“We need to re-set your finger,” the doctor said. “Now, I can either do it real fast, or we can give you a couple of injections to numb it up and we can do it that way.” I contemplated my puffy, black-and-blue left ring finger, with the tip turning slightly inward. The doctor and I looked at each other. I was scared of having the broken finger popped back into place, but I was sicker of being in the ER. It was last night, going on our fifth hour there, and it was now almost six in the morning. “Whatever you wanna do,” I sighed. As the doctor pulled the curtain around my chair (to shield me from inquisitive eyes or to spare the onlookers from the gruesome sight?) I gave Sari a despairing glance. She widened her eyes in fear and sympathy. Then the doc and I were alone in our little space.
Giving me another glance, he grabbed my finger and without any ceremony, yanked and twisted the last two joints. The pain was so intense that I almost didn’t feel it — it was like a burst of white light directly into my brain. My feet flew up into the air, and I could hear Sari let out a freaked-out giggle. For a second I imagined her view of the scene, with just my feet showing, and then flying up like that. It was horrible and comic all at once.
As my finger pulsed in shock, the doctor compared it to my other hand, made me make a fist, compared the two hands again. “Almost there,” he said, “but I think we gotta do it one more time.” It was true the finger seemed straighter now — straight enough for me, at least. I looked at him weakly. “You sure?” I whimpered. I mean, it WAS my drawing hand, but all I cared about was whether it would work or not, not how pretty it would be. “You gotta live with this for the rest of your life,” the doc said. “You want it to be perfect.”
Then it was back to the p-a-i-n. For some reason, this time the doctor not only yanked but felt compelled to grind and twist the digit as well. I confess to yelling a bit this time. But after some more attempts at fist-making and more comparisons with the other hand, he seemed satisfied. All I needed now were some follow-up X-rays and a splint, and we’d finally be released from ER purgatory. And all just nine hours or so after the whole stupid story began.
* * *
As I used the pick to my right and cut to the hole, my defender got in my way and I tripped over his outstretched leg. I fell forward, hitting another guy, lost the basketball and twisted and slammed into the floor. My knee and the ring finger of my left hand bore the brunt of my impact. I could feel my finger pop in and out of the socket as it jammed into the floor. Not a good feeling, and my brain immediately tried to pretend it hadn’t really happened. I lay there with my finger stuck in my mouth for a minute before I was able to get up.
I pretty much knew I was done for the night, but I hoped my finger was just dislocated, not broken. After all, despite the pain, I was able to move the finger and (almost) make a fist, so I had good reason to hope it wasn’t too serious. And there wasn’t too much pain, though when I made the fist, I felt a little “clicking” sensation in the joint. And maybe it WAS a bit twisted — but that was probably the swelling distorting things, right?
I iced the finger for awhile and watched the rest of the game go on without me. I’ve been playing basketball twice a week for about seven years now and I should have figured something like this would happen eventually. I’ve had my shares of twisted ankles and jammed fingers, and a near-tear of my Achilles tendon, but no serious inuries in what can be a pretty brutal sport. But even after icing the hand for a while, the finger had swollen up pretty bad, mostly on the first joint, and was acquiring a nice black-and-blue complexion.
I headed home, showered, and watched game 4 of the NBA Finals (irony!) while I continued icing the hand and keeping it elevated (above the level of my heart). My buddy Warren joined me for the second half, and then Sari came home pretty late, near the end of the game. By this time, the finger was still swollen and I had to admit that the tip seemed a bit twisted, like it was turned a bit to the inner part of my hand. Sari insisted on calling our insurance company’s nurse service, where I spoke to a kind RN. She quizzed me on the injury and the symptoms, and recommended an X-ray. So it was off to the ER, with plenty of reading matter in hand (no pun intended).
I dreaded the long wait ahead, but I was cheered by the empty waiting room at Long Island College Hospital where Sari & I ended up. They processed me fairly quickly and I was sent into the “triage area”. As I waited in chair #2, I got a chance to survey my “competition”. The chair next to me held a frail 60ish Hispanic woman attached to an IV. She looked OK, not in any urgent pain, maybe just there for observation. The chairs on the other side were occupied by an interesting trio of three young African-American men. Two of them looked like your average gangbangers with the droopy pants, exposed boxers, flat-brim baseball caps, and assorted jewelry paraphenalia. Their companion seemed vaguely retarded, definitely with some kind of congenital condition. All of them were asleep, and emitting some impressive snores. But any time there was a noise of some kind from another part of the ER — a door slamming, a clipboard falling on the floor — the sick one would scream. Pretty loudly. Like he was being assaulted. And then his two companions would tell him it was okay and he would immediately pass out again. Great! The other denizens of the place seemed to be made of assorted homeless wretches, mental cases, and frail elderly people, almost all Hispanic or African-American. And there was one other white guy, some poor sap who’d slammed his finger in his car door.
Up ’til now, we’d only been there an hour or so and things seemed promising that I’d get looked at fairly soon. It was not to be. I got sent to X-ray, where it turned out I was third in line. While Sari & I, and a young Muslim family waited, the 30ish African-American X-ray technician listened to hard-core/heavy metal on his boom box at an extremely high volume. At 2:30 in the morning. I tried to imagine a more inappropriate environment for healing and pain relief, but I was stumped. Finally, the Chinese man in front of us was wheeled out of X-ray and the Muslim family’s turn came. Seems their two-year-old had swallowed a coin (smart kid!) and even though he’d thrown it back up, they had been told to get X-rays, “just in case.” The kid wasn’t thrilled, but he handled the ordeal pretty well, and I got the radiology tech to lower the volume slightly on his egregious music.
An hour later and I was done with my X-rays, which confirmed I had a fracture. Ugh. Then the real ordeal set in, as we waited for the orthopedic doctor on call to make his appearance. The guy who’d slammed his finger in the car door also had sustained a fracture, so we both needed to see the same doctor. Me and the car-door guy probably had a lot to talk about, but we were both in no mood to chat, and basically avoided each other’s eyes despite our close proximity to one another. Sari tried reading for awhile but eventually curled up in her chair and succumbed to sleep. One of the administrative assistants covered her with a blanket. I just waited for the ortho doc to show up.
And waited. And waited. First he took 15 minutes to respond to his page. Then he said he’d be down right away. A half-hour later they called him again, and once again he said he’d be right down. I spent the whole time pacing around the ER, looking down the hallway, hoping every new arrival would be the doc. Finally, almost two hours after he was initially called, the interns in the ER, urged on by head nurse, paged the attending physician (the big boss) — just as the ortho doc finally showed up.
He looked beat, and was pisssed that they had called his superior. “You wake up my attending just because I can’t come down right away?” he berated the intern, who shrugged. “For a couple of jammed fingers?” I was overhearing all this, feeling extremely mixed about the whole thing. On one hand (there goes that bad pun again!), I was livid about being made to wait so long to get looked at. On the other, I was glad someone was finally there to take care of me. It didn’t help my mood to look at the doc and realize he was probably ten years younger than me as well.
Well, I’ve already gone over the gruesome details of closing the “reduction” on my “fourth finger fractures of the proximal phalanx” but the final act required a reprise of the pain. Plus, the adrenaline which had rushed into my body during the re-set and set my body to uncontrollably shivering in the chill of the ER. That was weird. But the last bit of fun was when the doc applied the splint to my finger, and basically forcibly bent my finger straight as he taped it to the splint. It hurts just remembering that, but I am grateful, and hope that it will heal straight. As you can see from this photo, my pinkie finger on that hand, which I also broke playing basketball many years ago, never healed properly and is permanently bent at that same joint.
So here I am, typing this with one hand and a couple of fingers on my left hand, wondering what the next few weeks will be like. As of now, with my broken finger “buddy taped” to the middle digit, I can barely hold a pen, let alone draw. So what do I do if I get an illo assignment? The splint is supposed to come off in a week, but who know how long it’ll be before I can draw normally again? Maybe it’s time to start working on my ambidextrousness. A couple of years ago I drew a two-page story entirely with my right hand, and it came out pretty well, even if I do say so. We shall see. Wish me luck!