Saturday, November 13, 2010

Of Thanksgiving and Thumbs

It's that time of year again: Thanksgiving. A day in which I cook too much food for too few people and have far too many dishes afterward to clean up. Plus, Thanksgiving starts the annual Black Friday horrorfest and the start of the most loathsome part of the "Christmas shopping season." I am somewhat dreading Thanksgiving this year. Not because of the aforementioned aspects, but because I am worried I might repeat last Thanksgiving's mistake.

See, last Thanksgiving, I kind of, well, cut off my thumb.

I didn't cut the whole thing off, just the end of it. The severance came about while I was chopping a bag of potatoes to make mashed potatoes. I was on the last half of the last potato of the bag when it happened. For some reason, I was on the phone with my mom at the time. I still don't remember what led up to the incident, I just remember hearing the clack of the knife hitting the cutting board, feeling a twinge, and looking down to see something rather non-potato-like lying there.

Actually, it did look rather potato like. It didn't get in the potatoes though; I made sure of that.

After slicing off my thumb, I attempted to break into the conversation to inform mom that I must go. She was talking about something and after a little bit, I finally managed to say "MOM! I have to go! I cut off the end of my thumb!" She gasped, agreed I had to go, then chatted some more. I informed her that it really hurt and is bleeding a lot, so I really needed to go.

I then went into the bedroom where the spouse was showing off something to our guest. I admit it, I'm a bit of a doormat. I don't like to bother people and am reluctant to interrupt a conversation, even in the midst of severed body parts. After a few meek "Ums," I finally got their attention. Spouse's first response was to ask if I needed to go to the hospital.

"No," I said, clearly delusional, "but someone needs to finish the potatoes and stuffing."

Spouse and guest bravely dove in, finishing the Thanksgiving feast that I was now unable to do myself.

I had been holding my thumb with some paper towels, so I went into the bathroom to try and properly bandage it. It didn't really hurt at this point, just kind of throbbed with a dull ache and was no longer bleeding. I didn't think it was all that bad. The paper towels were stuck to my thumb. I soaked the towels, thinking this would help. It did not.

I pulled the towels off and the searing pain I felt made my vision go black for a moment. Then it started bleeding again. Gushing. Like nothing had ever gushed before. I panicked and wrapped my thumb in a thick layer of non-stick gauze, then naturally, went into the kitchen to check on the turkey.

I was shooed out of the kitchen and told to rest and are you sure you don't need to go to the hospital?

No, no, I'm fine. I sit down on the sofa, grab my laptop (not easy with one hand) and go to my favorite forum to ask if I need to go to the hospital. Most posters suggested this was the sane course of action. I was not convinced.

Soon, the turkey was done and we all settled in with our meal, me pathetically one-handed with my left fingers holding down another wad of paper towels on top of the gauze. Dinner was pretty damn good. My turkey was perfect.

After dinner, we sat around and chatted. I like my Thanksgiving at normal supper time, none of that afternoon BS. So it was getting late. I was concerned about how hard it would be to get my thumb to stop bleeding. It was again a dull throbbing and seemed to have stopped bleeding, but I wasn't so sure. Another poster mentioned having a similar injury and having it cauterized at the hospital. I thought that sounded good, but scary. I decided to take a peek at my thumb and went back in the bathroom to pull off the non-stick gauze.


Again, searing agony and blacked out vision. I came to, wrapped my thumb in more (sigh) non-stick gauze to stop the bleeding, and shakily went back into the living room. I informed the room that I thought it was time to go to the hospital.

So, about 11pm, I'm sitting on a hospital bed, feeling a lot better. Despite my warning, the doctor ripped the non-stick gauze off and I almost passed out again. My thumb was stabbed with needles filled with a numbing agent that they swore would last for 24 hours.


They cauterized my thumb with silver nitrate, bandaged it, then walked away to do some paperwork. I whipped out my cell phone, took a picture of my bandaged thumb, and sent it to my mom's cell. I thought, surely this will calm any fears she has regarding my thumb as clearly the picture shows I am okay and getting medical attention.

Apparently, sending a picture of bandaged body parts at midnight from the hospital to my mom wasn't exactly calming. She promptly freaked out.

The doc came back, asked if I wanted anything for the pain. I said I'd like vicodin as codeine puts me to sleep and vicodin is the one thing I can take for pain and still be able to go to work. They weren't so sure and gave me a prescription for six pills. I figured no biggie, the numbing agent lasts 24 hours and by the time I get up, I'll have plenty of time to fill the scrip before it wears off.

One hour after being bandaged and set home, I'm doubled over in agony, sobbing into spouse's lap, the numbing agent having worn off 23 hours too early.

See, when you sever a body part filled with major nerve endings and then cauterize the exposed nerves, it causes major traumatic...thingies to go shooting to your brain. Seriously, this is the worst pain I've ever felt in my life. I've not exactly been sheltered; I've done everything from smash hands to slice myself up to land on my head after inadvertently flying off a sand dune the wrong way. None of that put together compared to this. That time I flipped over my bike handlebars at full speed and landed on my forearms, skidding several feet to a stop, leading to severe lacerations? Cakewalk compared to this.

Once my body had shocked itself enough to where the pain had backed off enough so I wasn't vomiting and passing out, I called the hospital to request help. They were unsympathetic to my plight. They did not care that they lied about the numbing agent (I looked it up later and it doesn't last 24 liars). I was told to take some ibuprofen or Aleve and I'd be fine.

Hey, guess what you shouldn't take when you have an avulsion injury? Blood thinners like ibuprofen and Aleve. Remember that.

Not knowing that at the time, I took a large handful of both and passed out again.

When I woke up the next morning, still in utter agony, spouse was kind enough to fill my prescription. Six pills would get me through one day. With that much pain, the weeks ahead seemed like torture. It was the Friday after Thanksgiving and my doctor was closed until Monday. I did not want to go to the hospital because I no longer trusted them, what with their numbing agent lies.

So, we did what we had to do. We drove to a neighboring state on Saturday to go to one of those "doc-in-a-box" clinics. The doctor unwrapped my thumb, re-bandaged it, then gave me a prescription for 30 vicodin. I spent the rest of the weekend either sleeping or staring dumbly at the TV. I may have taken more than the recommended dosage. I did not care. Total bliss.

On Monday, I went to see my regular doctor, who also wrote me a prescription for 30 vicodin. Total score. I also got some awesome bandages.


Before any of you think about cutting the end of your thumb off for vicodin, let me tell you, this injury will fuck you up and it will fuck you up for a good long while. From Thanksgiving until New Year's, I lived on painkillers and bandages. I couldn't use my left hand much at all. For the first couple weeks, the pain was so bad, it radiated up my arm into my shoulder. Moving my pinky was agony in my thumb. The only way I could sleep was being drugged into submission. After the first couple weeks, the worst of the pain subsided, but if anything touched my thumb, even the part that wasn't damaged, I received intense pain. I couldn't move my thumb without intense pain and sometimes just elevating it sent my nerves into a tizzy.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to do anything without using your left hand, or even left thumb? Had I no thumb at all, it would have been a hundred times easier. Having an injured thumb made it extremely difficult to use the rest of my hand. I couldn't tie my own shoes without help. I couldn't put on my clothes in the morning without something bumping my thumb and causing pain. Even fabric lightly brushing against my thumb joint was painful. Lightly brush the knuckle end of your thumb and you'll see what I mean. The end of your thumb will tingle from the sensation.

Showering was an adventure. I had to change the dressing and bandages at least every other day and just doing that was agony. I wound up with my thumb getting infected a week before Christmas and had to go on antibiotics. It was infected down to the bone and if it wasn't so numb from the infection, I would have been far more miserable unwrapping presents than I was. I got very good at carrying things with my elbow.

Once the bandages came off in January, it still wasn't over. The spot where my thumb had been sliced off was still raw and tender. I could feel the smallest of textures in whatever I touched, but anything as coarse as a t-shirt felt like sandpaper. Bumping my thumb against something still caused lots of pain, as did anything brushing any other part of my thumb. All the woodworking and other hobbies I do were put on hold indefinitely because I couldn't hold a gouge or a hook without pain. I once bumped the end of the buckle with my thumb and blacked out from the pain. Actually, I wound up doing that a lot. I had difficulty feeding myself while still in bandages and since supper was the only time I had any help with food, I lost some weight and needed a belt to keep my pants up.

It felt so stupid to me. How could something so damn small cause so much pain and difficulty? There I was, four months later, and I still had trouble tying my shoes and dressing myself. I had to learn a whole new way of typing because of it and then re-learn how to type normally once the vibration of hitting the keys with other fingers no longer caused my thumb to feel like it was being shocked. Picking up anything with my left hand was a crapshoot.

Later that spring, I learned to knit. When I learned to knit, I learned that because of my thumb, I can't knit. The knots on the knitting needle that have to be held steady rest right against the part of my thumb that got cut off. After a few minutes, the pain was too unbearable.

It will be a year next Thursday since I cut off the end of my thumb. If I bump it on the spot where it got cut off, it hurts like hell. I can knit a little longer, but still not more than 10-15 minutes before it hurts too much. I can use my lathe tools again, but I have to be careful how I grip them. All it takes is one bump to remind me why I will never again talk on the phone while chopping vegetables.

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