July 21, 2015
Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon recently kicked off his monologue with a story about his finger – specifically, how he nearly lost it in a freak accident. His wedding ring caught on something as he tripped in his kitchen, resulting in an avulsion fracture of his ring finger.
Like all bizarre celebrity news, this story quickly diverted my attention from the highbrow content I usually consume. I read dozens of comments expressing surprise at the story, asking, “How weird is that?” and “Who’s ever heard of such a thing?”
But that’s not how my Navy friends reacted.
We had all heard of such a thing, because we remember a particularly gory workplace safety poster that featured a similar injury: The De-Gloving Poster.
It featured a larger-than-life-sized photo of a hand with all the skin on the ring finger missing, revealing a glistening mess of bone, muscle, and ligaments. The message was a not-so-subtle reminder that wearing a ring on board ship could land you the least desirable hand-modeling job in the world.
De-gloving was one of many hazards we faced at sea. While civilians are aware of the painfully obvious ones (getting shot at by the enemy), sailors receive ongoing warnings about a variety of outlandish accidents that have actually happened.
Military readiness depends on crews being prepared to fight, and no one can fight if he’s just been sucked headfirst into a spinning jet engine. The Navy has flight deck footage of this incident, and sure enough, the lucky sailor (he survived!) looked anything BUT ready to stand watch when the engine finally powered down and spit him out.
In no particular order, here are some other perils we strove to avoid:
- Getting cut in half by synthetic line snap-back while handling mooring lines
- Being swept away by a plane’s jet wash and plummeting into the sea
- Asphyxiation due to not properly changing the O2 cartridge of your OBA (oxygen breathing apparatus) while fighting a fire
- Being impaled by the shot line when standing in the wrong place during underway replenishment
- Having a limb sliced off by an invisible but deadly 1200 psi steam leak
- Walking into a spinning propeller blade
- Sustaining an electric shock while working on a live system that wasn’t properly isolated and tagged off
- Being crushed by improperly secured aircraft ordnance
- Wearing the wrong uniform – the polyester one – which will melt and fuse onto your skin in the event of a fire
We were constantly reminded to be careful, and with good reason. The demographic profile of your standard-issue Navy sailor is a 19-year old male with no concept of his own mortality and a cocaine-like addiction to risk. The list of targeted potential dangers was different when we left the ship for liberty, but it wasn’t shorter:
- Drinking too much cheap liquor
- Fighting with complete strangers
- Fighting with your drunken shipmates
- Getting that full sleeve tattoo you’ve always wanted – even if the tattoo parlor looks totally legit and the price is tantalizingly cheap
- Trusting a local who swears “this drug won’t stay in your system”
- Challenging a humorless bouncer to “Come at me, bro!”
- Trying to outrun the shore patrol or military police
- Missing the liberty boat back to the ship
- Passing out on the beach
- Waking up on the beach without your pants, wallet, or military ID
I’m purposely leaving out an entire category of no-no’s for sailors that has to do with…um…let’s call it romance, because I’m too embarrassed to type some of the words. Suffice it to say that the Navy wants its sailors perpetually “at the ready,” not languishing in sickbay nursing a suspicious rash.
Alas, even the best attempts at readiness sometimes fail. Despite reels of safety videos and that unforgettably graphic de-gloving poster (I’ve been out of the Navy for nearly 20 years and I still can’t un-see it), stuff happens.
Sometimes being careful isn’t enough. Just ask Jimmy Fallon.