize how you take each other for granted. The kids have really stepped up. We’ve prayed together more. We used to have devotions when the kids were younger and we’ve started that again.
“It could’ve been a lot worse than it was.”
 

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