If you've been following me this week, you know I've been reminiscing about the summer after I graduated from college in 1967, when I worked in a paper mill. It was a temporary gig, just for the summer, filling in for people on vacation. It was among the most challenging times of my life. I worked 12:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. most of the time, because people who work shift work usually take their vacation during the shift they hate the most.
The weird thing is, even though I worked there all summer, I remember only three days out of the whole summer. (I mentioned earlier, I suspect my brain has blocked out most of the memories to save me further trauma.) These four days are the fodder of this week's blog. I don't know if they happened in any particular order, I just am relating the details as I remember them.
For today's tale, I tried to draw a diagram of the machine called the compressor, which was one of the tools I used on this particular day, but, unfortunately I'm not exactly a gifted artist, so you'll have to use your imagination. My duties on this day (or week? I have no idea) entailed standing in front of a bin which caught paper plates as they fell off the dryer conveyor belt, stack them in piles of 125, put them in the compressor, a lovely gadget that squeezed all the air out from between them so they would take less space when packed into a box for shipping, and pack them..
I've always been pretty good at counting--I could count to 100 before I went to kindergarten--so this should have been a "cream puff" assignment. The counting part was. Things got a little tricky at the compressor. (Explaining it is tricky, as well, which is why I unsuccessfully tried to draw a diagram!) The compressor was a tube-like gadget perched between two poles. At the bottom of the tube, which was about three feet off the floor, was a round flat surface on which I was to place the stack of 125 (no more, no less) paper plates. The front of the tube had a rounded screened door which when pulled closed, was designed to keep the stack of plates in place as the weight from the upper pole came down on the plates to compress them--force out empty space--so they could fit into the packing box.
The tricky part of this process was to keep the stack of paper plates straight while closing the screen door. The door closing caused the upper pole to come down slowly on the plates. It was necessary to use your left hand and arm to keep the plates perfectly stacked while you pulled the screened door shut. The door was curved, like the plates. Once the door came within a short distance of being closed, it would close the rest of the way automatically and lock, then the vertical pressure would be engaged, squeezing those mothers together for packing. It all depended on timing; you had to hold the stack in place with your left hand and arm while closing the door with your right hand, and yank your left arm out at the last minute before the lock engaged.
For a time, all went well. I was able to tune out the chugging and wheezing of the machines around me, focus on getting the right number of plates in a stack, get them compressed, and slide them in the box. (Did I mention most people who worked here for years ended up with varying degrees of hearing loss, due to the constant noise level?)
I'm not sure what happened next. Maybe the heat was getting to me; maybe I was getting tired; in any case, on one of my compression steps, things went awry. I wasn't quick enough pulling my arm out of the compressor before the lock engaged. There I was, arm held fast between the round paper plates and the round screen door. The screen wasn't the soft screening like you have in a screened door in your home. It was more like stiff chicken wire with half-inch square holes in it. I couldn't open the door, and I couldn't withdraw my arm. Little half-inch squares of flesh were being pushed out the half-inch squares of the screen. The skin wasn't broken--no blood pouring out, thank goodness, but it hurt like the dickens!
I yelled for help, but in the cacophany of chugging and hissing and wheezing of all the machines, it was several minutes before the foreman came running to my assistance. (yeah, the same guy who had yelled at me previously! He just loved me, by now!) He also tried unsuccessfully to open the door, but the lock was engaged; it would not budge. Ultimately a technician was required to disconnect the machine, which released the pressure, which released the door lock, and they carefully opened the door. I was holding back tears at this point--I wasn't about to let that jerk of a foreman see me cry!
I was taken to the infirmary, where an x-ray determined that nothing was broken. The doctor said I had suffered "muscle trauma" and prescribed ibuprofen and three days of rest--Music to my ears! I actually got three days off with pay because it was a work related injury! Yes, Eva, there is a Santa Clause!