When her lovable American Bulldog mix trotted up to her with something in its mouth, Portage Park resident Cheri Steigert figured Fergie had grabbed a rabbit and told her to drop it.
“She was just like, ‘Here, look what I have!’ ” Steigert said.
Steigert, 41, was about to pick the object up with a paper towel when she realized what it really was.
“I just thought, ‘Oh my God, that’s human flesh,’ and then I noticed it was a pointer finger and a thumb.”
Almost immediately, Steigert, a registered nurse familiar with gore, realized the origin of the appendage.
A few hours earlier, about 3:30 p.m. Thursday, a boom followed by screaming awoke her from a nap.
Concerned it was gunfire, she rushed outside to hustle her 18-year-old son indoors only to learn from emergency medical personnel arriving in droves that a barber who works at a shop around the corner had blown off several fingers while playing with fireworks in the alley.
The exploding firework sent a chunk of Rafat Shejaeya’s left hand several yards into the air and over Steigert’s backyard fence.
On Thursday afternoon, Shejaeya, 33, moaned from a hospital bed at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge as he waited for a nurse to administer pain medication.
“He’s in a lot of pain,” said Shejaeya’s brother, Sonny Shejaeya, who rushed to Chicago from Louisiana after the accident.
“He has two fingers left on his left hand,” he said. “Half of it’s gone. The doctors say the damage is too much to reattach.”
“I couldn’t believe what happened to him,” said Sonny, adding that his brother has two sons. “He thought it was going to be fun, but it changed his life for ever.”
Sonny said his brother, during a time of respite from the pain, offered a message to a television reporter who had called: “He said others to be careful so it doesn’t happen to them.”
Sonny does not expect his brother will ever cut hair again.
“A barber needs two hands,” he said.
The Shejaeyas are both originally from the Palestinian city of Ramallah.
Steigert plans to check on Shejaeya’s well-being.
Steigert herself narrowly escaped a dangerous situation days earlier while camping in the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.
“A bear came sniffing around my tent and was just hovering and growling,” she said. “At first I thought it was my friend snoring, and then I saw the shadow of bear outside tent so I got up on knees and yelled ‘Help!’ ”
A few campers came running over. Others tapped the button on their car keys to trigger their car alarms to scare off the animal.
“There were paw prints outside the tent,” she said. “I swear to God I have Fourth of July PTSD.”