Book Review: Taking My Hand Out Of My Pocket

book cover


Taking My Hand Out Of My Pocket


Lorie Tensen


The book is my autobiography: the story of my personal journey which began in 1979 as a pre-teen. At the age of 12, my right arm was caught in the meat grinder in the meat room of my parents grocery store. The result was the amputation of that limb. From the moment my accident occurred and for years following, I was told by many people to hide my tears and be the strength for my parents who were “going through such a difficult time” because of my accident. I held my grief, anger, resentment and fears inside for nearly three decades and suffered from low self-esteem until I nearly imploded from depression and finally sought the professional help I needed.   The book tells the story about the many difficult choices I made in life that were predicated on the loss of my limb. After years of counseling and life-changing decisions, I have found peace, joy and the power of forgiveness. I am thankful for the many blessings in my life and am humbled that my story has inspired others to face their own fears on their personal journeys.

Excerpt: The Day – August 15, 1979.

AUGUST 15, 1979

August 15, 1979 started out the same as every other day. It was hot that summer, so I dressed in my favorite tank top, shorts and Keds and rode to work with my parents. I spent the day doing the tasks my mother assigned me. I remember wasting time in the cooler where we kept extra milk and eggs for stocking because it was so nice and cool and I wasn’t in the mood to run errands outside in the humid air. The store wasn’t huge, but it was one of two in town and we were always busy. We had several employees – including my sister and brother when they were available. My sister had graduated from high school that year and had already moved to a larger town. My brother hated working in the store and at age 14 was off doing who knows what. My eldest brother, Mike, was married with a family of his own and lived in a town 30 miles away. I had just turned 12 in May, so, I had no other option but to go to work at the grocery store each day with my parents. I actually enjoyed working at the store most days, because, although I was still rather shy, being in the hustle and bustle atmosphere like that of the store gave me the courage to come out of my shell and interact with the variety of customers that came in. I delivered groceries to the little old ladies and men in town who always invited me to stay and chat for a bit, providing delicious treats for me to enjoy; older folks seemed to be fascinated with the “little brown girl” at the corner grocery and I felt like a mini celebrity around them.

The store closed at 6 pm on most days and on this particular evening, several customers had stayed past closing time. It was still hot and humid outside and we were all ready to get home so that we could relax. My mother and father were at the front of the store closing out the cash registers and trying to shoo out the stragglers so they could lock the doors. I was sent to the meat room to start the clean-up process. The meat room was a small room at the back of the store that was filled with saws, grinders and extremely sharp knives. In those days, meat was rarely pre-packaged. My dad and Irene would cut meat to the customer’s specifications and there were several sides of beef, bacon, pork and chicken carcasses hanging in a large metal freezer. Hamburger was freshly ground several times a day in a giant meat grinder and deli meats and cheeses were sliced from 5 lb blocks each day. My dad was meticulous when it came to his meat room and he demanded that everyone who worked in the room follow his rules by washing their hands frequently and keeping the large wooden block table, knives and machines sterilized with bleach and hot water. I never wanted to work in that room by choice because the machines were loud and intimidating, however, I preferred to wile away the hours in the company of Irene over the other employees and there was nothing that could have prevented me from spending time with her – not even the scary meat room. Irene Hofmann was German and spoke with an accent. She always told the best stories and jokes – and – she was David’s mom. She adored me and treated me like the daughter she’d never had. I would spend hours gabbing with her and helping her as best as I could in the meat room.

At 6:10 pm that evening, I was alone in the meat room, as most of the store employees had gone home for the day, trying to figure out where to begin clean up. On this particular night, trying to be helpful, I decided to tackle the biggest more complex machines first: the behemoth grinder being the most difficult and time-consuming machine to clean. It was a heavy, ugly machine that had several pieces that had to be removed so that they could be thoroughly cleaned. There was a broken part within the grinder that had to be manually pushed out and then the grinder restarted to complete the process of dismantling. I had watched the other store employees clean the grinder and felt I could safely clean it, as well. At 6:17 pm, I started to dismantle the heavy grinder and when it came time to give the broken part a push, I did so with my right hand (I was right-handed at the time) and kept my left hand on the start button because I knew I had just seconds to start the grinder to push the part out completely. For whatever reason – inexperience or a misjudgment of the timing, at 6: 18 pm, I turned the grinder on too quickly and the tips of the fingers of my right hand became trapped. I was able to shut the machine off within seconds. The pain was so intense – worse than anything else I had ever felt – that I began screaming hysterically – wanting only for someone to stop the excruciating pain. My mother, my wonderful, beautiful mother – upon hearing her youngest child screaming hysterically, ran from the front of the store to the back of the store into the meat room. My screams were coming non-stop and so loud , she thought the machine was still on. She pushed the switch back to the “on” position thinking she was stopping the machine and in an instant, my life changed forever. My forearm was pulled into the machine almost in the same instant when my mother realized her mistake. She flipped the switch back to “off”. But it was too late. My arm has become hamburger inside the grinder. Both of us are momentarily stunned into silence and then the hell begins anew.

Cut to Scene 1:

My breathing is shallow and I feel faint. My entire body is slowly becoming numb from both pain and shock. My sense of hearing has become painfully acute and in my mind, my breathing sounds as loud as a freight train rushing through the room, but each breath seems to come as slow as molasses. Through the lethargy overtaking me, I feel the blood of my body draining out of me. I look at the three fingers poking out of the end of the machine, they are still intact, the nails still pink and I do not see blood which make me wonder where all my blood is going to. My sense of reality is painfully honed in on what seems like the never ending screams and sobs coming out of the mouth of my mother. Somewhere in the fog of my brain, I hear someone hysterically begging rescue to come to Tensen’s Grocery and that there has been a terrible accident. I am crouched in a painfully awkward position by now and my back is starting to cramp. Then there is the pain itself. The terrible, awful, nearly indescribable pain – so enormous and encompassing, that it transports me to another realm of consciousness. My young self cannot comprehend the level of pain that I am in. All I know is that I want it to go away so that I may sleep a painless sleep. My brain is telling me to close my eyes and go to sleep. I feel strangely pulled towards a quiet I have never felt before. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Time stands still. The frantic chaos that an emergency brings is happening all around me, yet I feel totally removed from it. I am rudely jolted by a loud noise and the first thought that enters my semi-conscious self is for my father…. I see him through a cut-out window between the meat room and the deli counter. He is pale, silent, with tears running down his face. I cannot see my mom, but I hear her. She has been crying hysterically the entire time and the child that I am begs her to help me. But, I do not seem to have the strength to open my mouth to say the words out loud. I am so very, very tired. It sounds as though there are several people sobbing, but I cannot see them and quite frankly, the sounds grate on my raw nerves. An endless loop of three sentences begins playing in my head. I am pleading to an audience that cannot hear me: “This hurts. Take it off, it hurts. It’s so heavy it hurts, take it off.” This loop swirls around my brain until it creates a storm of words that threatens to overtake my entire body. No one can hear me. I am alone in my head. I am so tired, I am going to close my eyes now. Good night, mom. Good night dad.

Suddenly, the small room is filled with men dressed from head to toe in their fire and rescue gear. And I am jolted back to the present. These men are the fathers, grandfathers, uncles and brothers of my classmates. Each and every one of them has tears glistening in their eyes and some hastily try to wipe away the tears rolling down their strong, tanned faces. At some point, my best friend’s dad, Ed, sits on the floor behind me, gingerly lifts me on to his lap and carefully cradles me so that I can get relief from my cramped posture. His right arm curves around my thin body, with his right hand holding the weight of my trapped arm and with his left hand, he feeds me m&m’s in an effort to keep me awake. I still cannot see my mom and dad, but hear my mother: still sobbing somewhere outside of the room. A disembodied voice says: “keep mom and dad out of the room”. A different voice speaks directly to me, calling my name and whoever it is, tells me that I must stay awake and I must remain strong. I am told that I must not cry because my mother is upset and I cannot let her see me crying.


Dear god in heaven….without warning, it’s as if the mother of all chainsaw’s is ripping through my right arm: someone is trying to twist the bell of the grinder off the machine. I hear myself screaming hysterically again, the pain is so intense that the screams coming out of my mouth are beyond anything comprehensible. It takes what seems like an excruciating lifetime before several members of the rescue squad are finally successful in separating the bell from the rest of the machine. My arm is still one with the grinder, because they cannot remove it without me dying from blood loss and shock. The bell will travel with me to the emergency room.

There is now a new problem: space is tight in this room. I am a little girl attached to a large metal bell and they must find a way to lift me over the meat display counter in order to get me to the ambulance that is waiting by the side door. Two men gently lift me over the counter into the arms of two firemen standing on the other side of the case. As I am being lifted, my eyes are drawn to the front of the store which has two large plate glass windows that face the main street. The scene that meets my eyes is simply amazing. There is a huge crowd of people – hundreds it seems – standing in the streets. People pressed against the glass windows and I can see one person very clearly through the never ending haze of pain. He is a classmate of mine named Michael. He is already one of the most popular male athletes my age and certainly one of the cutest. He is wearing a red shirt with the Coca-Cola emblem emblazoned in white on the front and he is the only bright color I see as I hazily wonder through the fog of my brain why so many people are standing in the streets outside the grocery store.

I am carried in someone’s arms through the side door which is on the south side of the building. There are so many people lining the street that I cannot see the large bank building that sits across the street from our grocery store. There is a crowd of what seems to be hundreds of men, women and children and they are all eerily silent. The only sounds I hear are the sirens blaring from the many rescue vehicles parked every which way around the store. An ambulance is parked directly in front of the side door and police cars in front of it waiting to escort me to the nearest hospital which is 30 miles away in a town called Willmar. My vision clears a little and I see Him. It is David and he is sitting on one of his Harley Davidson motorcycles that he’s parked directly behind the ambulance. He looks directly into my eyes and gives me a sweet, gentle smile and I stick my tongue out at him.

I am carefully bundled into the back of the ambulance as though I am made of the most fragile glass and placed tenderly into the waiting arms of a doctor and an ambulance attendant. My mother sits up front, sandwiched between the driver and another ambulance attendant. I can hear her from the back, she is still crying softly. The doors close and we are off in a blare of sirens and whirling lights with our police escort. I hear the driver talking into his mic – something about our estimated time of arrival. There will be a police escort from the Willmar police department who will meet the ambulance at the halfway point and escort it, lights and sirens, to the hospital. Although I am exhausted and just want to go to sleep, I begin to feel strangely at peace, as though once again, I am far removed from the activity around me. The doctor gently interrupts my slumber repeatedly: “Wake up, Lorie – you can’t go to sleep, Honey. Wake up”. But, I no longer feel anything. I am weightless. There is no more pain. I vaguely hear the doctor say something but his voice is coming from a tunnel. Suddenly, the ambulance attendant who is in the back with me begins speaking frantically into his mic: “We are losing her, HURRY… We’re gonna lose her! DO NOT tell the mother! DO NOT tell the mother!! HURRY, we’re losing her!!” Through the numbness taking over my body, I briefly wonder, yet again, who this person is talking about and then, thankfully, there are no more sounds at all.


 About the Author:
I’m a 48 year old biracial woman who was adopted trans-racially as an infant into a Caucasian family and raised in a community where there were no other people of color within a 300-mile radius. I am finally able to proudly say that I am a Survivor and a very strong woman! I am also the mother of two wonderful children: Noah, 28 and Remington 15. Currently, I live (and swirl) in Grand Rapids, Michigan with my daughter, an elderly dog and a very naughty cat.


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