BUILDING THE SOFFIT
Soffits are difficult to build because they are located next to the wall and run to the edge of the roof. The soffit needs its own frame, which is built by nailing a 2X4 against the house, and then toe-nailing shorter 2X4s perpendicular to it. The short boards are then attached to the rafters at the edge of the roof.
1X6s, plywood, or some other form of siding is nailed to the soffit frame, leaving a small gap covered by a screen or a grate.
I have a two-foot overhang on my roof. Since the new roof was on the second story level, all the work on the soffit had to be done from a ladder. While working on the addition, I had become accustomed to crawling around on ladders and rooftops as if I were a monkey. Thus, I thought little of propping the ladder against the wall and climbing the fifteen feet to work.
I was using ten-foot 1X6s to cover the soffit because they matched the existing soffit. They were also small enough to facilitate working alone. My plan was to put up two rows of boards, then the screen, then place the two other layers of 1X6s so that the opening was as close to the roof-edge as possible. The first two sets of boards went up easily. However, the difficulty increased the farther away from the wall the soffit took me. Being moderately agile, I turned around on the ladder, and worked with my back to the wall.
I had extended the ladder to twenty of its twenty-four feet. This proved convenient until I got to the place where the soffit overhangs the window.
I delight not so much in doing a job as in completing it. Thus, I often think of my own safety as a roadblock to achieving my ends. This gung-ho attitude has exposed me to electrical shock, puncture wounds, cuts, scrapes and, on one occasion, I nearly relieved my left hand of its thumb. All of these were injuries I thought little about; they were a temporary inconvenience. A Band-Aid or a flick of a circuit breaker was enough to allow me to get back to work.
Although I manifest little concern for myself, I try to protect completed work from my time saving measures. In working on the soffit, I had to move the ladder from one section of wall to another. I had come to a point where I needed to place the ladder below a window. If I had simply moved the ladder over, I would have had to rest it against a glass pane. This was asking for trouble. I took the time to protect the window. However, my impatience to continue the job got the better of me. Instead of shortening the ladder, I moved the bottom of the ladder farther from the house so the top of it would lean against the wall under the window.
It is printed on the ladder in bold letters, "LADDER SHOULD BE AT APPROXIMATELY A 75-DEGREE ANGLE FROM THE HOUSE." I seldom carry a protractor with me, so I thought this advice incongruous. The ladder is virtually littered with safety precautions, none of which I ever took the time to read, and, if I had, I would have put them in the category of "guidelines" (which is what I designate any advice I have no intention of taking). There were two guidelines I chose to ignore. The most important was the ladder angle. The second regarded securing the base of the ladder. Not taking into account the laws of physics, I figured, if the ladder was going to slip, it was likely to do so when I was close to the bottom.
I was cognizant of the possibilities before mounting the ladder. You might imagine a tiny angel appearing over my right shoulder and whispering, "You know that you shouldn't climb this ladder the way it is. You could fall and hurt yourself."
I was not worried; how many dangerous things had I done over the years and not gotten seriously hurt? Plenty.
"It'll only be for a minute," I replied to the angel. I tucked a piece of screen and a roofing nail under my arm. "You'll only be up there for a minute?" the small figure on my right shoulder asked. "It would not take a minute to shorten the ladder or secure the base."
"Yeah, but as soon as I get done with the soffit part next to the window, I'm just going to have to extend the ladder again."
"Now, Bill," the angel's voice was the voice of reason, common sense and was vaguely reminiscent of my wife's - who is also an angel.
"Listening to reason never got me anywhere," I said brusquely
"It never got you hurt."
"You're just slowing me down. Outa' my way," I ordered. I brushed the angel aside.
The angel made one last attempt to stop me. Flapping its wings like a pesky mosquito, it buzzed in my ear, "You could be sooorrry."
I ignored the taunt.
The angel shrugged and flew out of harm's way. I mounted the ladder and scrambled lightly up the rungs. I got near the soffit and turned around. I placed my cheek against the ladder and reached up to hammer a tack in the screen. I released my hold on the screen to grab another tack. The loose end of the screen fluttered in my face.
It was at this juncture that I felt a small jerk, then the foot of the ladder slipped...
One moment I was secure, confident, even cocky. The next moment, I was plunging toward the earth. I barely had time to stick my hands out to break my fall. I can remember thinking on the way down - "I knew better than to stick the ladder out so far."
The ladder rattled as it ran down the side of the house.
My feet stayed on the rung. My body fell forward. My hands sprawled into the grass.
Suddenly, I could feel nothing from my waist down. "Uh-oh," I thought. "Now I've done it."
For a moment, I thought I had broken my back and that I would be paralyzed from the waist down. Luckily, this proved not to be the case. A wave of returning feeling slowly crept down my legs, but stopped when it reached my feet.
Although I felt no extraordinary pain, I knew from watching cop shows on television that I should not move.
My suspicions that the neighbors were keeping a sharp eye on my building progress were justified when a lady living across the street stepped outside and shouted. "I called 911, an ambulance is on its way."
About five seconds later my next door neighbor was on the scene, telling me that he too had called for a rescue squad. His son who was with him remarked on the possibility that he might get to be on TV, "Rescue 911".
I hated to disillusion him about his shot at show biz. However, I felt compelled to mention that the incident was likely to remain obscure, at least as far as the media was concerned.
Two ambulances arrived within moments of each other. Thankfully, there was not a tug of war over my prostrate body. I was trundled into one of the vehicles. I politely waved at the assembled neighbors as the ambulance sped from the scene.
Robin was at her office. I knew she was in an important conference. I did not want to worry her, so I did not call her from the hospital. I thought the doctors would bandage my ankles (I thought I was suffering from two severe sprains) and I could take a bus and be home in time for supper.
I was politely attended to by several nurses who helped to relieve me of my shoes and then my trousers. Under normal circumstances, I would not mind having my trousers removed by several women. In this case it proved embarrassing. I was wearing my "holy" underwear. Underwear is not designated holy because it has been blessed by the Pope, but because it is a miracle that they still adhered to my body after years of faithful service.
The nurses commented that my feet did not appear to be in too bad a condition. They collectively expressed hope that the injury was no worse than the sprain first suspected. Based on the condition of my underwear, they were more interested in my lower back. I knew the underwear had come through as well as could be expected. I was worried about my heels. The nurses did not know what my feet had looked like before the fall. They had been attractive, even beautiful (as far as men's feet go). I knew there was a serious problem when I saw that my heels resembled a sack of crushed chicken bones.
My diagnosis was seconded by an orthopedist and a battery of X-rays. I had broken BOTH my heels, one of which I had shattered into several pieces.
I had always wondered how much it would hurt to have a broken bone. It was not nearly as painful as I thought it would be...at least in the initial stages. As time went on, my heels began to swell and the pain began to intensify.
I finally called Robin and told her she might have to come to the hospital and pick me up after she left work. This news did not startle her. Every day she expects me to inflict myself with some form of injury. That I had to be driven in an ambulance to the hospital seemed in no way remarkable. When I told her that the orthopedist had recommended a specialist and said that I would have to undergo an operation to reset the bones, she grew more concerned.
I ended up staying in the hospital for six days, going through an operation lasting 6 1/2 hours, and I was subjected to the most nauseatingly sentimental bombardment of cards and flowers that a man ever had to put up with. Next time I get hurt, I am not going to tell anyone. Every card, every phone call was another reminder not simply of someone who cared about me, but someone who knew for certain that I was an idiot because I had not taken proper safety precautions. (Every person who called, had to hear the story of how I hurt myself in gory detail, including the part about the angel.)
I sat in a wheel chair for three months and was on crutches for a few more. It was an additional month before I decided to address the piece of screen that was hanging like a banner from the soffit announcing my injury to the world.