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.)


  1. at first, I thought this was going to be about when mom slammed your finger in the door-when we were kids. we never went to the doctor when we were growing up. it was survival of the fittest, before the internet. and we are still here. good for us.

  2. I can't believe you punched holes through your own fingernail. I'm about to plunge my hand in a bucket of ice just from thinking about it.

    Instead of consulting Google, you should have consulted "Guy-gle", whose first tenet says, "Leave it alone, it may get better."

  3. DC: Actually I did go to the hospital for that injury. (I don't remember the pain or the treatment since I was only a toddler). That particular fingernail survived, although it is still deformed. Maybe I'll just take to wearing gloves year-round.

    Bluz: Wait a minute--are you questioning my qualifications? (But Guy-gle... haha... yeah, so true!)

  4. Total Google doctor here. Long may your nail grow and prosper.

  5. Poor finger! That sounds like a hideous experience all around. But I've lost several toe/fingernails and they always grow back.

    (Also, I get on the scale facing AWAY from the numbers.)

  6. Oh Sherry! How horrific. But I have to confess, I was chuckling the whole time saying, no, no don't do it. And you did.
    Self administer when it involves over-the-counter meds. Mental note: Do not self administer when it involves knives, drills, or a sewing kit.
    This has been a public service announcement.

    Back in the day I took karate. I had a brown belt block one of my very lame kicks to make a point. One could assume by the bruising that he in fact broke my toe. Everyone (this was pre-google) I consulted (braintrust that I am, consulted fellow college students) said that nothing could be done anyway for a broken toe, so not to worry.
    I was off balance due to the toe (that's my story and I'm sticking to it) when I proceeded to drop an iron, on it. Same flippin' toe. At least the iron wasn't on. Now the nail and all the way down the toe, turned purple. Then it thickened and turned yellow. Disgusting.
    I had to go have it removed and was assured that it would never grow back due to the nail bed damage. It did. It grew back at first the texture of baby nails, and now 20 odd years later it's a normal looking toenail.
    So, as a fellow "researcher", let me add that it will grow back. No worries.

  7. I couldn't cross the room without Google so I would never call you an idiot. Hilarious yes, idiot no.

    Here's a kiss for your finger.

  8. Deb: Glad to know I'm in good company. Maybe we should start our own practice?

    Glasseye: Haha--a great approach to being weighed! You can bet I'll be doing that from now on.

    Lyra: Double-yuck. Glad you chose to elaborate here on the new growth rather than the "removal."

    Lisa: I'm rather used to answering to idiot, but thank you!

  9. Oh yeah, I'm a Google doctor too - specialising in pediatrics.

    Hope the pinkie survives!

  10. Ah, your friggin' fickle finger of fate!


  11. Downith: My specialties have varied from pediatrics to emergency medicine to psychiatry. And geriatrics is only a few years down the road.

    Distal: You bet your sweet bippy!

  12. I had my finger smashed as a youth and my dad took me to our garage - got out his drill and yep...drilled a hole in my finger nail. It did feel better but really dad! You couldn't do it in the clean house! I just had my fingers injured at work and they weighed me too! Not fair! Keep up the great stories - they remind us that we are all really normal: Gail

  13. Ouch. Having had many horrible experiences with both my fingers and my hands, I can relate to your story. My mom never took us to the doctor. She would just stick on a band-aid and hope for the best and, yes, I have many scars because of it. Of course, this was before Google.

    I think you were wise. You went down both avenues, piled high your alternatives and then chose accordingly. Idiot? No way. More like, educated consumer with surgical ability.

  14. Gail: I'm pretty sure your dad and I went to med school together. Great story of your own--thanks much for sharing it!

    MSB: "Educated consumer with surgical ability." Thanks, I'm putting that on my resume.

  15. Sherry - There are tears running down my cheeks -from both amusement and empathy. But please excuse me now - I have to Google the treatment of a seizure resulting from uncontrolled laughter. Wish I were going to be with you next week.


  16. Did you poke holes in your nail? With what?
    Did you at least have some tequila first?

    And I think anyone who hits that ENTER key is trained as a Google Doctor. We should have a Amanda Schwartz GD.

  17. Barb: Oh, it would be so much fun if you came! Plus, with a third person, we'd have someone to pass the surgical instruments.

    Amanda Schwartz GD: Hmm, perhaps out of fear you skipped over the paragraph where I actually performed the self-surgery (with a safety pin)? I did so fully sober. Although a fifth of tequila might have been necessary before I could have reached for that kabob skewer.

  18. oh my god...james franco would totally have to play you in the movie. i just saw 127 hours and i'm sure he could pull it off!!!

    (hope your finger is on the mend)

  19. Amy: Franco could pull it off? You mean the role or the fingernail?