On the forums and FB groups for wood flooring pros, we've all asked for advice and given advice. When one of us asks, "Is it Festool 150 or Bosch3725DEVS?" we all instantly know what the answer is (if you can afford it). When one of us asks, "What if I mix these two brands of water-base together for a first coat?" 73 of us answer to help out a brother. I can think of an endless number of examples, and it shows that we're looking to do things either the best way or a better way. There isn't much discussion about mediocre methods or on how to cut corners to make a buck. If you're reading this, then you're in the game with not only both feet—but heart and soul, too.
We give a lot of advice about tools: What's the best X? Is X better than Y? What I'm going to suggest in this article is that we need to think more about the most prized tool of all … a tool that has no equal, is beyond priceless and is irreplaceable: our bodies.
A few years ago, I was in the presence of a floor guy whose most prized accomplishment was that he worked alone. He had a Chevy van full of every good thing he needed to feed his family and earn a living. I asked, "Since you work alone, how do you get the big machine out of the truck and into the house?" He said, full of pride, "Watch!" and walked to his van a few steps away and opened the side door. Then he gripped his big machine, lifted it up and set it on the ground. Standing upright, he smiled at me and said, "I even take it upstairs with no trouble." By the way, he did not separate the engine from the chassis. This was an old American 8-inch drum—that's at least 210 pounds.
At first I was amazed, but after congratulating him on his heart and his strength, I walked away full of thought. I think of him sometimes and wonder how he is doing. He was a good soul, and I hope he is still in the game.
Now it comes to why I'm reflecting on this: Last week I got diagnosed with three torn ligaments in my shoulder—a rotator cuff injury. Now, I don't lift my big machine into or out of my truck by myself and won't try it. My fault is less apparent but noteworthy just the same. The osteo doctor turned to me while looking at my MRIs and asked, "What do you do for a living?" I said I was a contractor, and then asked him, "What did I do wrong to cause that injury?" He said, "Nothing, you've just a had a long life of hard work, and this is normal for your routine."
OK, great. I got to thinking about the "how" aspect of my injury and started Googling and YouTubing with reckless abandon. I've been mostly focusing on YouTube videos that are by physical therapists or osteo physicians. I even watched a few live arthroscopic operations to get a grip on what I may be experiencing in the future.
Mostly, I got the input that my injury would have been entirely avoidable had I known what I needed to know (but hey, I'm a he-man and don't mess with stuff like that).
I actually remember the day my injury happened. It was July last year, and I was hand-unloading oak off the delivery truck. The bed of the truck was about 4 feet off the ground, and the bundles were 8 feet long. I remember lifting each bundle over my head, setting it on my shoulder and taking it into the home. The delivery guy took two at a time, so you just know I had to do the same.
The thing about those 8-foot bundles is that if you don't stay right in the middle, the leverage force becomes quite large, and I had to use maximum strength to keep the bundles level as I walked. That was hard because we were moving fast. We didn't have time to "practice" on where the sweet spot was; we were just humping at full speed, production-style.
A few days later the pain came, and, thinking it was no big deal, I shrugged it off as regular workout pain. After a while, though, I relented and decided to go to the doctor in late November (yes, four months later). It was the classic "can't sleep on your side" rotator cuff injury.
My point is that we all get on the edge of our seats stating which big machine is best, or what is the proper way to adjust an edger, but we don't take into account the most valuable machine of all, our bodies.
I'm a hypocrite and admit it. I should've asked for help on the day I was injured, not because I couldn't lift a heavy load at that exact moment, but because I should have been thinking about the long-term plan for my health.
Someone in the Facebook group asked, "How do you guys save for retirement?" IRAs, 401Ks and real estate made it out of the gate quick, but then the real answer came through: "We're gonna die with our boots on" … or something to that romantic effect. I thought of that floor guy who lifts his big machine by himself when I read those comments.
So I reflected on it for a few days and decided to write about this to get the idea going that we all should give serious thought to what the heck we are doing while we work. Personally, I was unimpressed with the floor guy lifting his big machine in and out of his truck and had no intention of trying that out for myself—he can have the he-man title all by himself. But I do like using my Powernail #45 manual nailer over my Bostitch pneumatic tool. I actually like to feel the burn of my muscles as I work. I don't see that stopping anytime soon, but hoisting 55-pound bundles over my head? Yeah, that's going to stop. I certainly have the muscle power, but apparently the connective tissues in my shoulders are getting pissed off at the rate of exertion I put them through.
I have to re-think how I'm using my body and come up with a better plan. If I'm going to "die with my boots on," I would rather have it be me at 90 years old than at 60 years old. This he-man stuff has no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and I have to come to grips with that.