The Ballad of Weirdfinger
Let me sing you the story of clumsiness and cake.
I’m left-handed, which is why I usually photograph my nails on my right hand. But even if dexterity weren’t an issue, I still wouldn’t choose my left hand first. And if I must I’m pretty careful with the angle, because I have a weird finger. I didn’t always have a weird finger, and the story of how it came to be is quite traumatic. So why not share?
About 4 years ago I got double-knocked up. It was a planned pregnancy but the part about expecting twins was a total surprise. We found out at 8 weeks and were totally dumbfounded by the news. When you’re expecting multiples you can expect a few things to happen: you’ll be classified as “high risk,” you’ll spend extra time getting checked out, and your pregnancy symptoms will be balls-out crazy. Two babies means lots of hormones in your system. Lots of hormones means more morning sickness, fatigue, etc. More brain fogginess, too. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
One day about 2 months into the whole thing I decided to stay home sick from work. I didn’t feel so hot an wanted to rest. But as my morning sickness cleared I started to feel bored. I’d given up glass work and soap making for the duration of my pregnancy and there was nothing else to do. That’s when I turned on the TV and found an episode of “Good Eats.” Alton Brown was in the middle of describing a marvelous sounding concoction called Tres Leche Cake. It sounded fabulous and my cravings were in full swing.
I went straight to the grocery store and picked up ingredients, fully intending to have a lovely cake baked before J got home. One problem: I didn’t own a mixer. Not a stand mixer nor a hand mixer. And step 1 told me to cream the butter. I thought naively that I could do it by hand, but quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen. That’s when I remembered my immersion blender. I hauled out that high powered Cuisinart beauty and plunged it into the bowl, expecting the butter to cream in one shot (must resist filthy joke…). Instead the blade went FPTHHHH and the butter clogged the blade. Damn.
This next part I blame on pregnancy brain. I decided to clear the jam with my finger. No, I didn’t stick it into the path of the whirring blade. What I did was forget that it was still plugged in and has a hair trigger. I stuck my left pointer finger into the blender and pushed the butter aside. In doing so the stick rolled in my other hand, bringing the button down onto my palm. The blade sprang to life.
From my perspective it was painless, more like being slapped three times very hard. My split second reaction was calm, “Well that was dumb.” But in the next instant I realized I was starting to bleed. A lot. There was blade, butter and blood and it was all a mess.
That’s when I realized I had just sliced my finger to ribbons. Shredded. I quickly jumped to the sink to try to wash off the butter, then as the water touched the wound the pain hit me full blast. Holy shit there was a lot of blood. I wrapped it in a huge mass of paper towel, which immediately soaked through. Holy fuck, I’m going to bleed to death.
I thought about an ambulance and decided I couldn’t wait. There was no one home to help me and I thought I would die if I didn’t go straight to the ER. I called J at work and told him I was hurt, bleeding badly, and to meet me at the hospital. Poor J. In my panic I didn’t think to say, “the babies are fine.” He raced to his car, scared that I was miscarrying. Meanwhile I raced to my car and sped to the nearby hospital with my makeshift bandage soaked in blood.
The ER personnel were far less excited about my injury. They told me to have a seat. J showed up only moments later, having broken the speed limit 10 times over. Imagine his relief when he realized it was “just” my hand. After an eternity of pain and bleeding I was finally led back into the ER and a doctor took a look. I was sent for x-rays and after a thousand cries of, “but I’m pregnant! I’m pregnant!” they agreed to drape every lead vest in the building over me while they zapped my finger.
The good news was that there was no bone or tendon damage. The bad news was that the pain was overwhelming me, the human hand is notoriously hard to numb, and no one could figure out how to stitch together the remnants of my finger. My doctor was excited by the challenge, seeing my ribboned flesh as a puzzle. He called over another doctor. Who then called over a third. They huddled around my hand while the pain rocketed through my arm. They agreed on a complicated set of anchor points and prepped the anesthetic.
I can tell you, my friend, the injection of anesthetic was far more painful than the injury. I cried like a dying beast as it burned and ached and spread. It felt like my hand was being torn apart. And the worst part was, it couldn’t get me all the way numb. It got me most of the way, but I was stuck with enough sensation to feel every stitch.
I took it like a motherfucking champ. A motherfucking champ who cried big tears every time a needle and thread were dragged slowly through an open wound. I cried but I didn’t move that hand. Somehow I got through it. When the doctor was done I had a finger that looked like it had been sculpted out of ground chuck. But I had a finger. And an hour before that I couldn’t have been sure of that outcome.
I took photos. Wanna see? Full warning, this is gruesome and possibly NSFL. Want to see the other side? This really shows you how they had to pull the whole tip down in order to stitch it together. It’s measurably shorter now than it used to be.
J and I dubbed it “Burgerfinger” because it was basically ground meat.
It took quite a long time to heal, and as you might imagine I was reluctant to touch anything directly. When the stitches came out I started to get an inkling of the weird pattern of scarring that was in store for me. Since it no longer looked like ground meat, I redubbed it “Weirdfinger.” As the gashes sealed up and smoothed over I investigated the possibility of touching things once again.
No dice. I had extreme nerve damage. Most of my finger from the last knuckle to the tip was totally numb. But at the perimeter the nerves were on fire. Lightly brushing a feather with the tip of my finger felt like scraping it across a belt sander. I mentioned this to my doctor and he immediately referred me to an orthopedist and physical therapist. Yes, physical therapy for the smallest possible therapy-worthy injury.
Twice a week I went to physical therapy and touched things. The orthopedist believed my remaining nerve function was running in overdrive and the only way to reduce the overkill of tactile sensation was to touch things until my nervous system recalibrated or rebooted or whatever the hell it does. So I would start my session by sticking my hand in a bowl of goo. I would squeeze and push and mash and poke. Then I would move on to a series of textured blocks. Swatches of fabric. Feathers and fluff. I poked everything they put in front of me. Finally I would sit with my hand in a big motorized box that blew heated sand everywhere and I was instructed to sift through the grit over and over.
My parting instructions were simple: touch things. I had a prescription to touch. My prescription included instructions to pet the cat. Literally, they told me to go home and pet my cat with weirdfinger. It was a bit surreal.
It’s been four years and partial sensation has returned to my entire finger. There is no spot left that I would describe as numb. But it’s still a weird sparkly kind of feeling, a bit hyperreactive and not at all accurate. I can’t tell when I touch things what they actually feel like. I’ve learned to type with only 9 fingers and go just as fast as I did before. I can’t make myself incorporate that finger back into my typing pattern because tapping a key feels like slamming it with a hammer.
When I decided to stop biting my nails in January I had no idea whether my nail on that finger would grow or whether it would be normal. It’s normal, and I swear it grows faster than the others. That might just be a trick of the eye, though, because of the reduced finger tip. So it just looks like it’s longer. Filing the nail is a weird sensation because the nerve damage extends to the nail bed. It doesn’t hurt, but it is a bit unsettling.
From the back it looks pretty normal. In photos you might not notice anything is wrong. The weird side of weirdfinger is the inner edge, so if it rests against my middle finger you definitely wouldn’t see it. But from the front you can see what happened.
And that’s the story of weirdfinger.
Oh, and those embryos I risked in the x-ray room? They turned out just fine.