Occupational Hazards A musician's run-ins with sharp knives and rusty can openers

Shenandoah Davis displaying the results of an occupational hazard: her broken finger - Pyragraph

Over the years, I’ve held down (sometimes well, sometimes barely) a series of part-time jobs between tours and busy musical times. I’ve been a barista, an accountant, a bartender, a server, a sushi chef, a tutor and a nanny, to name a few.

I’ve written before about why I enjoy “gainful” employment, and how it keeps me on track creatively. But as November is wellness month, and due to recent events, I’ve been ruminating on the moments when holding down a temporary day job (or just being downright clumsy) has nearly cost me my career. And my fingers and toes.

It’s true that musicians are wild, sexy, reckless people who throw caution to the wind.

We don’t have health insurance and eat rotten food out of dumpsters, or from between the seats of their tour van. But please let my ineptitudes and physical self-injuries remind you that sometimes accidents can occur when you’re not even having a good time. Also note, for fun, that part-time employees also almost never have health insurance.

Occupational Hazard #1:

I’m 21 years old and have been given a job as a sushi assistant. If this seems odd or impressive to you, be aware that the sushi restaurant was in a strip mall in Colorado, which is not exactly well-known for its sushi. I’m slicing a pile of about 30 avocados. I believe it’s my second week on the job. While I’m spinning an avocado around the blade of my brand-new, very sharp sushi knife, the avocado careens out of control and the blade slices my thumb about a third of the way off (reminiscent of this fantastic Jens Lekman song).

Outcome:

My mom picks me up. She takes me to the hospital. I get stitches. The owner of the sushi restaurant tells me she has worker’s comp and asks for a copy of the bill. I come back to work the next day and make sushi with a plastic glove over my thumb demobilizer. Three months later, I quit, after receiving no paid overtime for any of the 70+ hour weeks I’ve been working.

I then get a pink bill from a collections agency for my trip to the hospital. I no longer live in Colorado, so my father goes to the sushi restaurant himself after none of my calls are returned. The owner claims she paid it, then makes the (valid-if-TOTALLY-ILLEGAL) argument that it was my fault. I’m not sure who ended up paying the bill, but I am pretty sure it wasn’t me. I realize that I almost sliced off my entire thumb and decide that having a job is not worth losing a thumb.

Occupational Hazard #2:

I’m 24 years old and have been given a job as a barista. I’ve been awake since 4:30am and drunk since 1pm. I am moving furniture around my house to get ready for a house show. I pick up my 50-pound keyboard and the 8-foot bench under it teeters squarely onto my foot. I am holding my 50-pound keyboard and cannot move. I scream.

Outcome:

One of my roommates comes downstairs and moves the bench off of my foot. I go to the hospital (all by myself, because now I’m a real grown-up), but I don’t go until the next day because I wanted to stay and watch the house show—and I usually wait until four or five pretty major things are wrong before I go to the doctor’s office, as I don’t have insurance.

My foot is X-rayed, and all four of my smaller toes are broken. This discovery costs me $300. Perhaps you, dear reader, are not aware of the treatment for a broken toe. This is because there is no treatment. They just heal, sort of, and while they heal they are transformed into horrible, twisted ogre toes that don’t fit into shoes anymore.

I leave two days later for tour, and have my foot resting on the dashboard of the car all day before limping into the venue each night with my keyboard case, because no one can carry my keyboard case for me, because I am an independent woman.

Occupational Hazard #3:

I’m 27 years old and have been given a job as a bartender. I am opening a can of to make a lychee martini for a young lady who is sitting about five feet away from me at the bar. I struggle with the rusty can opener for a minute, and then the lid suddenly pops open and embeds directly into my hand. It has essentially the same point of entry as Occupational Hazard #1, but goes in at a different angle, and thankfully, isn’t quite as deep. It is, however, the rusty lid of a can, and not a brand-new knife.

Outcome:

I bleed a lot, and the girl who ordered the drink sees the whole thing. I try applying an entire first-aid kit’s worth of Band-Aids to the wound, and then put a glove over it, because the place is understaffed and I am going to stick it out. This works somewhat well until the glove also fills with blood, like a giant blood balloon, and blood starts dripping out of the glove and down my arm.

My boyfriend takes me to the cheap, fake hospital (I’ve learned my lesson). They glue my hand back together, recommend I get a tetanus shot (which I don’t, because it’s $80). I get another immobilizer, but this one goes on my index finger, not my thumb. I am again moved by my near-loss experience and remind myself that having a day job is only important if I am still able to play piano, so I must be more careful, or not work at all, so that I may protect my delicate hands. Then I go to work the next day.

Occupational Hazard #4:

I’m 28 years old and have been given a job as a server. I am driving home from my second day of work. I turn onto the freeway, and while on the onramp, the car I’m driving hits a slick patch of road (because it’s the Northwest and everything is wet and dark) and the front of the car goes into the dividing wall. In the seconds before the crash, I think “I am going to die.”

Outcome:

I do not die.

I pull the car to the other shoulder. I try to get out and check the damage, but the driver’s side door does not open because that side of the car is smashed in. I realize I am in a dangerous position and drive to the next exit, where I pull into a gas station and call my husband (who is incidentally also the owner of the smashed car). A nice man in a tow truck comes, puts the car on his truck, and gives me a ride home.

I do not go to work the next day. I stay in bed. I stay in bed for three days. I decide that I am cursed and that anything I touch will turn to a pillar of dust and crumble at my touch. Then I run out of bubble bath and wine on the same day and leave my apartment to go to the store.

I will probably be the person who steps on an escalator at the wrong angle and gets my ankle sucked into its moving parts.

Or the person whom a suitcase lands on after the compartment on a 747 gets knocked off; or the person who chokes on something embarrassing, like a pistachio shell, or a shoelace that couldn’t be untied.

I do reckless and stupid things from time to time, like a normal person, but my own bouts with danger seem to come randomly. I do look forward to the day I have health insurance, which I haven’t had for 11 years now, but health insurance will never be able to stop me from slicing through my hands, breaking my toes, or wrecking other people’s cars.

Health insurance may not encourage me to visit the emergency room the next time I impale myself with a chopstick or walk through a sliding glass door. I guess my closing statement is this: Wellness is important, but it can’t be the most important facet of your life, or your identity as an artist. No one ever became famous or wrote a good song because they were well. Try to take care of yourself, and try not to die…but keep in mind that some accidents are unavoidable…or, in my case, avoidable-yet-strangely-magnetized-in-a-way-that-makes-them-seem-legitimately-unavoidable.

Author photo courtesy of Shenandoah Davis; lychee photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Occupational hazard: Lychee, apparently - Pyragraph

About Shenandoah Davis

Shenandoah Davis grew up studying classical piano and got her Bachelor’s Degree in opera performance. Since then, she has crafted her own brand of classically-influenced pop music, winning over audiences worldwide with her dynamic live performances and lushly orchestrated recordings.

She’s performed with artists including Zoe Keating, Martha Wainwright, Mirah, Amanda Palmer, Emily Wells, Portland Cello Project, and many more.  She’s played shows all over the United States, Japan, New Zealand, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and the UK. She has previously kept a tour journal for Seattle’s City Arts Magazine and lives in Seattle with her husband and dog.

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