Burned Man Walking

In the summer of 2009, while painting a two story house house in the Glen Park neighborhood of Gary, Indiana, those of us working on the project needed to trim some of the surrounding trees. This resulted in two piles, one front and one back, of tree limbs that the cheap-ass City of Gary would not pick up and haul away. (That summer, Gary frequently just skipped regular weekly garbage pickups without notice to the citizens. Getting special pickup for yard waste? Ha! Do not make me laugh!) So the project boss had been waiting for some fly-by-night stuff haulers to wander by and offer to make the piles disappear for a small amount of money. These are the guys who drive around the city, usually in battered old pickups, who approach anyone doing any sort of work and offer to help out or haul stuff for a few bucks. Few to no questions are asked on either side. Yes, it's all a bit shady but they do provide a needed service.

I was thinking that if I had had a place to dispose of the yard waste I would have put all the crap into my pickup and taken the fee, but I didn't have anywhere to put the mess, so that wasn't going to happen.

Friday was the boss's lucky day. This white dude with much inked skin wandered by, asked if we needed help on the jobsite, and wound up agreeing to haul the tree bits away. He just needed to go get his brother and a cart. A price was agreed upon, and off he went.

(Just a note: if ever you wish to apply for a job with this boss/landlord please minimize the amount of tattoos you are showing. His initial experience of tattoos was his mother explaining how the Nazi prison camp guards inked the numbers on her forearm back in the 1940's when she was a little girl. This has given him a negative view of tattoos ever since. He won't say jack to you about it, he may even still hire you, but they do bother him. A lot.)

As it happened, the boss needed to run another errand and thus left the small fee with me along with instructions on job completion and payment. Well, a bit later the guy showed up with his brother. Said brother seemed a few fries short of a happy meal, and surly on top of it. I'll call the one dude Walker (since he walked) and the other guy Tractor because that's what he was riding, a little green John Deere tractor probably twice his age. A little bitty one. It was like watching an NBA forward ride a Big Wheel Bike There was a little cart attached to the little tractor. Walker started loading up the cart and when it was full Tractor put-putted down the road. No way was that thing really legal to drive on a road, but whatever. Not my problem.

After the second load was driven away I noticed Walker had a pronounced limp. He mentioned that he accidentally got in the way of a welding torch while working on a roof, mainly by slipping and falling into the path of the torch. He then displays a nasty, nasty wound on side of his leg just above the ankle, a patch about the size of my hand and fingers held together. Walker announces this is a third degree burn.

Yep. I'd have to say it looked pretty nasty. Not with blackened charred skin, no, not that, it doesn't have to be black to be dead tissue - the central third was actually a nasty gray crust that had clearly shrunk up somewhat, pulling open the surrounding skin, which was also heavily damaged. The burn bled with every step this guy took. It had not (yet) progressed to the stench-of-rotting-flesh stage, or at least not to a point noticeable in the outside air, but there was dirt and grit all over this guy. Burns need careful protection from the environment and this guy was a walking mudpile.

Frankly, I was horrified. My mommy impulse (yes, I do have one - I may be all macho tradeswoman and stuff, but I'm still a woman with nurturing impulses even when I have my hardass act in full swing) wanted to bundle him into the car and drive him to the ER and demand he be seen immediately. There was obviously a throng of various microbes turning his damaged flesh into a party house for germs. His ankle was starting to swell. His said his toes were tingling. He mentioned that it was painful. Hell yes, I'd expect it to be. Except, of course, the part of the burn where the nerves were completely destroyed, that didn't hurt at all, of course. I was thinking that this guy was the sort who wouldn't realize that the less such a burn hurt the worse it actually was.

I asked if he'd seen a doctor. No, he hadn't. How long ago did this happen? Three or four days. Do I think he should go to a doctor, or wait and see if it gets better?


Holy shit, I never imagined that I would have to explain to an adult human being that when you get a third degree burn you need to see a doctor!

Well, OK, he would see a doctor. When he gets someone to drive him there. After this job. And the other two jobs he needs to get done....

(This is the point in the tale where I find a wall and start banging my head against it, because it hurts less that the stupidity...)

When Tractor got back Walker loaded up the cart (I did mention this was a small cart, yes? If these guys weren't such pathetic trainwrecks this would be funny) and they rinse and repeat several times, with Walker falling down at least three times that I saw. Walker said Tractor had just finished an anger management class and had a bad temper and would probably take all of the money for this job. Meanwhile, I am trying to get Walker to rinse the grit off his Massive Suppurating Wound with the garden hose - no, it's not sterile, but probably better than leaving dirt in there - and unwind some paper towel to give him the cleanest possible stuff to blot it dry and urge him to sit down and drink some ice water (we keep a cooler on the jobsite with drinks on hot days). He was almost certainly running a fever. He was wonky from pain. He had got a third degree burn that was clearly infected.

I told him to get a cab ride over to the urgent care center on Route 30 - he would be seen quicker there than in an ER in Gary on a Friday night, because gunshot wounds take precedence over burns that aren't actively killing a guy And if he did need true emergency care the urgent care center would say so and get his ass to a hospital..

Meanwhile, Tractor showed up, apparently pissed that there was more crap to haul than he thought originally and he wanted more money. He said he wouldn't finish until there was more money. I explained that if he wished additional payment he needed to take it up with the boss, who would be back in about a half an hour. He was surly, but not particularly aggressive towards me. Then again, I called him "sir", smiled, and just happened to have a yard long tree saw in one hand and an iron prybar in the other at the time he was speaking to me (must put away tools, yes? Pure coincidence I was starting with the big dangerous looking implements first. Speak softly and carry Dangerous Objects). So Tractor drove off, leaving his wounded and sick brother to walk back home.

When the boss arrived back at the jobsite I filled him in on the various antics. I told him about the burned guy and he said "No shit? You aren't kidding?" Well, Walker showed up again and the boss did get a look at his leg. Came back to me and said "yes, that's a bad burn".

I said "Tell him to go to a doctor" and a few minutes later I heard the boss say that to Walker. I figured another person saying it couldn't hurt, and, well, I'm a girl, it's easy to dismiss me as a wimp but the boss is an ex-football player and massively macho, I thought him saying "get your ass to a doctor" might carry more weight with a Young and Dumb male than me saying it.

Meanwhile, the New Kid on the crew mostly watched and didn't say much. I asked him if he knew what to do if a situation got ugly on a jobsite, like, say, Tractor demanding money we don't have or something, and we went over a couple scenarios. Not that I have ever had to deal with something that ugly, but there's a reason my cellphone stays on my hip where I can quickly dial 911. Unless, of course, running like hell looks like a better option to take first. Sad fact is, although the New Kid was 18 and male and bigger than me I think he'd be useless in a real physical confrontation, he just doesn't think like someone who has actually had to defend himself for real.

Also pointed out to the kid that that sort of accident is exactly why the boss rides his ass at times. The boss doesn't want that sort of injury. No one with any sense does. That's why we kept hammering him over the head with the word "safety". The kid hadn't seen an injury that bad before, and was amazed the guy was walking around on it. I pointed out that it wasn't so much he was injured (that was bad enough, but accidents happen) but rather his neglect of the injury showed extremely poor judgment and would you want to be on a job site with a guy like that? The kid looked at me and said "That's the kind of thing where if it gets bad you could lose your foot, right?" Yes, exactly right. Or your life.

Frankly, I'm a little amazed the guy was walking on it myself. He was seriously messed up.

Anyhow, about two weeks later Walker showed up again and apologized for not having finished hauling all the tree debris away (because, apparently, his lazy-ass tractor-driving brother couldn't be bothered to finish). It seems he did take the advice of several people and go to a doctor. He was admitted to the hospital and basically spent a week with IV antibiotics being pumped into him. He was much better, and seemed a bit more... um.. focused? Rational? Not messed up with pain and infection. He showed us the wound. It was still a hellacious looking injury, and he was going to have a very definite burn scar sort of in the shape of Agentina, but the dead, rotting tissue was gone and what was left was a healthy color and properly scabbed over (no skin grafts, apparently - perhaps it was just a really, really nasty second degree burn. I don't know, I'm not a doctor). His leg was back to normal otherwise and no more infection.

Six months later, he called the boss and demanded payment for the job. The boss told him to go fuck himself, as he and his brother never did finish the damn job. Walker claimed the boss never paid them at all. The boss pointed out that he had two witnesses to the act of payment (the New Kid and me) and had noted the transaction in his records, including the bank transaction where he withdrew the money for said job which was never finished, and go fuck yourself again.

Needless to say, Walker and Tractor will not be hired ever again by the boss. Or me, should I ever need such services. For some reason, they seem genuinely puzzled at our hard-ass attitude.

The irony is, of course, that this guy probably had easily several thousand dollars in tattoos on his body, but woouldn'tt spend the money to get a third degree burn checked out. I just do not understand some people. Well, OK, maybe he was hard up for cash, but that sort of injury you can get help for even if you're indigent as, untreated, it is life-threatening.

© 2007

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