Monday, February 28, 2011

Tale of the Effin-Painful Finger

It's a gruesome story, not one for the faint of heart. Much like Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart, I share with you today: The Tale of the Effin-Painful Finger.

The terror begins with a slamming door and a blood-curdling scream. Swearing and shrieking and swearing some more, I stumble to the kitchen. I wrap the finger in ice and huddle in wide-eyed fear, until every cube melts into a faintly pink pool of water. Only then do I peek to assess the damage.

My finger appears roughly the size of a fat Cuban cigar. A purple one. With an ominous black fingernail. If I had a bottle of OPI Black Onyx, I could paint the other nine for a matching Gothic set.

I wiggle the finger and blow out a sigh when nothing appears to be broken. So do I rush to the ER, where I risk a three-hour wait only to be sent home with a bandage and some Neosporin? I do not. I do what any sensible person in the 21st century would do. I Google.

The most common treatment for such an injury appears to be this: the doctor drills a hole through the fingernail.

I fight back the bile building in my throat. I read on. Terrifying, yes, but the blood is consequently released, the pressure relieved, and voila! The demons are defeated, and the horror story has a happy ending!

Sadly, I couldn't operate a Black and Decker tool if I owned one. Yet surely I can improvise. I survey the surgical instruments at hand: a safety pin, a stolen nail from a picture hanging from the wall, or a shish kabob skewer.

I opt for the safety pin. I bite my lip and punch through the fingernail. A few drops of blood ooze out. And then--nothing. I punch again. And again. After ten minutes of self-surgery, I'm left with a blood-tinged Kleenex and a fingernail much resembling a window screen.

I plaster the finger in Neosporin, bandage it and let it incubate for three days.

Despite my adroit medical skills, I wind up at my doctor's office with an infected finger.

The nurse leads me toward the exam room. "Let's just have you step on the scale first."

I freeze and brace myself against the wall. "You're going to weigh me? But I... I'm only here for an infected finger." I thrust my damaged digit in front of her face. I realize, too late, that I have just flipped off the nurse. A justifiable defense, perhaps, for anyone being threatened with a scale.

"But wait," I plead, "I'm wearing my heavy winter boots."

"Yes, I'll be sure to make note of that." I note the wicked glint in her eye.

I collapse on the exam table, and the nurse promptly takes my blood pressure. I frown, confused by the order of events. Surely if physicians' offices tested a patient's blood pressure before making her step on a scale, blood pressure rates across the world would plummet. But clearly, this is part of the evil conspiracy.

The doctor finally enters the room. Fearful she might order me back on the scale, I shout, "I slammed my finger in a door. See?" I am careful to stick out my entire hand, not just my middle finger.

She examines the infected finger, tsk-tsks a bit, and prescribes an antibiotic. She tells me to return in two weeks. "Or," she adds as an afterthought, "we may have you see a plastic surgeon."

I raise my good hand to my face, pondering what, exactly, she thinks needs work.

"A plastic surgeon?"

"The nail bed could be permanently damaged. You may lose the fingernail."

"Oh, that." I nod, smug in my Google-researched medical knowledge. "Yes, I read about that on the internet. Right before I poked all the holes in my fingernail."

"Huh." Oddly, she appears less-than-impressed with my personal doctoring. "So then, you also understand that the nail might die, but not fall completely off on its own?"

I stare at her, still not comprehending.

"And that we may need to pluck out the dead nail?"

This is where the tale gets a bit blurry. It's possible I curl into a ball right here, upon hearing the words "pluck out." (Maybe, amidst their perusal of biology textbooks, medical students should also be required to study a thesaurus for more benign terminology. The words "pluck out," along with the words "I need to probe the wound," once uttered by an ER physician after my Life-Threatening Dishwashing Accident of 1986, are not highly recommended.)

I yank my hand away and cradle it against my chest. "But then, the fingernail will grow back, right?"

The doctor shrugs. "Perhaps. Or you might just be left with scar tissue."

I'm not certain what more pleasant term exists for a finger forever devoid of a nail, but I'm fairly certain I will find a better one than "scar tissue" once I consult my thesaurus.

First, however, I stop at the pharmacy to fill my prescription. While there, I pick up a package of press-on nails. And a strong pair of tweezers.

I figure I can handle any at-home surgery now. After all, I am a Google-certified physician.

But you can bet I won't weigh myself first.

That should eliminate half the pain.

Tell me my fingernail is a survivor. Tell me you Google-treat your own medical issues. Tell me I'm not an idiot. (OK, maybe that's reaching.)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Cross-Country with the Cursed

Our flight's booked. Our rental car secured. Our pet-sitters lined up. The only item yet remaining before next month's vacation to Florida with my mother is my mental preparation: for Mom's inevitable Vacation Medical Catastrophe.

Glo's general health is not the issue. The woman seldom gets a headache or a cold, and I'd venture to guess she'll someday be the one visiting my sorry ass in the nursing home. She is, as my German maternal grandfather used to say, "Strong like an ox."

Until she decides to fly the friendly skies.

The Gods of Mishaps and Maladies apparently keep close tabs on Glo's travel calendar. Her friends and family have all caught on to this by now. Still, she persists in scheduling vacations and continues to convince some naive sucker among us into tagging along.

First, we witnessed the Grand Canyon Fiasco of 2004. A pleasurable enough summer vacation, what with our visiting one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and all. And Glo was her usual amicable and entertaining self. Except for her nonstop complaints about the oppressive heat and all the walking. And her 15-minute intervals of coughing spasms. And her 15-minute-spaced runs to the ladies room. The Grand Canyon may be beautiful, but I could expound much further about the views from Arizona's restroom lobbies.

No great surprise, Glo's coughing, breathlessness and weakened control of bodily functions, considering her doctor's diagnosis after we returned home. I'd guess any vacation might be marred by a freaking case of pneumonia.

Oh, but that one trip was a fluke, surely, we thought. A minor blip in the whole scheme of Glorious vacation possibilities.

We're a sadistically optimistic bunch.

Flash ahead a couple years. My mom, my two sisters and I planned a long weekend to New York City to celebrate Glo's 70th birthday. We made it as far as the Detroit Metro airport before the trip's little hiccup. Those moving sidewalks in the terminal do indeed hasten your trip to your departure gate. Unless, of course, you're facing backward while riding, engaged in mindless conversation and paying no attention whatsoever to the sidewalk's end.

Glo mastered a perfect back-flip before crashing to the floor.

Daughters (crying in unison): "Mom! Mom! Are you alright?"

Glo: "Uhh."

Daughters: "Oh my God! Help, help!" We waved wildly for medical assistance, an unnecessary gesture since a lawsuit-leery crew was already enroute, their cart's emergency lights flashing and siren blaring.

Glo: "No, no, just let me lie here." (You've heard those Jewish mother jokes, concluding with "No, I'll just lie here, alone, in the dark." Yeah. Glo would be the German-Catholic version.) She finally agreed to wheelchair transportation to our gate, just minutes before the plane took off.

Once we were in NYC, Glo hobbled and held her hip as we attempted to walk through Central Park and Times Square. In between heavy sighs and eye-rolls, we three daughters did entertain a worry or two. We agreed to take taxis whenever possible, even if it required us to take out second-mortgages on our houses. A week after we returned home, Glo finally visited the Urgent Care Center. An X-ray revealed she fractured her femur bone.

Yes. Of course she did.

This was followed, a year later, by her misstep at a party in Florida. (She insists that I note here that she was totally sober at the time. OK then. I have thus so noted.) The very same night at the VERY same party, her best friend also took a fall. (Her friend's sobriety is still unconfirmed.) The two of them enjoyed a tag-team visit to the ER. Glo was treated for a cracked rib, while her friend received numerous stitches in her forehead.

And so now, the vacation calamities appear to be contagious. Seriously. Why would anyone venture to take another trip with this woman?

Glo didn't manage to even make it to the airport for her most recent scheduled vacation, this past fall. As they neared Detroit, she began hemorrhaging uncontrollably from her nose. With blood spurting all over the car, they pulled into a gas station restroom. She depleted the entire supply of paper towels and a bag of ice while attempting to stop the bleeding, to no avail, before they headed back to a hospital in Toledo. She lost a lot of blood but somehow managed to keep her humor: She said Detroit police are probably still busy searching for a butchered body.

Vacation curses and all, she's a trooper, that mother of mine. She's managed tours of the Grand Canyon and walks through Central Park amidst circumstances which would leave most people bedridden.

Still, I'm not placing any bets on this upcoming trip. I'm paying for travel insurance. I'm tucking a first-aid kit in my luggage. I'm carrying my own medical insurance card.

And I'm packing a big bottle of vodka.

If my mother's managed all these horrors while sober, I think she at least deserves to endure one while half-drunk.

And no one should have to self-medicate alone.

Any travel horror stories to share? Suggestions of survival tactics? Extra vodka?

Monday, February 14, 2011

What I Never Dreamed to Find in My Kitchen Cupboards

I created a new game show today that I'm just itching to pitch to the Television Powers-That-Be. It combines all the giddy purse-searching excitement of "Let's Make a Deal" with the lip-curled disgust of "Hoarders." Until I come up with a better title, I'm calling it, "Holy Shit--What I Never Dreamed to Find in My Kitchen Cupboards."

The basic premise is this: Homeowners receive big bucks for novelties, as well as obscene quantities of ordinary items, stashed away in their kitchen drawers and cabinets. The pilot episode took place this weekend, as I attempted to organize my very own kitchen. Sadly, Bob Barker (yes, I know the original Let's Make a Deal host was Monty Hall but Bob's my man, damn it) was away for yet another eye-lift. Therefore, I was forced to play the roles of both contestant and host.

It went something like this:

Bob (played by me): "So, Sherry, let's play today's first round, shall we? I'll give you $100 right now for every outdated medicine bottle you can find in your kitchen cabinets."

Sherry (scrounging through kitchen cupboards): "Well, Bob, I happen to have seven of those, including a bottle of vitamins expiring in 2001 and a half-finished vial of antibiotics from 2003! No wonder I still have that nagging sinus infection eight years later."

Bob: "Huh. OK then, here's $700 and an extra $100 to help treat that mutant drug-resistant bacteria festering in your body. Let's move on to the next item. Every kitchen drawer contains a spatula or two. I'll give you $50 for each spatula you own. Should make you an easy hundred dollars with that."

Sherry (rummaging for spatulas through three different drawers): "Oh, lookie here! Wonder of all wonders, Bob! It appears I own twelve of them!"

Bob: "Twelve spatulas? Twelve? Um, OK, here's $600 in reward for your apparent obsession with the perfect burger-flipper. Maybe that can help pay for a couple OCD therapy sessions. Let's raise the stakes with this next one; it's a toughie. I'm betting a cool $500 that you don't have a Mexican coin in your silverware drawer."

Sherry: "Oh, you'd lose that bet, Bob. Because right here it is! Funny, considering I've never once used Mexican currency while cooking and I've never even been to Mexico."

Bob: "Hmm. Quite the well-equipped kitchen you have here. So, think you can root around in that silverware drawer of yours and happen upon a child's plastic toy?" (Bob winks confidentially at audience.) "Let's say, a Playskool Weeble?"

Sherry: "Yes, indeedy! Here's one rocking little fireman Weeble, Bob, mixed in with all my mismatched forks and spoons. Still standing upright after all these years, too, even though both my children are grown and gone. Weebles wobble but they don't fall down, you know. Haha."

Bob: "Fascinating. And you did say both your children are grown? And no grandchildren yet? Then surely you have no need for a sippy cup in your house. So, I'm going to offer you $500 if you can manage to produce a sippy cup right here today." (Bob folds his arms smugly.)

Sherry (frowning while tossing dozens of Cleveland Indians and Toledo Mud Hens plastic souvenir cups from shelves): "Oh. I don't think... hmm... could it be, here at the back... Yes! Not only one but two sippy cups! Plus, here's a Sesame Street thermos, minus the top, and oh my gosh, a baby bottle! A baby bottle, Bob, even though my youngest child is a nineteen-year-old college student. Do I get extra prize money for that?"

Bob: "No. You get paid only for the damn sippy cups. Here's your friggin' $1,000. And that, thankfully, concludes today's show."

Sherry: "That's it? But my cupboards are still half-full. I have lots of stuff in here. Lots!" (Sherry peers into cabinets.) "How about beer koozies? Ask me about those, Bob!"

Bob: "No, beer koozies are not on the list."

Sherry (counting while piling beer koozies onto kitchen countertop): "Four, five, six... Maybe just $25 each? Twelve... thirteen... fourteen..."

Even as I knew the game was over, I turned to the counter and studied my pile.

Twenty-three beer koozies.

Hot damn! I totally mastered my own game. My personal hoarding finally paid off. At least in my television dreams.

So, I'm planning a huge celebration party when my game show gets picked up by one of the major TV networks. I'll splurge on lobster and filet mignon and, of course, an open bar. You're all invited.

I do hope plenty of you are beer drinkers. It seems I have a few beer koozies to put to good use.

And I've got you covered if you're a sloppy drunk. You're getting a sippy cup.

I did indeed find all of this in my kitchen cupboards. It's seriously time to clean out the crap in my house. Any hidden treasures you care to share?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Be a Man, Reprise

If I could teach a boy to be a man, I'd tell him to play football. Or take up theater. I hope he'd learn that neither measures the man.

I'd tell him his mother may have read his mind when he was eight, but it was an easy guess that he felt sad after losing his soccer game. Mature men must communicate their feelings and needs--with mature words.

I'd advise him that sending flowers is always, always good. Sending them for no reason at all? Even better. And when he calls the florist, he should be sure to remember his mom.

I'd explain that being a father requires that he discipline. And also that he hug. Real men know the appropriate time for each and that the two actions are not mutually exclusive.

I would tell him to compromise when he should and apologize when he's wrong. Being a man does not mean command and control. Nor does it mean blind surrender.

I'd suggest that it's all hunky-dory if she cooks and he mows the lawn, but that defined roles only work if both partners embrace them. I'd add that raising children is a tag-team sport, even if she happens to be a stay-at-home mom. I'd remind him, softly, that his six-year-old son won't be there for bedtime stories forever.

I'd warn him that being a hard worker is an asset, but caring about nothing but his career will just make him an ass.

I would ask him to call his mother--and his father--more often. Mothers may be more vocal about it, but fathers miss their grown children too.

I'd let him know that it's OK to cry if his favorite pet dies. Tears won't make him less manly, only more human.

I would tell him he's free to ignore anyone's advice or opinion. But a real man takes the time to listen before he disagrees.

And if he disagrees with me, I hope I'm woman enough to admit if I am wrong.

If you could teach a boy to be a man, what would you tell him?