On The Occasion Of Cutting Off Two Fingers
All I was trying to do was to plane off a three foot section of a two-by-four board at an angle that matched the window sill's slope. I planned to put an air conditioner in the window to provide relief from the over 100 degree heat index temperatures we were experiencing. In the process of setting up the jointer to accomplish the task, my hand slipped off the wood and, in a fraction of a second, I knew my left hand was shorter by two fingers length.
My first thought: "Oh oh!" (Believe it or not, that was my exact thoughts!)
Instantly my next thought was to contact my son, Josh, and have him drive me into the hospital. "Josh! Josh!" I shouted at the top of my lungs as I ran out of the shop toward the house while simultaneously holding onto my hand to stop the flow of blood which seemed to to be profusely spraying every where. As I ran into the house I shouted to him, " I need you to take me to the hospital. I just cut off two of my fingers!"
I hurried into the bathroom while he jumped up, got his crutches, and, in his shock and bewilderment, ran looking for his keys.
"Get me a rag or something out of the hall closet to wrap around my hand!" I ran some water over the mangled fingers and quickly changed my mind about doing that when I saw all the water changing to a bright crimson color.
Josh came in bringing me an old towel which I used to wrap up the bloody mess that only a minute before had been my fingers. I had seen that the ring finger was no longer there and the little finger was mangled beyond recovery.
We rushed out to his car and I hurriedly threw the objects in the passenger seat into the back seat and sat down. Josh got in the driver's side and quickly got the car under way.
"I am sure thankful that you are here today, else I would have to call for an ambulance."
"That would take too much time for this" he replied.
"Yeah!" I agreed.
As we got underway, I thought out loud, " We need to call your mom and let her know that we're heading her way. She could meet us in the emergency room and check me in because they may need information you don't have." I patted my pocket. " Do you have your phone? I don't have mine with me."
" No, I don't have mine either," he admitted.
" Oh well. We don't want to go back after them. You can go down to Women's Care and tell her while I check in."
Just then we noticed another car approaching us on the narrow road we live on. There was a one lane bridge between the two cars. Would they slow down and and let us go first?
Josh flashed his bright lights a couple of times to tell the other car to go ahead as Josh stopped his car. But then the other car slowed to a stop. So Josh started to go first. Then the other car started up again! Josh stopped again as the other car, seeing us start up, stopped once more! But as soon as he saw us stop again, he started up and went over the bridge. Even in pain, I smiled to myself thinking "In the 25 years that I have lived here, this is the first time I remember seeing two cars jockey for position that much!"
Josh speeded up to make up for lost time while I cautioned him not to go so fast. Once we got out on the main road and were hurrying towards the hospital, I heard Josh say, "We don't have time for this!"
Wondering what he was talking about I looked in front of us and saw an old pickup truck. "Nothing wrong with that," I thought. Then my eyes looked beyond that and I saw what Josh was talking about: Another pickup truck was slowly pulling two tandem wagons stacked high with hay. The two wagons were weaving back and forth, making it dangerous to pass. In addition, this section of road had a double yellow line cautioning us not to pass. I knew this stretch of road continued for over a mile before coming to an area where we might pass. So we were traveling along at less than twenty miles an hour while the blood from my hand quickly saturated its enclosing towel.
Knowing Josh, I said, "Put you emergency blinkers on. But don't try to pass right now. There's a long line of cars coming the other way."
" I can see them," was his reply.
Of course, as soon as the line of cars passed, Josh went around the two pickup trucks and the hay wagons.
Arriving at the city limits, we took the interstate bypass around our city from one exit to the second exit (a total of two miles between exits, so now you know how small our city really is.)
As Josh got off the interstate and drove up the ramp, there was a large 18-wheeler at the stoplight waiting to turn left in the left turn area. Josh looks in his rear-view mirror and then pulls into the right turn lane, and pulls up beside the 18-wheeler. While the light is still red for us, he sees no cars coming, so he pulls out and turns left.
"What are you doing!" I'm asking him. "Don't pull out like this!" But I know that his concern for his Dad outweighed his concern for legalities at that time. It was then I realized that my injury was shaking him up more than me. I had already seen the extent of injury and had accepted it. It was done, and now the thing was to clean it up and make it look as neat as possible. Josh, on the other hand, had not fully accepted it so he wanted to repair the damage if it was possible.
We had already discussed, while driving over, that the jointer needed to be turned off, the window where I was planning to put the air conditioner needed to be closed, I would need some clothes if I was to be admitted into the hospital. While I was thinking about all the mundane things needing to be done, Josh was thinking about me.
Upon arriving at the hospital emergency door entrance, I got out and strode into the emergency waiting room, holding on to my towel, dripping with blood.
"May I help you?" the admissions secretary asked.
I decided to just be straight forward so I replied, "Yes. I cut off two of my fingers in a planer and I need to see someone back there." I motioned with my head toward the back.. The secretary grimaced, asked me my name and began to type it in the computer. Turning to Josh, I told him to go and tell his Mom down in Women's Care. After getting my address, and finding me in their database (I have been here several times before, but those are other stories!), she directed me to the back where they took me to a room. There they unwrapped my towel and each one who looked at it grimaced and covered it up again. I was hooked up for vital signs and an IV was started to replenish my fluids. Each nurse or Physician's Assistant which entered got the full extent of my smile and my jokes: my smile because I love to observe people and my jokes because I desired to make them feel at ease. I have a natural ability to raise my tolerance to pain, so that I could just ignore it for the most part, and I know that many health professionals often possess great empathy for others (which pulls them toward their profession of helping others). Because of this, I did not want to burden them with my pain, and instead, I tried to brighten their day by simply directing my attention to them rather than me. They are important in who they are and they need to feel appreciated. So I simply appreciate them by asking them about their lives, and their dreams. This also helps me by taking my attention away from my pain, so it is a win-win situation.
Thus there was a lot of laughter coming from that room in the emergency section of the hospital. Meanwhile one nurse in particular kept asking me "Do you know your name? What is your birthdate?" Finally just for fun whenever I looked at her I would recite those two facts without being asked.
Another question I was asked repeatedly was, "On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the highest, how would you rate your level of pain?" This question gave me trouble because, as I stated earlier, I could raise my tolerance to pain. This turns the scale of one to ten into a moving object, difficult to pin down in the manner they wanted. So my answer varied from "about seven" to "maybe nine" to "around 15." I think they were more surprised at my low numbers than the jokingly given 15. But when they characterized ten on the scale as " the most pain you could imagine" well, as Han Solo once said, " I can imagine quite a lot" and I knew that I had not reached that limit yet.
I really lost my grip on the pain scale after they gave a shot of morphine. It went into the IV and I could feel a wave of sensation going down my legs and then there was a slow surge of pressure in my head. A slight sense of drifting followed, and it seemed that the pain in my hand went down slightly. But other than that, there was no more sensations associated with the morphine. (at least none that I noticed!)
The attendant came into the room and told me that they were going to take me to UK Hospital in Lexington so the surgeons there could treat my wound. Josh had driven back home and picked up some clothes for me to wear (No one told him how much to get, so he returned with four outfits.) I had asked for my ipad so I could keep up with things happening while I stayed in the hospital. Both my wife, Kathy, and I had calculated that it would be at least until Friday that I would be in the hospital (This was Wednesday afternoon). As we waited for the ambulance to arrive, we kept up the jokes and the quick patter with anyone who entered. The male nurse working with me was especially good with this and we had a great time. When the transportation arrived, the driver of the ambulance took one look at the male nurse and said, "Oh no! Oh no!" -- they knew each other and liked to kid one another!
I was interested in the ambulance since I had never ridden in one before. This was a new experience for me and I was attempting to see and learn as much as possible. As the two men lifted me into the back of the ambulance, I told them I had never ridden in one before. Keith, the driver, stood at the back before closing the doors and said, "Have you ever ridden on a hay wagon?" When I responded "Yes, many times," he then added, "Well, it's just like a hay wagon with walls and enclosed." As I laughed, he closed the doors and went around to the front to drive.
The other EMT, who rode with me in the back, was interesting. He had been doing this work for over 20 years, which I could tell from the efficiency he showed while getting my vital signs. I learned he had been burned with second and third degree burns over a lot of his body when he was young, and had spent about 8 months in the burn unit. We got to talking about using tools to remodel the house, and he shared with me that he was presently putting down a laminate floor in most of his house. We traded tricks on how to use a plunge circular saw to accomplish flooring as I watched the cars and the scenery out the back window of the ambulance. As many times as I had traveled this route, I could not recognize where I was along the road! Traveling backwards really disorients you!
Upon arriving at the UK hospital, they wheeled me into a flurry of nurses, attendants and doctors rushing in all directions, with people moaning and crying all around. The attending nurse said, "Take him to 77" and then turned to do something else. They wheeled me through some doors and down the hallway to the very end where another set of doors labeled with "Only staff beyond this point." Instead of going through the doors, they turned me to the right into a room with three other patients. I had mentioned to the EMT with me that an old man like me would probably need to go to the bathroom, so, as soon as the UK nurse left to take the papers to the desk, he lowered the bed I was on about a foot, and whispered to me, "Now you don't have to jump out of the bed when you go to the bathroom." I smiled and mouthed back, "Thanks!"
It was extremely busy in ER at this time, and I had plenty of time to observe what was going on around me. Curtains were drawn between me and the others in the room, but if could hear one lady groaning. I sent energy to her and prayed for her and the woman next to me. I had seen a man in there with her, probably her husband. He was thin, wearing work clothes and had the look about him of hard work and a hard life. I could hear him talking softly with his wife, although I could not make out the words. Presently he emerged from behind the curtain and walked by the foot of my bed since it was the only path out to the hallway.
"A shop accident, huh?" he quietly said to me. " I nodded my head in affirmation, realizing he had heard me describing the accident to the nurse. He smiled at me as he continued out to the hall to tell the nurse that his wife needed some assistance.
I continued to watch everyone walking drown the hallway, some going through the double doors and some emerging from them. By smiling at them as they passed I hoped to add a brighter moment to their evening, even if just for a second.
After about 30 minutes, an attendant came and, apologizing, moved me out into the hallway, telling me they needed that space for another patient. It did not bother me because I knew most of those in the emergency room were in greater need than me. Besides my bleeding had almost stopped and the pain I had grown used to since it was not increasing any. Once I got out into the hallway, in bed #78 according to the label near the ceiling, it was far more interesting for me to observe what else was going on around me. Kathy arrived soon after I had moved, and someone offered her a chair. About this time a crowd of people, all in different uniforms began to gather in the space I had exited. X-ray machines and monitors of several types were moved in and some of the people began putting lead aprons on under their temporary plastic gowns. Every one put on a pair of gloves while they awaited the arrival of the patient. As I listened to them talk I heard phrases like "stabbing victim", "It happened at Wal-Mart", and "Wal-Mart is a very dangerous place."
When the patient finally was brought in, I saw that he was a large, burly man, head shaven and tattoos on his arms. Someone said he had been stabbed yesterday and was just now coming in.
It was about this time that another man was placed in a hallway bed just down from mine. He was attended by two security guards and had his legs chained together, one pair of handcuffs on his wrists and two other pairs, one on each leg, attached to the chain between his feet. He was wearing shorts and a light colored shirt, and had a non-committal look on his face. I wondered what he had done to warrant such security. When the nurse asked if he was allergic to any drugs, He replied, eith a straight voice and sincerity, "Cocaine, Heroin, and drugs like that."
A surgeon stopped by at this time and looked at my hand. Kathy had just asked if she could take a picture of my mangled fingers, to which I quickly replied, "No!"
"But I would only show it to people at work"
"That's all right. You don't need a picture," I insisted, thinking that it would only serve to increase sympathy for me, something I did not want.
At that moment the resident surgeon pulled out his cell phone and took a picture, explaining, "I can explain what the injury looks like in a lot of words, but the boss just tells me to email him a picture". I couldn't argue with that, so one picture was taken.
The surgeon left and Kathy and I continued to talk and plan what we were going to do when I was able to return home. Another stabbing victim was brought in and placed in the room opposite from me. His face seemed familiar to both Kathy and I although we couldn't place him. He was a young man with short light brown to blond hair. He had been stabbed in the upper right breast, and did not seem to be very uncomfortable. He look was stern, neither smiling nor frowning, and I got the impression that he may be a very cold individual. He sat up in the bed the whole time and I heard a nurse saying something about "No medical record, and he won't even tell us what happened!" His mouth was a thin, straight line, and he did not say much.
From his position he could easily see me and my mangled hand, uncovered since the resident surgeon had looked at it. Another surgeon stopped to examine the hand, turning it around, moving the still attached upper portion of the pinky and looking at it. I could tell that he knew what he was doing, but it made the mistake of asking him how old he was. To me he looked to be about 15, but his reply was, "28." I guessed later this was a sensitive matter for him since, even though he stopped by several times later, he did not acknowledge my presence.
An attendant would drop by a couple of times and assure me that I would be attended to, but that it was very busy in the ER tonight. The attendant brought an instrument that was to cut off my wedding ring (which I never took off, and was not sure that it could be slipped off even before this accident.) and attempted to remove the ring. Even though I only had a stub of a finger left, the ring could not easily be removed because of the swelling. The instrument had a crescent shaped area which slipped between the ring and the finger. On the other side of the ring a sharp circular knife was pressed against the ring and screwed tighter and tighter until it cut through the gold ring. Maybe because my ring was 41years old and constructed of a harder alloy of gold, but the instrument he was using could not cut it off. So he left to search for another cutter.
Between the time this attendant left and the surgeon arrived, I looked over into the room of the second stabbing victim. He was looking at me. He then said, "Get better." I looked at him, smiled, and replied, "You too!"
A young girl and young man stopped by my bed in the hallway and started a conversation. They were students in the STEPP program and were pre-med undergraduates from various colleges and universities over the state who simply were observing. They asked me about my injury, and I inquired more about the schools they were in and what their plans were for the future. The surgeon who was to work on my fingers returned at this time and the students, discovering that he was going to operate on me right there in the hallway, requested if they might observe. We were all agreeable so a small table was set up as a sterile area, and a stool was brought over for the surgeon to use.
Without going into the grisly details, the next hour turned out to be extremely educational for the students and myself as various tendons were pointed out and manipulated, excess bone was trimmed away, flaps of skin were folded over and trimmed to fit and everything was sewn together. I was able to watch the whole time because my fingers had been numbed and were held by a couple of makeshift tourniquets to control bleeding. It was like I was watching someone else's hand, not my own. Besides, as I joked to the students when they remarked about it, "It's not like I was attached to those fingers any longer."
When it was all over, the students thanked me for allowing them to watch, and they remarked that I was the toughest person they had ever met. I laughed and replied that I wasn't really tough -- I simply believed life was good and I could learn from all of it
Once my hand was wrapped up in a cast to keep from moving the fingers, we were dismissed from the hospital to go home. It had been less than eight hours since I had first shouted for Josh to drive me to the hospital, but almost 19 hours since my loving wife had had any sleep. And we still had to find an all-night pharmacy before driving the 45 minutes back home.
We were both very tired when we got home, still amazed that I did not have to stay in the hospital. I had been given the choice of attempting to save the little finger, but that would have taken a minimum of three surgeries and no guarantee it would work. I had already accepted the loss of the fingers, so that alternative had no appeal to me at all. I was thankful that it had not happened to the right hand, and that I still had three beautiful fingers on the left hand.(Notice the symbolism of the picture at the beginning of this story.) I was also thankful for all of the experiences of that day and prayed that at least one person was strengthened by my awareness and presence.
As I keyboard this with one finger, two days after it happened (actually I wrote Part I yesterday before I grew tired) I realize that there is still an adventure ahead of me as my hand heals and I learn to cope. I definitely want to explore voice recognition on the computer so I do not have to type with one hand from now on! And I would like to thank my son, Josh and my wife, Kathy, for their love and for putting up with my accidents. Also, although I do not desire any excess sympathy because of my present condition, I was not adverse to accepting a lemon-glazed cake which my sister made upon hearing of what happened (I might add she won a "Grand Champion" at the county fair with this cake recipe!) A little sympathy is not all bad!