JIM DODSON: Don't Ask About My Finger
There I sat, a pathetic lump, trying to read about the spread of democracy in Time magazine with my bloody middle finger wrapped in bloody toilet tissue, trying to figure out how a Saturday that had started so splendidly could wind up in the hospital emergency room 10 minutes before tip-off time of the Big Game.
"That finger looks really painful," an older lady seated across the otherwise empty waiting room remarked. She'd taken out her knitting. "May I ask how you injured it?"
I was too embarrassed to tell her the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
"A big flower pot fell on it," I said, and quickly added, "But it's not as bad as it looks. My wife insisted I get it checked out."
"You should always listen to your wife," the lady said and smiled. "We usually know best."
I didn't have the heart to tell her the whole stupid story. It seemed so laughably trivial compared to why she was there. As I'd limped in, I'd heard her talking on a cell phone to a relative, calmly relating how her husband had been brought in by ambulance, possibly suffering from a mild heart attack or an allergic reaction. I could see the worry lines etched into her face as she knitted and waited.
I was half tempted to get up and just go home. The last thing the beleaguered American medical system needed that pretty spring Saturday was to have to deal with some fool who'd idiotically hammered the end of his own middle finger and then dropped a very large flower pot on it just to make sure it was good and flattened.
Just then, as I was on the verge of leaving, a friendly nurse came to get me. Within a few minutes I was sitting in an examination room and another young nurse was peeling off my bloody homemade bandage.
"Boy," she said, scrunching her button nose adorably. "You really did a number on this, huh?"
"I was hoping for just a Band-Aid," I said. "It's been such a productive day up till now."
She smiled, gently swabbing the wounded finger, which -- mindful that you may be eating your granola about now -- was essentially missing part of its tip. "A lot of people say that -- just before they come in here. Accidents wouldn't be accidents if we could see them coming. Don't worry. It will heal up and grow back in time. "
Watch That Hammer
She made me feel better. But the challenge of spreading democracy notwithstanding, the larger question of how a day that started out so nicely could suddenly go so wrong remained stubbornly unanswered.
Just after dawn that Saturday morning, to review briefly, per my wife Wendy's instruction, I breezed painlessly into Walmart and stocked up on discount vitamins, then went to Panera Bread for leisurely coffee and bagel, bumping into my old friend Penny, who was taking her daughter and a college buddy on a spring break trip to Florida.
We had a nice time catching up. Then Penny and the girls were off to Florida and I was off to Lowe's to purchase construction materials for the raised vegetable garden I planned to surprise my wife with when she arrived home from her weekend trip to Syracuse.
On my way home, I stopped off to get my oil changed and the car inspected. Then I did the weekly grocery shopping. Next I washed the car and dropped off laundry.
Back home, feeling a little like a true master of the universe, I picked up a hammer and got to work building the wooden frames for the tomato beds, calculating I had two hours before the start of the Big Game.
Oh, how I love building stuff. Permit me to pause here and explain that my father and grandfather were both accomplished carpenters, and humbly add that I basically built my own post-and-beam house in Maine. Hammering nails is in my blood, you might say.
Fun for the Dogs
So imagine my surprise when, with the first swing of the hammer, I missed the nail and hit the edge of the middle finger of my left hand. In 40 years of hammering stuff, I've never nailed a finger.
"Hang Bernie Madoff!" I shouted in disgust, or something along those lines. The dogs thought it was some kind of new and interesting game. They jumped up barking excitedly from their afternoon naps.
Fortunately the blow was a glancing one, though a nasty red blood blister appeared just east of the cuticle. I decided to give the wounded digit a brief rest and go carry in the rest of the garden manure and a massive concrete urn I'd purchased for the terrace.
As I was frog-walking the heavy urn onto the terrace, however, I stepped into a small hole and felt my left ankle buckle. My right knee struck the edge of the stone step and my left hand broke my fall. A millisecond later, the pointed base of the heavy stone urn landed directly on the end of the same middle finger I'd hammered only moments before.
"Son of an AIG broker!" I hollered, or something akin to that. The dogs went nuts again. They loved this game we were playing.
Sprawled on the terrace like a true boob of the universe, I took rough inventory of the damage: one sprained ankle, one badly scraped knee, one bruised palm, and a middle finger that looked as if it had been put into an automated pencil sharpener.
Just then, my cell phone rang. With my one good remaining hand, I dug it out of my pants pocket.
"Hi," chirped my wife. "It's gorgeous up here in Syracuse this morning! How are things there?"
"Absolutely gorgeous, " I explained. "Except for all the blood."
She said I needed to get straight to the emergency room. I told her that wasn't necessary, pointing out how outrageously expensive emergency room care is these days and, besides, up till now I'd never even noticed I had a middle finger on my left hand.
"Also," I said, "I don't want to miss the Big Game."
"Don't fool with me," she said, putting on her New York voice.
So I wrapped up my finger and limped off to the hospital.
Cannot Tell a Lie
Three hours, two nurses, one X-ray, and $375 later, I hobbled out of the emergency room with a large bandage that made my finger look a little like a finger puppet dressed as a holy man. No bones were broken, and my smashed finger hadn't needed stitches after all. There wasn't all that much left to stitch back together.
By the time I got home again, however, the Big Game was over and my team had won, but I was so depressed to have missed the game I opened a cold beer and sat and watched back-to-back episodes of "The Real Housewives of New York City." It sort of made me regret the spread of democracy.
Over the next two weeks, my once-obscure middle finger became a kind of stuck-up celebrity in its own right, an unbending finger version of a Real Housewife of New York City, petulantly demanding attention and refusing to let me do the simplest things like button a collar button or tuck in my shirt without making a painful fuss.
Perhaps making up for years of digital obscurity, every time I reached for something like the pepper shaker or the TV remote, it seemed to bump painfully into a doorknob or an unnoticed wall, causing me involuntarily to shout things like, "Would someone please kindly muzzle Nancy Pelosi?" and "Bonus schmonus! Give back my money!"
Moreover, wherever I went, absolute strangers demanded to know what on earth I'd done to it, poor thing. I got weary of telling folks the embarrassing truth, so I made up exciting scenarios starring my left hand's once-unknown middle finger -- how it got heroically nipped off trying to fish my wife's heirloom wedding ring out of the garbage disposal, or consumed by fire ants as I was digging my wife a new garden.
Finally the other day the bandage came off for good and I was pleased to see that the end was actually growing back as the nurse predicted it would, healing up quite nicely in fact, though it was a deep glowing purple and looked a little like ET wanting to go home.
A woman stopped me in line at Harris Teeter. She couldn't take her eyes off my bright purple middle finger.
"My goodness. What did you do to your finger?" she demanded to know.
I just couldn't lie to her. She reminded me of the nice lady in the hospital waiting room who told me I should always listen to my wife. I hoped her husband was okay, too.
"I voted in Iraq," I casually explained. "Just doing my part to spread democracy, ma'am."
Contact Jim Dodson by e-mail at email@example.com
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