When I was twenty years old, I lived in a big house with five roommates on a park. Our house was the center of our universe. My bedroom was the annex, a redone garage with no internal door connecting it to the rest of the house. This meant, of course, that you had to go outside to get to my room. I had my own key. Why, when we were first moving in, I felt the need to claim this room was and still is a mystery, because I have to go to the bathroom at least twice every night. It felt a lot like camping.
|The Brat House|
One evening, I was in my room organizing tank tops by color, when my roommates called me on my phone to inform me that dinner was ready. It was spaghetti. I was starving, and I got so excited that I dashed straight out the door and broke off the top part of my finger.
The door, because it was a door to the outside, was a big, solid, metal fire door. Now, I used to have a particular way of closing a door. Instead of simply stepping outside, grabbing the door knob and pulling it shut, I'd make it more of a challenge. I would grab the inside door knob, pull open the door, step outside, and then I'd pull the door shut behind me with my hand still on the inside knob
, if you can imagine, and at the last minute I'd whip my hand outside and the door would click shut.
It was like a game that I played every time I left the house, and I wasn't even aware I was playing it until I lost.
For some reason, probably because I was in such a food panic, I did not get my hand out in time as I slammed the door. My little finger got left behind, and when the door clicked shut it clipped the bone right in two. What I did now, was I flung the door back open and ran wildly around my room, gripping my left pinkie in my right fist. The erratic circles I spun around the carpet bore an incomprehensible similarity to a freshly beheaded chicken. I opened my mouth but I couldn't make any noise.
And then, the voice from deep within began to speak. It was the same voice that later instructed me to stay alive for one hour when I was drowning
. Count to ten
, the voice instructed. It's a system I've develop to deal with the many explosions of pain I've endured as a result of many a strange accident. I can survive anything for ten seconds, and after that, the pain is usually a little better. So I counted to ten. Nothing had changed. I counted to twenty.
I've slammed my hand in a car door before. What kids hasn't? You cry, you get hugged by your mom, then you get to have a bottomless slurpee to keep the swelling down: it's
worth it. But this was different- this pain was rocking me. I counted to thirty. Forty. The pulsing was not subsiding. I knew I had to take stock of the situation, so with great trepidation I opened my fist and was appalled to see blood, weird flaps of skin, and bone. Aw, Shit
. I thought. And it's
Thursdays during that miraculous year meant milk and cookies night at the Frat house next door. It wasn't really a frat house, that was just its name. Don't you remember, in college, when every house had to have a name? Our next door neighbors were five of our best friends who played on the same elite ultimate teams that we did. Gender divided, of course. One of the boys, Andrew, hosted the weekly get together and absolutely everyone would come. For me, it was social bliss. I'd go over casually, in my (carefully picked for the occasion) pajamas. I'd bake six batches of cookies. I was living in the social hub
of the Ultimate Frisbee World. And I wouldn't miss one Cookies night for anything, not even for my own finger.
|Our Two Houses had a Dodgeball Team: The Knarr Shipwrecked Social Club|
When I had a fraction of my mind back, I ran upstairs to my roommates and yelped something to Miranda, who helped me unclench the finger and hold it under running water. Susan discreetly toweled up the trail of blood that I'd left all the way to the sink. The stream of cold water onto the broken bone made me howl. Miranda and Susan wrapped my finger in a dish cloth and laid me on the couch, then discussed what to do with me.
By this time, friends were arriving for Cookies. Most of them found me and my finger pretty funny. I was bleeding all over the place and in a little bit of shock, but I kept proclaiming, loudly, that I wanted to get off the couch and go to COOKIES. My roommates wouldn't let me move. Finally Will, the exceptionally nice boy who lived in the Frat house, pointed out that the dish towel wrapped around my finger was saturated in blood and ought'n I be getting to the Emergency Room for a stitch?
I went to the Emergency Room. Miranda and Danny took me. They did not stitch me up, but they did feed me very strong pain pills, and shot a very long needle right into the pulp of the finger to numb it. It worked, but only for two hours, during which nothing happened. A doctor came in, inspected the thing, said something to a nurse, then left. After two hours, the pain was back, and they shot me again. Two more hours past, and nothing happened, so they shot me a third time. By this point, after much convincing on my part, Miranda had reluctantly called my sorta boyfriend Ben and told him to leave Cookies and come see his sorry sorta girlfriend in the hospital.
Ben was not impressed to hear I was in the ER, nor was he thrilled that I was requesting him bedside. I can't blame him. I was a complete disaster that year, attracting a truly laudable amount of strange accidents and vile illnesses. I can't tell you the number of times I showed up at his house limping, bleeding, barfing, or in the midst of a migraine that would only go away if he stroked me hair for three hours! Please!!
|This is Sam, by the way.|
I know I could be a bit of a loon, and I brought a lot of it on myself, but still, if I was looking for a partner who specialized in compassion, I was gassing up at the wrong pump. Ben even famously broke up with me while I was in the emergency room
. Way up in Bellingham. Loopy on kidney medication. (It wasn't our last breakup, nor was it the worst.)
My midnight, I was in a Vicodin fog. I referred to notoriously non-committal Ben as my husband, and repeatedly called the female doctor a nurse. By the time they released me, having bandaged and x-rayed, shot me thrice but not stitched me, neither doctor nor boyfriend liked me very much.
That night, I fell asleep in my own bed with Ben next to me. I had managed to put on pajamas. Ben positioned my hand above my head on a pillow and instructed me not to STAY STILL. I awoke a few hours later in a blood bath. The bandage had fallen off, and there was blood everywhere. It was squirting
out of my finger. There was blood all over the bed, all over me, all over Ben. I sat up, wondering where in the world all the friggin blood was from- how could it possibly have come from my finger? My little finger? My pinkie? That little thing?
Then I had to shake Ben awake. Can you imagine? The boy that didn't even want to deal with breakfast the next morning. Wake up honey! Wake up and deal with your psycho 20 year old girlfriend who is calling you husband
and soaking you in her blood! Ahh ha ha ha ha!!
Ben, by all accounts, acted nobly. He had me stand in the middle of the room, cupping the injured finger, while he ran inside the house to get paper towels. However by the time he got back, I was holding a coagulating handful of blood that was seeping down my arm and pooling onto the carpet, looking up at him wide help-me eyes. So instead of trying to soak up the blood, he lead me to the bathroom and held my finger, again, under a running faucet. The stream of cold water hitting the bone made me howl. Again.
Really, the only thing that makes this story worth telling is the unbelievable amount of blood there was.
Ben said if it was still bleeding in the morning, he'd bring me back to the Emergency Room again. It was. Sheets ruined, clothes ruined, carpet ruined. He dropped me off outside the ER and went to work, having slept a maximum of four hours. I walked up to the front desk, held up my claw, and said, Hello.
Unfortunately, it was Doctor Frank's shift. I hated Doctor Frank. We'd had to deal with each other on a few occasions. Doctor Frank was a jerk. He came in to the room and looked at my finger. I said, "It's bleeding quite a bit, don't you think?" And Doctor Frank looked at me, looked at his clipboard and then said, "Well, it's not a bullet wound or anything." Then he left.
My nurse that morning was a big black lady from Georgia, and she was everything you'd hope she'd be, and above all, she was comforting. Unfortunately, she was a big believer in Doctor Frank. "Mr. Frank, he'll take good care of you." She said as she rearranged the two thin pillows behind me. "I'm not so sure about that." I said.
Doctor Frank's solution was to sit me upright in the room and bleed me dry. Just keep bleeding the thing until it eventually stopped on its own. Nobody would stitch it up and I have no idea why. I sat there alone and used the hospital phone to call people. I called Miranda and Danny. Then I called Ben. "Are you still bleeding?" He asked. He was at work. "Yes." I answered. He sighed loudly into the phone. "So," I said, "Are you still driving me to the airport tonight?"
Wasn't I just a cupcake?
Finally, the big nurse came in and said, "Honey, have you ever had a problem with your blood before?" I told her I didn't understand. "Like, have you ever had a cut that wouldn't heal? Have you ever bled profusely like this before?"
I thought for a moment. "No."
"Well, we're not sure going on here, but Doctor Frank is going to come in here and cauterize it if it doesn't stop soon."
At the time, I didn't know what cauterize was. It sounded like a jumble of cut (bad) and coddle (good.) I weighed my options. "Okay." I said.
I called Ben. "What does cauterize mean?"
Just then, the nurse came back, holding a steel blowtorch.
"You know what?" I said, "I think the bleeding has stopped. I don't need to be coddlized."
"Well let's just see," she said, and unwound the gauze. And, amazingly, it had
stopped bleeding. My finger was surrounded on all sides by what looked like red gummy worm eating its tail. I was discharged, with some prescription slips for pain medication which Doctor Frank conveniently forgot to sign. Which rendered them useless.
That night I took a red eye home to Vermont for the holidays. I was very displeased to find I had an aisle seat. I only do window.
Then, sitting in a terminal chair with my giant, swollen, bandaged, oozing claw, I spotted an opportunity. I went up to the front desk and waved my hand around in the air. "Help me!" I said. "I'm just a child!" I looked the part, too. I look at least six years younger than I am, and whenever I fly I wear my hair in two braids which knocks off another year or two. "Help me!" I cried. "Look at my horrible hand! I must have a window seat!"
The flight was full. The seats were fully arranged, the plane about to be boarded, but the kind Jet Blue employee took pity on my decrepit, sad self. She ran a bell, made an announcement. In a flash, a woman switched seats with me. "You poor thing." She said. "You're very brave, flying with that."
"I know," I answered earnestly. "I just want to go home."
The flight from Seattle to Boston is long, but the window seat was very pleasant. Back at home, I went directly to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, which was covered in tinsel and red Christmas bows. They made me wear a face mask (I'm here for my finger
, I said, We see that but you're coughing
, they replied,) and then the doctor stitched the open wound shut. "You know," he said as he sewed, "you should have gone to the hospital right away when you broke your finger and gotten it stitched up. It would have healed a lot easier. This will probably leave a scar."