I've been a woodworker for a long time. I have all sorts of bladed and dangerous tools in my shop -- radial arm saws, table saws, band saws
, routers, as well as draw knives, adzes, scorps
. All of these things can reach out and bite you if you're not careful, and some can take very big bites indeed. I've always had a strict safety regimen and I very rarely deviate from it. I always wear my safety glasses like that tool whore Norm Abrams told me to, and I've never had a problem.
It's too bad he never warned me against doing cardio
workouts, because if he did, I wouldn't be typing this with nine fingers right now -- although just by looking at him I probably should have guessed that he doesn't approve of that particular activity. So yes. I'm blaming Norm Abrams for this. And each individual member of the band Guster
Before you get all grossed out, the finger that is sitting this one out is currently doing so at the end of my hand, right where he is usually stationed, however he's sticking straight out and covered in a bandage. He also has his own heartbeat and is throbbing like a mofo because he has a bunch of stitches that are holding his head on, and typing is a giant pain in the pointer. I currently spend most of the day with my hand in the air like I have a very important question.
So here's the short version of the story:
And here's the long version:
I was downstairs in the basement, and wasn't feeling quite up to a P90X workout because it was getting late, so I decided to do a mile or two on the treadmill. As I started running, I heard a loud clacking noise coming from the front of the treadmill. It's almost a gym-quality piece of equipment that we've had for over five years, and until now it's been flawless. I can't work out with the treadmill self-destructing, so I turned it off and decided to take a look. I removed the front cover, just to see if it was something obvious, or something more serious like a bearing.
It really didn't make a lot of noise when it was off, so I started it up slowly, and listened carefully to the drive mechanism, trying to figure out if it was coming from the motor side or the roller side. I still couldn't tell, so (here comes the stupid part) I lightly rested my hand on top of the motor side of the pulley. Hmmm. Felt OK. That meant it was the lower roller pulley. I reached down to touch the top of that pulley and I don't know if I slipped or if it grabbed my finger or what, but the next thing I know there was a noise like someone breaking a pretzel stick that had been wrapped in a wet paper towel, and I yanked my hand back and made a fist. I've had cuts on my fingers before, and this wasn't bleeding much yet so I figured it probably wasn't too serious. I ran upstairs to the bathroom, turned on the water and adjusted the temperature with one hand. I wanted to wash out the cut because my hands were completely covered in grease.
When I put my lacerated and now bleeding finger under the stream of water, the pain was incredible - probably because the tip of my finger from the nail-bed up bent back like a pez dispenser -- a pez dispenser exposing a pez candy that looked a lot like the flavor was "bone." I stopped the water and grabbed a gauze pad from under the sink and wrapped it up tight because it had started bleeding pretty heavily. Then I yelled upstairs for my wife. There must have been some urgency in my voice because when I said, "I fucked up my finger pretty bad," she went into professional EMT mode, even though she's not an EMT. After she made sure she didn't have to go into the basement to pick up any loose digits, she grabbed her keys and off we went.
When we got to the ER thirty minutes later (after following a car going 35 mph the whole way, driven by someone who either had multiple gunshot wounds to the chest or else was just really old) wonder of wonders, there wasn't a bunch of people there before us. The receptionist/nurse took my information and then made me come around the counter and sit in a chair next to her so she could assess the damage.
Of course, by that time, the gauze was extremely hard to remove, since it was stuck to the top half of the finger and every time I tried to unwrap it, it kept pulling the top of the finger back off. She gave me a little pink tray full of water and I tried soaking it off. I pulled lightly on it, and the cold water felt like fire. I was dropping a few F-bombs through clenched teeth as I did this, and suddenly a half-dozen black 3-ring binders came flying off a shelf behind us and hit the floor. I looked at my wife and said, "That's probably Paul telling me not to be such a pussy.*"
After it finally came loose, they stuck me in a wheelchair and gave me a ride to a room. Just the air going past it hurt, but it felt good compared to what pulling off that gauze was like.
We sat for a bit, and a PA came in. I'm pretty sure she was in high school. "What did you do?" she asked. I held up my hands and said "Well, let's compare these two hands." Since my hands were greasy, they immediately started me on an antibiotic IV drip and gave me a tetanus shot and some morphine. Then she broke out the giant Novocain needle and jacked it into about five places in my hand, and sent me down the hall for x-rays to see if the finger was broken. It was. So that meant the bone was exposed to air, which I guess is a bad thing, infection-wise, because her concern seemed to go up a notch. When she was talking to the orthopedic on call, I got to hear cheery words like "amputated" and "completely flayed" and then she continued her conversation outside the room.
Apparently he told her to "sew it up as best you can" and that he would see me the following day. I was a little apprehensive about that "as best you can" statement, since I wasn't sure if it was intended as a reflection of her ability or the relative state of my busticated pez dispenser. Since I'm so tactful, I said, "So....done many of these?" It sounded like I was trying to pick her up in a bar or something. "So, come here often?" Like that. She just laughed and said, "Tons." (Especially around the 4th of July, it turns out.) She seemed pretty confident, so I let her do her thing. She scrubbed my finger like it was an old pot, but I didn't feel a thing, other than spraying water. After she was done washing, the table looked like someone had killed a chicken on it. She cleaned that up, and then got to stitching up what was left.
When she was done, she had put twelve stitches in a semi-circle from one side to the other, and my finger looked like a tiny Frankenstein. She warned me that depending on the break and other trauma, I might not get to keep it. If it wouldn't have been an infection risk, I would have put a little face on it with a sharpie. While she was out finding some sort of special, non-stick, antibiotic impregnated bandages, I took a few more pictures. She came back and wrapped it up so my finger was sticking straight out like I was giving someone directions to a gas station. I looked at my wife and said, "I AM AWESOME AT DOORBELLS! OH! AND CAVITY SEARCHES!" I poked my finger forward a few times. The morphine had definitely kicked in. She just laughed and told me to stay away from her and the cats.
The PA handed me a prescription for antibiotics, a prescription for Vicodin, and a prescription for some other drug that is supposed to help you not get an upset stomach from the first two. She described all the drugs and what they were for and said, "The antibiotic may give you diarrhea," then followed it up with "The Vicodin will probably constipate you." I thought about that for a second then said, "So in other words --smooooooth sailin!" She didn't comment on that one. I guess Vicodin/poop jokes are pretty thin in the first place and my delivery at that point was lacking. They let us go, and told me I was supposed to come back to the ER if my finger got really cold or bled through the dressing.
After a night of feeling my heartbeat in my finger and getting no real sleep other than that provided by a Vicodin daze, I was pretty beat. Of course it had bled through during the night, but there was nothing I could do about it but hope it wouldn't make it too difficult to unwrap. I popped another Vicodin and we drove down to the orthopedic's office.
The followup was a bit anticlimactic. The ortho took a look at the x-rays, examined the stitches, and then told me to wait a few days and once it scabbed over, start rinsing it with hydrogen peroxide once a day to keep infection away. He said this as he's handling my finger without gloves on, so I'm treating his advice as suspect. Then he put a single piece of gauze over the finger, jammed a plastic thumb cover on it and taped the whole thing down. WTF, bone-doctor guy? Good thing it was still a little numb from the novocain. I think because it was just a finger and I didn't have a femur anywhere outside my body, he didn't feel it was worthy of his concern.
When we got back home, I actually dialed into work because I had a couple of phone meetings to attend. This was Thursday
. At the end of the day, I filled out my time sheet
for the week and signed off on it. It wasn't until the next day that I realized that I had gone the whole previous day thinking it had been Friday
. To paraphrase Rick James
is a helluva drug."
Right now I'm getting pretty good at touch-typing with nine fingers, which kind of amazes me. It is my dominant hand, however, so things like button fly jeans are not my friend. Neither is my toothbrush.
Also, if I smell like poop for the next week or so, just know that I tried, OK?
Oh yes, one more thing -- when I was down in the basement unplugging the treadmill (never trust them after they've eaten flesh) I found this on the floor:
I'm saving it in case I need it later. I probably won't though, because my friend Vidna
sent me this link
* A bunch of years ago, I got a call from Paul on a Sunday afternoon. He said, "Hey, I cut myself pretty bad, can you drive me over to that urgent care place?" I said sure, and headed over to pick him up. When I got there, he had his forearm and hand wrapped in a towel. He had been testing a sword to failure, and when it snapped he put it through the bottom of his hand and his wrist. He pulled the towel aside and wiggled his fingers. "Check this out," he said. "You can see the tendons in my wrist moving up and down through the hole in my wrist bone." We didn't know it at the time, but one of the other tendons had snapped back up into his forearm. It was a mess. The dude had a pain tolerance you would NOT believe.