Monday, March 12, 2007

Opposable Necessities

Everything is Going to be Alright

Opposable Necessities

“Charlie! They took my thumb....Charlieee!"
—Paulie, The Pope of Greenwich Village—

It is amazing how many little things you cannot do when you lose the use of a thumb.

Tying your shoes, fastening buttons, inserting contacts, tying a tie, turning pages of reports at work, typing—all these relatively simple tasks, suddenly become excruciatingly and exponentially frustrating, as well as more time-consuming.

Yesterday morning I went for a refreshing run up and down Sagamore Street, across Main Street onto Columbus Avenue and down Dale Road until it ended at the gates of the Leewood Golf Club. It was an invigorating four-mile run. Along the way, I appreciated the way the sun reflected against the wet pavement, magically bleaching the sloping black streets of Bronxville.

Upon my return, I stretched a little, wrote a little, and struggled to do a few push-ups.

Anticipating Flavia’s pending return from the gym, I then began prepping a small fruit salad: a gala apple, walnuts, and some cranberries.

Carefully I cored and then peeled the apple with the only knife in the house. It was a rather sharp knife. Alas, hubris pays little heed to peril.

Consequently, after Flavia had walked in and came into the kitchen, I began paring the apple down into bite-size pieces; in the woozy of her kiss and her smile, and the subtle wile of her words, my concentration slipped and the knife sliced and chipped away part of my thumb.

It bled non-stop for an hour.

Subsequently, I applied just enough pressure so that the blood did not drip and spill and run everywhere.

Since Flavia had just moved in, there was no accumulation of dusty boxes and bottles of toiletries that one tends to store after being in one place over time; so there were no band-aids or bandages of any sort. Ultimately, we ended up using cotton facial pads and Saran wrap, plastic cellophane, which I wrapped tightly around my left thumb and held in place with my index finger.

I held it that way for the following hour and a half, while traveling back to my apartment in Manhattan. Meanwhile, it seemed to stop bleeding, especially after I realized that the throbbing pulse at the tip of my thumb was due to the fact that I let my hand hang down, so that the circulation of blood continued to take its natural course. Decidedly, I held my arm up the rest of the way.

Once I was back at the apartment I slowly unwrapped my makeshift dressing. I winced when I discovered that the threads of the cotton pad had become stuck under the flap of flesh and dried blood, and that the wound had mis-coagulated, so that it was now lopsided.

I immediately tendered frightening visions of having to have a malformed finger for the rest of my life, so I bit the bullet and painstakingly loosened up the meld under warm water. Thread by thread, I stripped away the vestiges of the pad and loosened the flap of flesh. A fountain of blood began pouring out again, and I watched the blood curl down the drain.

I then gently reshifted the chip and pressed it with my finger again, it stung. Considering that the fingertips, like the soles of our feet, contain some of our densest areas of nerve endings, this whole incident was surprisingly not very painful. What was more painful were the thoughts of infection or scars or not doing right thing, such as my decision not to run to the hospital to seek stitches.

Nonetheless, I cleaned the wound with hydrogen peroxide and then securely wrapped my thumb with four different band-aids—Elastigirl and Sponge Bob Sqaurepants, as well as two “skin-colored” (certainly not my skin) Band-aid and Rite-Aid brand bandages. I had a soccer game to go play in five minutes, so I couldn’t take any chances. Fortunately, the bandages held for the next couple of hours and through the night, while the wound began to heal (once again).


This morning I decided to have the on-site nurse at work take a look at my injury, just in case.

We slowly peeled off the bandages, one by one, until we came to the lacerated tab of wrinkly white flesh. She immediately told me how important it was to keep this dry because otherwise I ran the risk of being subject to the bacteria caused by the wet bandages.

As a precaution, she also strongly recommended a Tetanus shot.

I asked about the risks of the vaccine, she said “You need it if you haven’t had it. The risks are minor.”

We checked my chart and apparently I had never been administered the shot in the eight years I have been working here. Thus, I thought I had little choice but to concede.

When the nurse slid me the information sheet on the Tetanus and Diphtheria vaccine, she said “This may scare you a little bit, but don’t worry.”

My eyes quickly scanned the sheet for the scary part.

“As with any medicine, there are very small risks that cause serious problems, even death, could occur after getting a vaccine.

The risks from the vaccine are much smaller (“much smaller” was underlined) than the risks from the diseases if people stopped using the vaccine. “

These diseases included lockjaw (preventing the person’s ability to breath or swallow), heart failure, paralysis and death.

So that I could keep my injured thumb up and away, I held the consent form still with the edge of my hand that runs underneath my pinkie, and quickly signed as requested.

Then sighing, I lifted my eyes to look at the nurse and said, “Okay, give it to me baby.”

She smiled as she lifted the shiny syringe up in the air. I looked away.


Albeit, the little things I am so used to accomplishing without much thought now require a bit of innovative cooperation from my four left fingers, I’m happy that I didn’t need stitches after all and that now I am protected against infection. And soon enough I’ll regain use of that left-thumb again.

Moreover, it is minor mishaps like these that remind me of my late grandmother who passed away last year and who rarely complained about any of her ailments, always fighting her way back, one way or another.

At the age of 78 she had a stroke. My mother’s own words about her mother aptly describe the extraordinary strength and determination that I occasionally rely on to pull me through hard times:

“Her determination to get out of rehab after the stroke and to be able to come home, was amazing. She did everything she had to do to get better and able to move around with a walker. But she made it and came home. From that year,1990, until 2006, we had to have a caretaker with her at all times. Yet, she did all she could to not rely on other’s assistance and attended Skills Plus classes for many years until she was 90 years old. Regardless of how hard it may have been, every day she made an effort to do her homework, so that she could relearn to speak and write. At one time, she even appeared in the local paper, the San Jose Mercury News, which showcased her extraordinary effort at the Skills Plus classes. Alas, after 12 years, she eventually got too tired to try anymore.”

Moreover, my grandmother had to have one of her legs amputated at the age of 94. Everyone, including the doctors, expected her to pass away on the operating table. Somehow though, she pulled through and lived another six months or so before the other leg turned black and blue. This time the stress on her body and heart was too much, and not soon afterwards did she come to pass.

Writing and remembering my grandmother’s extraordinary spirit and mettle helps remind me how truly resilient we are, and how fortunate I am to be descendant from such strong stock.

In retrospect, clearly my little cut is really nothing to cry over.

Flavia once told me that as a child whenever it was necessary to toughen her up or get her to recompose, her father would tell her, “I cried because I had no shoes, until I saw a man who had no feet.”

Those are good words to live by.


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