Why Someone Might Hide a Small Injury in the Workplace

My shoes broke today. One of the eyelets ripped open when I wentto pull my laces tight this morning and I was forced to drive to work with what felt like an incredibly loose shoe even though the other nine eyelets in use were holding strong. When I got to work, I rustled up some heavy-duty tape, some tiny washers, and spent about fifteen minutes repairing my shoes. It was a rush job (that wound up breaking irreparably a little over 24 hours later), with most of the time being spent on making sure the laces could still move through the holes in the tape on the new eyelet and on all the eyelets I reinforced. It isn’t perfect, but it will last long enough for me to get through my work day.

Because I was working on these while also participating in our Friday morning social gather (far enough away that hopefully no one could detect the scent of stinky old shoes), I would up pinching the tip of my right pointer finger between the blade and the miniature multitool the blade was attached to. It was an easy mistake to make, since I’d been twisting the knife around and pressed down when the pressure was being applied along the blade edge instead of along the spine. This forced the knife to close since there was no locking mechanism on this particularly cheap multitool to prevent accidents like this. Generally speaking, I know a lot about knife safety and would avoid putting myself in a position where this could even happen, but the size of the tool left me with no safer way to grip it while using it the way I needed to.

As a result, I have a new cut on my finger, somewhat repaired shoes, and the knowledge that my coworkers don’t really pay that much attention to what I’m doing. I always suspected as much, given that not everyone really cares what a tester does on the rare occasion they emerge from their office to do something in the lab, and that everyone has their own stuff going on when they’re in the lab. Still, I was surprised that no one noticed the blood. Or, if they noticed, that no one commented on it. After all, it felt pretty drastic, messy, and important to me. I dropped everything I was doing (well, set it down because dropping a knife is a recipe for disaster and I already had one knife disaster today) to clean myself and my workspace up, not wanting to leave my blood lying around where someone else might see it or accidentally touch it.

Of course I returned to my project after a couple minutes and finished my work without comment. I didn’t want to admit I’d made a stupid mistake nor did I need any assistance dealing with it or its consequences. I had everything under control. I was even a little relieved that I wouldn’t need to reassure anyone that I was fine. Still, it felt a little disappointing to know that no one was paying me enough attention to notice. Which is a difficult feeling to grapple with, given that I actively worked to handle the problem without calling attention to it and I didn’t want anyone to fuss over what felt like a small but irritating (it runs from my fingertip to the side of my nail, right along the nail bed) wound. I can’t really blame them for not noticing or for noticing and reading in my body language that I didn’t want anyone to jump in.

As it turns out, it was not a small thing. This wound being something I’ve spent the entire day thinking about. This cut’s position on my finger means I can’t do anything without contorting to use the full pad of my finger rather than the point if I want to avoid putting painful pressure on the cut or pulled at it in a way that causes it to bleed anew. I can’t go more than a couple minutes without feeling it or thinking about it in some way because it’s on my dominant hand. It’s an unavoidable part of my life now that has me interacting with the world in a more cautious and thoughtful way than I used to, in order to accommodate my need to keep the cut clean and safe while continuing to do my job. Even though I made the choice to not call attention to it myself, it feels frustrating that my coworkers are continuing to ask me for help with things out in the lab without making the same accommodations for my new need that I am.

I have to temper this frustration because I expect they’d be willing to be accommodating if I asked, but I also know that they tend to make fun of people who’ve done something they feel is dumb. Not necessarily in a mean way, of course, just in a “mild jokes and ribbing in the workplace” kind of way that nevertheless makes me uncomfortable every time I see it happen. Asking them not to do that will only worsen the feeling I often have of being an outsider because I know that everyone else accepts and participates in this joshing because it is so rarely turned on them. The only way I can think of to prevent this behavior at all would be to address the social environment in the group from the top down, to change the way our dynamic functions so it is less permissive of such quiet and permissive cruelty. Which, you know, is a lot to ask of a group that has largely been the same for about a decade.

Now, if you’re thinking that this is an awful lot of thought and attention to spend on a small cut that will be healed in a couple weeks and at the very least be closed by the time I go to work next, you’d be right. I would suggest, though, that this isn’t really about the cut on my finger. This is actually about going by the wrong pronouns at work, masking my indentity, and thinking about coming out and the cut just makes for an easy and accessible metaphor.

Every day feels like this and I don’t have a good way to address this problem because I am the outlier and I’ve seen what happens to outliers who stick out too far.Maybe someday I’ll be able to make my boss understand what it feels like to exist in the environment he’s created. Maybe someday I’ll be able to make him understand why this is something he needs to change if it’s ever going to. Or maybe I should just get a new job in an atmosphere that won’t put me in a position like this one. Sure feels like that will be the easiest option.

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