WORKING ON LOVE
Some women wear their hearts on their sleeve. I wear mine on my leg.
I’m 39 now, but when I was 21 I took a step that would change my life forever. At my summer job at a paper mill, I put my foot on top of an unguarded conveyer belt. It would be the last step I would take with my left foot before the machinery mangled it. My leg had to be amputated below the knee.
My heart was broken. I was no longer the girl spending time contemplating what shoes to wear or skipping out the door in the morning after eating my dad’s banana pancakes. Instead I was trying to choose a suitable foot to replace the one I had lost.
I came as close as one could by way of a English gentleman called David. His eye would craft the look of my first custom designed high heeled limb. His hands would shape it. Though our time together was brief, his affection for me I would wear for the rest of my life by way of a tiny heart, disguised as a freckle on my left ankle.
One of the best ways to show you care to the people you love is to come home safe.
I had my heart back. Rather than wasting my time looking for love in all the wrong places, I looked within. It wasn’t always easy. Ever since the incident, when looking in the mirror, what was missing was all I had been able to see. But I also came to see that what happened to me was not a “freak accident.”
Every day Canadians—young Canadians in particular—are losing lives and limbs at work. In 2015, the most recent year for official statistics,there were 852 workplace-related fatalities in Canada, according to the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety. Among those dead were 15 workers under age 24.
I deliberately don’t use the phrase “workplace accidents” because that implies these deaths could not have been prevented. Injuries in the workplace are preventable. So if we want to change our culture, we need to change our language and our approach. If we are going to eradicate these injuries in the workplace—and that is an achievable goal—companies and individuals need to accept responsibility.
I am not a not a workplace health and safety specialist. I’m a person who got hurt, one of many. My role is not to speak about rules and regulations – but to appeal to the hearts and minds of the workforce to make safety personal and never optional. Put another way: if you don’t truly understand how a workplace injury could affect your life, no amount of training will matter.
And I want to reach the employers too. I see mandates and missions boasting “Zero Injuries” as the only acceptable goal for corporate Canada.
Just this week I learned about a 33-year old man in New Brunswick who lost his life this month from a fall on a construction site, a fall that could have been prevented.
Once again, my heart is broken. I know his mother’s phone will ring—just as my mother’s did on August 11, 1999. This mother will not be nearly as lucky as mine was. Her son is not coming home.
As another Valentine’s Day approaches, I’ve had enough relationships and time to reflect on the meaning of love — and loss. My love letter to Canadian workers is a short one: No one goes to work alone and no one gets hurt alone. One of the best ways to show you care to the people you love is to come home safe. Trust me when I tell you, when you take a risk it’s not just your risk to take.
People say that when you do what you love, it isn’t work. But it takes a lot of heart to do this work. Thank heavens I have a spare one on my ankle.