June 10, 2014 at 1:00 am

Don't try this at home

Radio newswoman Pat Vitale tangled with a garage door opener, and it wasn't pretty

Fresh from surgery the night of the accident, Pat Vitale of WWJ-AM (950) displays a gash that took more than 30 stitches to repair. (Vitale family photos)

The garage door opener was broken, but Pat Vitale wanted to put out the trash, so she decided to take a wrench to the little bracket down at the bottom.

The surgery was last Monday, and the good news is, she gets to keep her eye.

If Vitale’s name sounds familiar, so should her voice. For 22 years, she’s been delivering the news on WWJ-AM (950).

The last 13 of those years, she has lived in a leafy neighborhood in Farmington. Her household includes a husband, two baseball-playing teenagers, two dogs, and a garage door opener that was apparently designed by Stephen King.

Actually, it’s a perfectly normal garage door opener — which is to say, it’s a menace. Unless you know exactly what you’re doing, leave yours alone.

Or to put it another way, don’t try this at home.

As all mechanical objects will eventually do, Vitale’s opener broke a week ago Sunday.

At first, the door could be raised by hand with relative ease. Then it started getting harder.

A repairman was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, but “I’m a control freak,” she says, “and a hurry-up-and-get-it-done kind of person.”

Therein lies the tale, along with upwards of 30 stitches.

Deceptively dangerous

To her credit, Vitale is not only eager, she’s generally competent.

A few weeks ago, she replaced a wheel on the lawnmower she doesn’t like anyone else to use. She read the instructions carefully and handled a job you would think is more perilous than opening a garage door.

There were no instructions on the door, however ... just a 5-inch long bracket at the bottom corner, held on with two bolts.

Helpful neighbors had already removed the identical bracket from the left-hand side, as you face the door from the inside. That was on Sunday.

Now it was late afternoon on Monday, June 2, and what she didn’t realize about the day before was that someone had first unhooked the bracket from the 18-inch steel cable wrapped around a spool above the door.

The fact is, the garage has a perfectly usable side door, and she could have employed it to roll out her trash can and her recycling bin. The family’s two cars were already safely outside.

But Vitale leaves for work at 2:45 a.m., and on the off chance she was going to need to lift the door at that hour, she wanted it to be easy. More than that, things that don’t work correctly bug her.

So she took Deven, 13, out to the garage with her, bent over, removed the top bolt, and started working on the lower one.

“OK, Deven,” she said. “Just a couple more clicks.”

Leave it to the professionals

Mike Rashid has been in the garage door business for 37 of his 58 years.

In his Rashid Garage Doors showroom in Farmington Hills, he’s pointing to the same sort of bottom roller bracket Vitale was fiddling with. “You undo this right here,” he says, “it’ll fly up at about a million miles an hour.”

He’s been told that another company had customers lose fingers two days in a row. Vitale heard after the fact that an acquaintance needed to have some of his fingers reattached. A contraption with steel cable and a torsion spring the width of a python is not to be trifled with.

Even Vitale’s second surgeon, the one who reconnected her tear duct canal on Thursday, had a near-disaster story to share.

As for Vitale, she had a gash. A hefty one, crescent-shaped, penetrating deep enough that it was beneath her left eyeball and far enough to stretch the length of the socket.

There was blood and a 911 call and an ambulance ride. There was an operation. There was a prognosis: stitches out Friday, most likely, and back to work next week.

She was about an eyelash, literally, from losing an orb she’s quite fond of. Instead, she’s expecting a full recovery.

She’s chafing at being kept inside, away from irritants, and chastened as well. Maybe she should be a little more patient and a little less driven.

Her air conditioner is on the fritz, and the technician won’t arrive until Thursday.

Says the newly temperate Vitale, “I haven’t touched it.”

nrubin@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-1874
@nealrubin_dn

Pat Vitale of Farmington with sons Deven, 13, left, and Ravi, 16. (Vitale family photo)