In the middle of a thoroughly uneventful afternoon, I created a minor event. I try to make Friday afternoon the start of my weekend and I even try to wind down my work from Thursday evening, if financial markets are agreeable. They were into their afternoon lull, and I was getting into watching tennis from Cincinnati. I had just got off the phone with my domestic interior manager, and we had agreed to meet on her bus route and have a pizza after work: Miss Bliss had wanted that since she came home today from her sleep over with a teenage god-sister. But, as I looked out of my kitchen window I was bothered by my pond’s waterfall, which was not flowing, and had not for days. The problem is electrical, so I went to the basement utility room to flip the switch to see if the fuse would trip again within minutes. Flip on. Nothing. I went back to check if the fuse had tripped. No. Flip off, flip on, with the switch. As I pulled my hand away to head upstairs, my finger caught against the metal face plate of the switch. “Aieeeee! “I yelled. Was that an electric shock? No. I saw a deep, gaping gash in one of my fingers, and blood starting to pour out down my hand. “Wow. That is a huge cut,” I thought. It did not seem that I should just let it clot. I dashed up from the basement, and headed to the fridge. I grabbed a handful of ice cubes, and then a Ziploc back into which I pushed my hand. I grabbed my car keys, and told my little kid, who was happily watching TV, that we needed to rush to the hospital. Naturally, she asked, “What happened?” I showed her my hand bag. “Oooh. That’s a lot of blood.” We drove a mile to the hospital, parked, and walked straight into the emergency room (ER).
We registered and I was taken to the triage room, blood pressure and temperature taken, and given a hasty compression bandage to stop the bleeding, while I dealt with the preliminary questions: name, address, how and what happened; when; date of my last tetanus jab, etc. I was clear-headed and managed to answer everything. “Good,” I thought, “I’m not about to faint.” I was passed on to two female nurses, one a trainee, one black, one white–that’s just for colour in the story. They asked me to lie on the examining couch. A male administrator–you need gender balance–started to get my details about medical insurance. I fumbled in my pockets again for my card, while my daughter filled in the form: a good education is not a luxury and I am glad that she can write legibly at her age. The nurses gave way to a doctor, who told me that they needed to “fully irrigate” the area and “get me stitched up”. I love my garden, but had never seen myself as needing landscape management. I also did not have the heart to get into what ‘to stitch up’ means in a British English context, ie, to finalize or to cheat someone. Humour makes stressful moments bearable and my funny bone was kicking in. I giggled under my breath.
The doctor pulled out her syringe and said that I would feel a pinch a little burning sensation. Pinch. OK. Burn. “Yow! That burns!” She asked me if I could feel the numbness spreading. I thought: “Feel the numbness?” She pulled out another needed and warned about the pinch as she plumped up my right arm. Stick. Tetanus jabs have never been my favourite. As the serum seared through my system, I felt the dullish pain spread down my arm. “Lie back, now, while the nurses irrigate the wound,” said the doctor. I felt like a flower in a pot.
A large plastic plunger came out and a saline solution drenched my fingers. I was good and clean. Back came the doctor. “You may feel some tugging but nothing else.” She lied. I felt a burning hot pain at the top of my finger. “Oh. Some people are harder to deaden. I better give that finger tip a bit more,” she said, matter-of-factly. I blinked my thanks. Then she went on with her haberdashery. Seven stitches later, she was done, and so was I. My daughter had, in the meantime, befriended the nurses and offered to bring them pizza. She had also chosen my bandage wrap, a very bright purple–her favourite colour. My finger was wrapped and looked like an aubergine. I got my instructions about how to care for the wound over the next 10 days, and was told I could leave.
During that set of procedures, I had called my wife and spoken to her to explain briefly what was happening. We were still good to meet, I assured her, knowing that she does not handle the sight of blood well. I waited to hear a thud at her end of the phone. Nothing. She had not fainted. Good.
We cleaned me up a bit more, I collected my belongings, and headed back to my car. I wonder at the injustice of having to pay to park $4 for an hour’s visit when you are rushing to the ER, and said so to the gate attendant. “Well, if you have to stay the day, it’s only $12,” she tried as justification. But, she was taken by my accent: “Whe’ you from?”. I told her Jamaica. “I guessed so.” I guessed that she hadn’t but anything other than that southern drawl that is common in the Washington area draws comment.
My daughter and I headed home to just put order in place before heading back out. We’d fled like spies about to be nabbed. We met at a local pizzeria and retold the story to the good lady. Her face squirmed, so I left out most of the details.
The evening was calm. I had no major pain before heading to bed. During the night, I woke at about 2am as the pain-killer wore off and I really got back feeling in my damaged finger. I looked for my pain medication, which I rarely take, and thought whether I could bear the pain during the night. No. I took one tablet, and waited while it started to take effect. The pain gradually eased over the next hour and I managed to sleep till around 6am, as the dawn light began to intrude. The pain was rising again, so I took one more tablet. The sense of pain was good, as it meant that I had a good set of nerves still working in my finger. I did not feel feverish, which was also good. I dozed again, till about 8.30.
As I rolled out of bed, I had to figure out what I could do. I was not incapable, but had a true handicap. I met my wife on the deck: “How’s the invalid?” Valid question. “I’m not too bad, and the pain is bearable,” I replied. I grabbed a mug of coffee and settled into a chair and started to enjoy the coolish morning air. It would not last, according to the weather reports. I tried to cut some coconut bread sent by friends in Barbados, and as I squeezed the knife, I realised that it would be better to try to do things with my left hand. I wanted to write, too, but that would not be too hard without the use of one finger. I touched my wounded, bandaged finger. It was very painful. I had to keep it dry, and when I take off the bandage later I have to avoid touching things that may cause an infection.
Accidents happen, and often at the most unexpected and inopportune moments. I thought back to the past Sunday, and how I had slipped on the metal wheelchair ramp at a side entrance to our church, and had fallen as I ran to dodge the heavy rain. My glasses, keys, and glasses had all gone into orbit, and I had grazed my elbow and had a few minor cuts on my hand. I thought how easy it would have been to have hit my head on the handrail.
I am always grateful for small mercies. Today, I am also very grateful to those people who provide us with health care, and for all of those who help them to do that. Of course, I am reminded vividly about how much we have to hold onto our religious faith, but to have faith, not just in those who care for us daily, but also those into whose hands we have to put ourselves.