"Can I take a bump?" I asked. I had never even been in a wrestling ring before. I wanted to feel what it was like to hit the mat. There was an immediate accepting look in my friend Jaime's eye. Jaime is also known as the Jersey Devil in wrestling circles. I think I gained some credibility by using the term "bump", it was wrestling lingo for a fall or hard landing. But I gained more credibility by taking that bump from via an immediate high leap in the air, quick flip, and hard crash right to the mat flat on my back. It's what I expected, the ring had a little give but the impact could still be felt. After I took my “bump”, Jamie was impressed and we were ready to move on to our task at hand- Teaching me how to get "jackhammered". Essentially a move that would have me lifted upside down with my body straight up in the air, my toes probably capping just under the 12 ft mark and a hard crash to the mat.
I was in my former high school's gym just before the doors opened for a charity professional wrestling match benefitting a deceased classmate’s scholarship fund. Marty Boryczewski was working in the Twin Towers on 9/11 and was a victim of the attacks. This event was a benefit for Friends of Marty. The Jersey Devil, Jamie Pitaro, is also a former classmate of mine. We had gotten reacquainted in recent years especially after I learned Jamie worked semi-pro as a wrestler. He had some runs in the WWE and other organizations and now wrestled through his own promotion, D2Wrestling. I'm not that much of a wrestling groupie but I definitely consider it a guilty pleasure. Something I always liked as a kid and kept a little quiet from most of my friends. However the event was my chance. I always joked with Jamie about coming in the ring at one of his events and getting slammed or even something more intense like the jackhammer. So the benefit was perfect. It was in my high school, my hometown, Denville NJ, and it was for charity. We even had an "angle" worked out. (Angle is wrestling term for storyline).
I'm a Councilman in Denville so Jamie thought I should come into the ring as a "heel" (wrestling talk for bad guy) and demand the event be shut down because they didn't have the proper paperwork, etc. Naturally the Jersey Devil is a "face" (good guy). It was a great angle although we revised it slightly. I wasn't ready to actually play myself in the ring, especially as a heel. That certainly wouldn't help the re-election campaign someday. So a slight revision had me playing the part of a state official that was shutting the event down. It was still brilliant.
But let's get back to rehearsing before the event. I was ready for the jackhammer. Pretty simple, Jaime grabs my neck and I jump up and push off from his knee. Sticking my legs straight up as high as I can is the true art of the maneuver. This enables Jaime to hold me up there flawlessly forever. After that hold, we come crashing down. We gave it a shot. Slam! down to the mat I go. Not too bad but I didn't extend my legs enough. We try a few times just the jump and without Jaime actually slamming me and then we do another with the slam down. The second one was a little harder fall but apparently looked great. After I landed, I did recognize, "wow, if you do this a lot, it could start to hurt or I could even see how you could get a concussion” but I only needed to take one more. The doors were going to open in 30 minutes. Jaime sent me on my way and I hurried home to get into my NJ Sport Commission costume- Basically a blazer, tie and jeans.
As soon as the event began, I rushed the ring from a chair in the audience and interrupted, as planned. I worked the mic a little and got the crowd hating me like any good heel would. I insulted the ring announcer, the audience and anyone else who got in my view then I demand to see who's in charge!
CUE Jersey Devil's theme song.
Of course, I acted surprised with the famous surprise look that all wrestlers do. Jaime came out and we banter on the mic like any good wrestling angle. I acted slightly frightened with the "I don't want any trouble" act that wrestlers also do. "I just don't want anybody to get hurt", I exclaim to the Jersey Devil. (That was the cue) The Jersey Devil paused and looked to the crowd who were cheering, "slam him”! He then looked at me then gave me low kick to my stomach, I dropped my fake state papers and up I went for the jackhammer. It was gorgeous. I held my legs perfectly straight and he had me held up there for what seemed like an hour. And the Jersey Devil brought me down harder than ever. I hit the mat hard. I knew when we landed it looked great. I did the standard "ouch my back" move and I slowly lumbered to the side of the ring where my friends were supposed to escort my injured body out. As I rolled over I felt a little scrape near my hand, saw a little blood and thought I must have scraped my finger. These were my next thoughts:
"That's worse than a scrape"
"My wife's going to kill me"
"Wow that's really bad"
"Expletive, I hope Jaime doesn't add more improv moves to this routine"
"Ok, don't let anyone see it"
"Wendy's (wife) going to kill me"
The top of my right pinky finger was twisted and hanging off. While I was telling myself it was just the skin of my pink, I saw the broken bone sticking out on the portion that wasn't hanging off. I knew deep inside, it was bad. It must have come between my body, Jaime and the mat. However, this was professional wrestling! The term "kayfabe" echoed in my head. That means, “stay in character”. It was actually all I could do. There was no first aid at the event, the audience was filled with little kids and I couldn’t alarm anyone. All I could do was mask the injury and stumble out of the ring. As soon as I did, I immediately whispered to my friend, John, who was still in awe of how well I took the jackhammer, "Ok, I really (expletive)-ed up my finger, we have to go the hospital” And away we went, still masking the real injury while I faked an injury to my back. That made it easy to hold my hand behind me as we exited the gym.
(VIDEO FOOTAGE OF EVENT - you can see me notice the injury as I leave the ring, then whisper to my friend that we have to go to the hospital)
Luckily the hospital is only 2 minutes from my old high school. As soon as I enter the ER, the purple-haired check-in girl is impressed. Some of the other nurses are impressed too. "How'd you do that?” -a question that I'd have to get used to. I wanted to make up some really cool story like I was attacked by a shark, or I saved children from a collapsing church, but I then realized --the real story already rocked pretty hard!!! At this point, I still believed they could just re-attach the finger and stitch me up. After I saw the ER doctor, I start to worry just a little. He basically said, he couldn't do anything with it and was calling a hand surgeon, which could take anywhere from 2-4 hours. So I sat and waited with a bleeding hand and the tip of my pinky hanging off. We must have just landed right on the tip of my finger when we came down on the mat, and it just snapped right off.
The nurses were continuously interested in how this happened and my friend John then showed them video. As proud as I was of such an impressive accident, I had to interrupt at one point. "Can I get some pain medication?" I had made it a good hour before receiving any pain meds but now I was ready. You know the pain medication is good stuff when they have to give you another medicine just to combat the side effects of the original pain medication. Two and 1/2 hours later, the Hand Specialist arrived. I just figured we'd line up the Operating Room and go into major surgery to re-attach the tip of my finger. But nope, instead I was shocked to hear. "You've essentially self-amputated part of your finger, they best we can do is finish the job" said Dr. Fox, the Hand Specialist. Then I thought this:
-Shit, Wendy is going away on business this week and I have to take care of the baby
-OMG, I'm going to be like that creepy guy who taught woodshop and was missing appendages. Everyone hated shaking his hand.
Minutes later, I got a couple of painful needles in my hand and Dr. Fox started cutting and sawing away right there in the ER. I texted and took pictures using my left hand as I watched. I even texted my wife Wendy left-handedly writing, "I don't want to hear it, I've learned my lesson", acknowledging to her that she was right about me getting hurt. (Although, I still think I took the move brilliantly and it was truly a freak accident that could've happened playing football). She was at home during the event and I had called her from the ER just saying I cut my hand. She obviously came to the hospital right away and eventually figured out it was more than a cut. At one point the nurses asked her “are you ok” in reference to hearing the news of losing part of my finger. Her classic tough love response was “It’s not my finger”. I got a huge bandage on my hand and home I went minus 1/3 my pinky. I didn't even get to keep the pinky tip. It was just left in a pile of gauze and bloody rubber gloves. It would have made a great locket insert.
(Arriving at the ER and being bandaged up)
MORE GRAPHIC PICS OF THE INJURY - YOU'VE BEEN WARNED
( FInger Hanging Off Shot 1, Finger Hanging Off Shot 2)
The next day I woke up, swollen and uncomfortable but managed to avoid the Vicodin I was prescribed. Wendy was completely cordial to me realizing that I needed a little sympathy. She was still not happy or comfortable with leaving me with a 9 month old later in the week while she travelled on business. I thought for sure she wasn’t going to come back and I’d never find another woman. Who’d want to hold my hand with a little stumpy pinky? Two days later that resistance to painkillers broke and I couldn't pop those things fast enough. (Although, after my recovery was complete, I still netted in the positive with a couple of extra Vicodin for a rainy day. )I was still a little worried about getting the rest of the finger infected so I didn't say too much to many people until I could find out everything else was safe. I didn't even tell my parents until over a week later. I kind of figured, my Dad would scold me for being reckless and my Mom would just worry. (Instead when I did finally tell my parents - my Dad seemed to find the story interesting and my Mom was horrified and seemed more concerned that she had a son who was deformed. I actually don't think she ever even asked if I was ok but might have instead asked if a plastic surgeon could put some skin on it to make it look normal. Great priorities. My brothers were shocked and one brother definitely seems to be a little jealous. I’m the youngest and was always the baby, the least tough. But my toughness level was raised 10x when I took a jackhammer, lost a finger and stayed in character –in case I haven’t mentioned that enough. Take that big brother James !)
It turns out, after about 2 weeks, it’s in pretty good shape. One co-worker described my finger as looking like a freshly circumcised penis. (Click here to see shot 2 weeks later) So I think it will take some getting used to. I certainly don’t have nice hands anymore but should get 10% discount off on manicures. Originally the doctor mentioned 4 weeks of physical therapy, but screw that, -that just sounded like a challenge. After 2 weeks I don’t expect to need anything. I’m moving that stumpy little appendage like nobody’s business. I did lose part of a finger but there are people who lose full limbs everyday fighting for our country and other noble causes. Life goes on and I’ll have another great story to tell at dive bars from now on. However, I think I probably will put my short-lived professional wrestling career on the shelf, right next to the spot where I could have put the top of my pinky if I only asked to keep it.
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