Tree accident ends in amputation

16:00, Jan 17 2014
Ross Macdonald
MISSING DIGITS: Ross Macdonald in Hutt Hospital, where surgeons were unable to save his ‘‘stuffed’’ fingers. But even as blood continued to seep through his bandages, he continued to crack jokes.

He has lost 3 fingers but Ross Macdonald can still do the thumbs-up.

"I've still got my trigger finger," he joked from a bed in Hutt Hospital yesterday as blood continued to seep through the bandages on his mangled left hand.

And the former police officer is pledging to return with a chainsaw to finish the wood-chopping job that ended so horrifically on his Dannevirke section.

Mr Macdonald, 69, who worked as a logging contractor for eight years after leaving the police force, chops firewood as a "hobby" these days.

Just after 9am on Thursday, he was chopping up a large macrocarpa tree that came down in an October storm.

To lower the main trunk, he cut a branch that was holding it up when another branch "swung down from in the guts" of the tree.


It all happened quickly, and when he looked down he saw the fingers of his left hand were hanging off.

He instantly knew he had "stuffed my hand completely", walked inside and told his stunned wife to get the car as they needed to get to the hospital.

They drove to Dannevirke Hospital with his hand wrapped in a towel.

After getting him bandaged up, St John Ambulance took him to the local aerodrome, where the Palmerston North rescue helicopter flew him directly to Hutt Hospital's plastic surgery unit.

He was in the hospital by 11am, less than two hours after the accident.

But it was too late to save his fingers. In surgery that afternoon, half his index finger, and all of his middle finger, ring finger and little finger were amputated.

Recovering in bed yesterday, he pledged to get back to finish off the tree that could so easily have finished him.

But he conceded he would have to get his mechanical log splitter working, as using a hand splitter would be virtually impossible.

And, laughing as he retold the story of his accident, he wasn't letting his serious injuries get him down. "You have got to be pragmatic about these things. Looking on the bright side, I still have half my finger and a thumb."

Hospital staff offered him the remains of his amputated fingers, but he decided against keeping the gory souvenirs.

"I said, 'No, they're no bloody good to me, give them to the dog'."

In 40 years of chopping trees, this was his first accident, he said. He expected to be in hospital for about a week, as he still needed a skin graft over the wound.

Surgeon Marcus Bisson said doctors worked on Mr Macdonald's hands for two hours.

It was hoped the fingers could be saved, but it became clear when he arrived that there was no blood supply to them, and they were too badly damaged.

The Dominion Post