Last week, someone got hurt in class.
He spent half an hour lying on the floor, whimpering into silence.
No, it wasn’t some horrific accident like the kind my parents worry about happening to me — no hands were caught between engine pulleys or transmission gears and ground into a bloody pulp.
The guy fell out of the trunk of a car.
For real. That’s what happened.
You see, our shop assignment that day [CAR SPEAK ALERT] was to remove a component of the car’s rear suspension, a part called the strut (a spring combined with a shock absorber), to be exact. Struts are positioned vertically behind the wheels of cars. They go up in a fairly straight line from behind the wheel right up to the bottom of the car body.
This means that while the bottom bolts of the strut are accessible by reaching underneath the car, the top of the strut is bolted to the car itself, and therefore the bolts are generally INSIDE the car, fastening it there. We dug around and eventually found the top bolts inside the trunk, underneath the carpet in the shadowy inner corner.
Some groups got access to the bolts by going through the rear passenger seats. But the best angles for ratcheting and unscrewing the bolts could only be achieved by climbing into the trunk and working in there.
So that’s what this guy had been doing. Since other teams were also working on the bottom parts of their struts at the same time, all the cars we were using were on lifts, elevated a few feet off the ground. Not sure how high exactly; maybe 3 feet? Not exactly Mt. Everest, but requiring moderate levels of coordination for ascent and descent.
And this guy botched it. Twisted his knee and wound up on the floor, drawing the attention and curiosity of the entire shop.
Full disclosure: I had been doing this exact same job. In fact, I was the one in the class who realized that going into the trunk was the best option, and since I am one of the few in class small enough and agile enough to comfortably fit in a trunk (put that on the ole resume), I jumped right in. And out. Several times over the course of the afternoon, to loosen this bolt and that bolt and “oh can you get this one too” and “what the hell, just take ‘em all out, you’re already in there” and then of course tightening all the bolts back up when we put the strut back on.
And not once did I injure myself hopping in and out of the trunk, because I am a ~graceful swan~ oh yes.
But this guy, either through clumsiness or sheer bad luck, managed to get himself hurt. There was a flurry of activity and sympathy at first: clustering around where he lay half-curled on the floor; fetching him an ice pack; fetching him a chair; helping him get into it — but by the fifteen-minute mark, after he’d abandoned the chair in favor of lying unmoving on the floor again, sympathy began to ebb among some of my classmates.
I heard one of my friends laughing around the toolbox with some of the other guys.
“What?” I asked.
“Nothing, just laughing at what a terrible person I am.”
“Oh really? Why?”
He lowered his voice a jot. “Look, he’s in pain. I get it. I’ve been there.” (For reference, this friend was awarded five — count ‘em, FIVE — Purple Hearts before being medically discharged from the Army after 15 years, and takes daily prescription painkillers for the injuries that still haven’t quite healed. He specializes in getting shot and blown up.) “But it’s like, come on, man, you don’t have to lie down on the floor; that’s a bit dramatic.”
I told him I was inclined to agree, because if I got hurt in class, no matter how bad it was, you know what I’d do? Hide it. Why? Because I’m a girl. And the minute anyone sees me show weakness in that kind of public way, that’s the last time anyone’s gonna take me seriously. I don’t care if that means I have to hole up in the bathroom until an ambulance gets there — there’s just too much credibility at stake for me to risk anyone seeing me in that sort of state. Lots of people already think I am weaker or less competent because I’m female; I can’t afford to give them anything that might reinforce their stereotyping.
This guy, on the other hand, could lie on the floor for an hour if he wanted and people are still going to think he’s better suited for this profession than I am.
The next day, I overheard him talking to his friends and it turns out he had pre-existing problems with his ACL, but like most guys in school, he can’t take the necessary time off to get surgery, even if he can afford to pay for it. So yeah, his injury and behavior make a bit more sense. But still.
Why does this matter so much to me? Well, I’m not especially physically strong. I’m not especially athletic. I have a family history of arthritis and a personal history of back problems, and I live in constant fear that they will rear their party-pooping heads and derail my fledgling career. Or that I will otherwise destroy myself physically. (The night before I started school, I had freakout to a friend which basically consisted of me going, “BUT WHAT IF I GET HURT?!” and her going, “You’re not going to get hurt,” and me going, “YOU DON’T KNOW THAT!” A barrel of laughs I was that night, yup yup.)
So I have to admit that it eats at me to know that there are guys in this industry who are just as physically damaged as I am, if not much more so, who are probably much more of a liability than I am, and yet people are going to look at that guy and infer “strong” but look at me and infer “weak.” Because, again, in case you forgot, I am a girl.
It’s frustrating, to say the least.
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