One minute, Gore man Justin Maclean was working the end of a firewood processing machine; the next, he was looking at where his left hand used to be.
"There was a bit of blood," Maclean recalled from his hospital bed in Christchurch this week.
"One minute, I had both my hands; the next, my left one was gone. It all happened so fast."
The 40-year-old had his hand severed at the wrist while processing firewood on a property in Old Coach Rd near Mataura on April 8.
"I was working on one end of a big wood-processing machine - it was not a log-splitter - and I just put my hand under the cutter blades," Maclean said.
On the job for Town & Country Wood Supplies, Maclean said he went to clear a blockage at his end when his hand went in too far.
"I had work gloves on but that didn't stop anything," he said.
"I didn't feel too much pain and there wasn't a lot of blood.
"I imagine there was a wee bit of shock but it all happened that quick."
While the moments after his hand went into the cutting blades were a bit of a blur, the "bloke at the other end of the machine" found his hand, scooped it up, and used a jersey to tourniquet the wound, he said.
"If I was alone, I could have bled out," Maclean said.
He was rushed to the Mataura police station where he and his left hand "got a fast ride to Gore Hospital".
Constable Martin Cupit was on duty when "Justy" arrived at the station. The severed hand was still inside its work glove.
Cupit said he decided it was best to get Maclean and his hand to hospital in a hurry but first he had to convince the injured man to bring his hand.
"Justy indicated he was happy to leave the hand but I suggested we take it," Cupit said.
A fast trip to waiting medical staff at Gore Hospital followed, with Maclean and his hand riding in the back seat, and the hand was deposited into a bucket of ice.
"Justy was wheeled off but I noticed he had left his hand in the car. I grabbed his hand for him and walked it in after him," Cupit said.
"It was great to finally hand it over to a doctor."
Maclean had appeared calm and relaxed despite the trauma, however, he had "worked up a good sweat" by the time they had reached Gore, Cupit said.
The incident was one of the most unusual of his 12-year police career, he said.
Maclean and his hand were flown to Christchurch Hospital by helicopter.
It has been just over two weeks since the incident and Maclean flew home with two hands yesterday.
"What the doctors did was a amazing," he said.
It took 14 hours of surgery to reattach the hand and doctors are confident that with time and physiotherapy he will regain use of both hands without any problems.
Cupit said he was happy the operation was a success and wondered whether the condition of the wood splitter had helped the chances of success.
"I heard it was relatively new and had quite a sharp blade so, if you have to lose your hand getting it cut off quite cleanly, I imagine would help when they go to reattach it again," he said.
Maclean said the incident was a "freak accident" but could have been avoided if there were safety guards on the machine.
A WorkSafe New Zealand spokesman confirmed the agency was investigating the incident and had banned the machine from being used in the interim.
No further details were available while the investigation continued, the spokesman said.
Representatives from Town & Country Wood Supplies did not return calls from The Southland Times yesterday.
TEARS SHED AT MOVING WELCOME
Justin Maclean arrived home to an emotional welcome at Invercargill airport last night.
Dressed in the blood-splotched jeans he had been wearing at the time of the incident, he strode into the airport like a fit man, his arm in a sling and his hospital bracelet the only giveaway he had been seriously injured.
His dad, Jack Maclean, sister Jackie Maclean and aunt Betty Boyer were overjoyed to see their boy home after his ordeal.
Betty said she was shattered when she heard what had happened, and Jackie said she could not stop crying, welling up again as she watched her brother get off a plane for only the second time in his life.
She wished his trip had been in happier circumstances but he was OK, and that was all that mattered.
"He never sits still and I was joking with dad that he would be the first off the plane, but I guess he had to wait his turn."
Justin lifted his bandaged hand to show his family how his swollen fingers, could move slightly.
Despite his injuries, Justin was keen to get stuck into mowing the lawns at the Gore home he shares with his dad.
"Dad was supposed to do them when I was away and they are still not done, but I like doing them," he said.
He faces doctor visits and physio three times a week as he recuperates, and he recognises it will be some time before he can do jobs around the house.
"That's OK, I will look after him," Jack said.
And what will be the first thing Justin does when he recovers the use of his hand?
"Go back to work, of course," he said.
AMPUTATION 'NOT RUN OF THE MILL'
The clock started ticking for Justin Maclean's hand after it was severed from his wrist.
"The hand is essentially dead until it is reattached to a blood supply," hand surgeon Dylan James said.
James led the medical team performing the marathon 14-hour operation to reattach Maclean's hand.
"An amputation at the level of the wrist is not run-of-the-mill," he said.
"Fingers, fingertips and thumbs are common - there are a few sitting here on the ward - but in my eight years of training, I haven't come across a whole hand needing replanting."
The bigger the body part, the quicker the need to re-establish blood supply, he said.
Something like a hand had lots of smaller muscles that needed blood to keep working, James said.
"We needed to join up Justin's hand with his arm within about six hours," he said.
"That can be extended if it is kept on ice. The hand in this case was kept in a big bucket of ice, which slowed down the ticking clock. The first aid from the initial medical staff was fantastic."
The six hours were up when Maclean and his hand lay prepped on the operating table in Christchurch. James was joined by fellow hand surgeon Terry Creagh and orthopaedic surgeon Allen Cockfield and a team of other medical staff.
- Fairfax Media
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