Rubbed Raw

I often find myself examining my hands because I’m unaccustomed to these marks. I have, what one of my uncles once called, a cushy desk job. I am a data analyst, spending most of my days at a computer or in meetings, not working with my hands the way others do. I am probably one of those guys the “manly men” (and they are mostly men) mock as they drink a beer after a hard day’s work using their hands to fix furnaces or cars, stuff for which I have little aptitude. A workday where—at the end—they can point to something tangible, a building or road built and say, “I did that.”

I received my first callus of the year at the Brown Deer golf course driving range this spring. I had a glove on my left hand but got a sore on my third finger of my right hand from the way I was gripping the club. This callus has long since faded like the leisure time that doesn’t exist right now for me and many other flood victims. I still had my golf callus when I received the next batch while tying sandbags without gloves. Later in the first day of sandbagging, I found some tight fitting gloves to wear while tying but the damage had been done. The twine that seals the sandbags had cut its way through the skin on my first knuckle of three different fingers. Using reserve energy I didn’t know I had and working through any pain and fatigue was one of the most astonishing things. My body may have been tired and hands hurt but my mind said, “There is no choice. The floodwaters are coming. We have to get ready.” Many others must have had the same feeling because the collective effort was phenomenal. Even in our relatively small neighborhood, hundreds of people came to build a sandbag wall in an effort to keep the river at bay.

After we evacuated our house the river made its way into the neighborhood, our yard and our house. My next calluses were on my fingertips. Wet carpet and padding is too slippery to wear gloves while pulling it up. Even though the carpet would come up in big sections, it was far too heavy with floodwater to move in one piece. I used a utility knife to cut the carpet into two-foot sections and throw it out the nearest window, trying to remove any moisture from the house as quickly as possible. Again, the extra energy kicked in because of the urgent need to dry out the house before any mold began to grow. Less than two weeks after we evacuated our house, I returned to my cushy desk job but felt like I had taken on a part-time job for which I never interviewed. Many evenings and weekends are spent at the house, cleaning, rearranging and moving.

The most recent marks on my hand were from cleaning rain gutters on our house at the advice of our building contractor. I pried the gutter screen from under the roofing tiles then bent them up so I could reach around and scoop out the accumulated mud inside. Not wearing gloves or a long sleeve shirt initially left my hand with long scratches looking like I was in a knife fight or had made a razor blade suicide attempt with terrible aim. Even though most of the marks, calluses and scratches on my hand have faded, there will surely be more in this clean-up and restoration effort as I continue to emulate the manly men.