BENZONIA — Tim McKay has felt the healing power of love, friendship and the kindness of strangers.
The Benzonia musician and cobbler who mangled his right hand in a snowblower accident prior to Thanksgiving has undergone corrective surgeries to repair partially severed and broken fingers. Still, he faces months of physical therapy aimed at “just getting these fingers to bend.”
But remarkably, the upright bassist for Fauxgrass, a progressive bluegrass band, already has started practicing with his quartet again and credits the support of friends and fans for speeding his recovery.
“I’m a couple weeks ahead of where they thought I’d be. It’s been pretty incredible,” said the 40-year-old musician and owner of Fernand Footwear. “I know there’s a lot of people out there rooting for me and I give that credit for just how well I’m doing. I don’t doubt that at all. That’s half the reason I’m healing as fast as I am.”
McKay severely injured three fingers when his right hand got caught inside his snowblower while he was trying to clean its chute. His index finger and middle finger suffered the most damage, requiring insertion of pins and screws, skin grafts and extensive stitching to reassemble them.
The 1991 graduate of Traverse City High School remains upbeat about his future, even though he said it could be another four months before he’s able to hand-stretch leather, pound rivets and sew shoes for the shop he has owned for seven years.
“The way things are healing, it looks like they won’t have to do any more major surgeries,” said McKay, who has resumed playing bass by taping his injured fingers together and using his pinky to pluck strings. “I think of myself as a super-hero, so I’m playing. I think it went better than the guys thought it would. But the real deal is, I do have to be careful.”
Fauxgrass mandolinist Jason Wheeler said McKay’s bandmates are impressed by his progress. “It’s amazing. We did not expect he’d be able to play by this time and I don’t think the doctors did either.
“We’re really, really optimistic now about things moving forward,” Wheeler said.
That’s a good thing because the Grand Rapids-based band is in the midst of finishing up work on a new studio album and hopes to tour the country extensively starting in May after the release.
As for the future of Fernand Footwear, McKay concedes “diving into the shoemaking thing could be a little treacherous” because it’s so taxing on his hands and fingers. Consequently, McKay faces a substantial loss of shoemaking income, combined with mounting medical expenses that insurance won’t cover. As a result, friends, relatives and fans have flooded McKay with emails, cards, prayers and donations.
McKay’s sister, Nicole, organized a recent benefit concert at Union Street Station, and his Fauxgrass bandmates staged a major fundraising show in Rockford on Friday night.
Wheeler stressed that fundraising efforts are critical because McKay still faces “significant financial issues.”
The outpouring of support has humbled McKay.
“It was learning to accept help from other people,” McKay said of lessons learned from the accident, which occurred when his hand got pulled into the snowblower chute while using a stick to unclog it. The bassist has even received offers of assistance and uplifting messages from strangers, including many musicians.
McKay, who has a 21-year-old daughter living in Colorado, said he looks forward to getting back on stage with Fauxgrass, a fast-emerging band that’s toured extensively and found a growing audience across the United States in recent years.
“I’m feeling good,” said McKay, who hopes hopes to take the stage in Grand Haven on Feb. 15, if all goes well. The band also will play Traverse City’s Right Brain Brewery on March 22.
“When this happened, I was never fatalist about it and I always knew I would get back to what I wanted to do. For me, it’s been important to maintain that and keep pushing myself.”