Mediha F. Saliba has published two non-fiction books, and one book of poetry. Presently she devotes herself to poetry and short stories. She has published poems in Cyclamen and Swords, Aurorean, Sage Trail, Rattlesnake Review, Main Channel Voices, and Seven Circle Press, Atlantic Pacific Press. and others. She lives in Northern California with her husband, where she promotes arts and education through Studio 299 – Center for the Arts, a non-profit organization.
The scream came from outside. I heard it over the drone of the wood chipper, then all went silent and only William’s shouts ran up my spine. I raced down the stairs and out the door. William was hunched over in pain and blood dripped from somewhere onto the gravel of our drive.
“My hand, my hand,” he screamed.
“Let me see,” I reached out to him, but he pulled away.
“No, just get a towel.”
I ran for a towel and the car keys. The nearest hospital was fifty miles away, but our local clinic was within twenty minutes. I drove as fast as it was safe on our mountain roads. William groaned and grimaced. The towel grew steadily redder.
We didn’t have an appointment, but my face alone threw personnel into action when I burst into the clinic waiting room. Doors opened and closed, nurses ran, and William and I found ourselves quickly ushered into an examining room with the doctor.
Dr. N. unwrapped the towel while the nurses gathered a tray of bandages and suture materials. I stood quietly by the door. I didn’t want to get in the way, and truth be told, I was afraid of what I’d see.
“This is bad, William,” Dr. N. said. His face was all seriousness. “It’s more than I can handle here. You’ve lost part of a finger, and you’ll need an orthopedic surgeon. I’m going to give you a nerve block to help with the pain, bandage it good, and send you to the hospital.”
I felt my stomach do a flop.
William just nodded. He must have already been in some other state. I couldn’t imagine the pain he must be in. Lost part of his finger! The thought of William’s pain made me slightly light headed, but I fought it off. I could not lose control. Not now. I had to drive him to the hospital.
The injection to relieve the pain helped a lot. William seemed to relax, but all the way to the hospital he was silent, breathing slowly, looking into a far off distance, perhaps replaying the accident. He did not want to discuss the details with me. All I knew was that somehow his fingers had made contact with the wood chipper blades. That visual was enough to make me nauseous, but my adrenalin was on over drive and helped push the thought out of my mind. I was sweating like crazy even though it was February and the weather cold. Thank god there was no snow on the pass. We could get to the hospital without difficulty in a little over an hour.
We walked into the emergency room office. William looked ashen, as did I probably. The attendant sat us down to ask our name and reason for our visit.
“Oh yes,” she said getting up almost before she had sat down. “We got a call from Dr. N., come this way.” She took us to the far end of the emergency room where a row of beds was set up with curtains as partitions. Dr. S, the orthopedic surgeon, was already waiting for us. He laid William down on one of the beds, pulled up a chair for himself and pointed at another chair for me. Dr. S. went immediately to work unbandaging the hand.
“Let’s see what we have here.” He took water and rinsed the bloody fingers over a steel basin. William turned his head to look the other away. I held his good hand, trying not to look horrified as Dr. S. scrubbed William’s flayed fingers with a toothbrush and disinfectant. It was the first time I had really seen the damage. I could feel myself becoming light headed again.
Breathe, breathe,” I said to myself. “Not now, not now,” I chanted in my head.
“I have to make sure there aren’t any bone chips left inside,” Dr. S. said to me. “It’s not so bad. Looks like we can save all the fingers. Just this middle finger will be a little shorter. I’ll have you sewed up in a jiffy.”
“We don’t have to go to surgery?” I asked, still taking in deep breaths and pressing hard on my forehead to clear my head.
“Nope. We can take care of everything right here,” he said while signaling to the nurse to bring him a suture set up. “Like I said he’s lost a little bone here on his middle finger, nearly to the first joint, but I’ll give him as much length as I can. On the way home stop for the prescription I’ll give you. He’ll need something for pain. Call my office tomorrow and make an appointment. I’ll want to see him in ten days or so.
Before we knew it we were back outside. The cold air cleared my head quickly.
“You okay to drive?” William asked.
“Better than you,” I tried to joke.
“Yeah, I guess.” He wasn’t laughing.
We were home by four o’clock. Not too bad considering the accident happened a little after eleven that morning. Driving along the mountain highway, the beauty of a winter day chilling the air, I couldn’t help but think how blessed we’d been with our care. Los Angeles friends reminded us how bad rural medicine could be. Even up here people had doubts about our local medicine and worried what would happen in an emergency; a stroke, a heart attack, and in our case loss of a finger. But in our case it couldn’t have been handled better, and just a few months ago when our first grandchild was born there had been no problems either. Joe and Jasmine delivered Robby at the hospital on the coast with the assistance of caring doctors and nurses. We had a lot to be thankful for.
William’s bandaged right hand pretty much looked like he had a white boxing mitt on. It was cumbersome and not easy to work with. Not that he felt like doing anything. The pain was steady. Everything became a left hand chore, eating, writing, typing, shaving. Yikes, that’s where I drew the line. I wasn’t about to let him shave himself. I’ve shaved lots of men in my life as a nurse some hundred years ago and I could still do it.
Nights were the most difficult. Pain becomes magnified and images and recreations haunt the dark hours. I knew William was torturing himself with ‘what if’ thoughts. What if I’d done this differently? What if I hadn’t done that? His mood matched the dark clouds and rain. He wore a glove over his hand so no one would see his injury, but we lived in a small community. Walls talked. Trees talked. And by the time we had our appointment with Dr. S. and the bandages were removed, local friends had heard about William’s accident.
“So I hear you’ve joined the stubby club,” one friend said when he happened upon us at our one local restaurant. The restaurant was an icon in the small community, with antlers and bearskins on the wall, glass eyes from stuffed bucks leering at you, and various ducks and geese suspended in corners. Black and white pictures ran along the lower end of walls, telling stories of salmon abundance, gold rush days, and lumber mills. The food wasn’t bad if you liked a ‘hardy’ meal and giant slab of homemade pie.
William looked at Jim, not sure what to say.
Jim held out his left hand, “Missing a finger myself, but at least my wife doesn’t nag me about wearing a wedding ring.” He laughed good-naturedly.
“I hadn’t noticed,” William said, shy about looking at Jim’s hand.
“Yeah, most people don’t, unless of course, they’ve done the same thing. Then we compare stories to see whose is better.”
Jim sat down and ordered a beer.
William was not ready to share his story, but Jim told us about building his house and being careless with the table saw. While cutting a small piece of wood the saw bucked and pulled his finger right in. “Zzzt, the damn finger was gone. Good thing I’m married to a nurse.”
Hmmm, I thought. Seems like a lot of men are married to nurses up here.
“Look on the bright side,” Jim said. “It’s winter. Nothing to do. By the time spring rolls around and you can get out, you’ll be pretty much healed. No sense frettin’ about pain. At our age something hurts all the time anyway.”
By the time William finished his baked potato he looked much better. He even laughed when I had to cut his chicken for him. It would take many months for the pain in his fingers to subside, and the sensitivity would stay indefinitely, but he recovered. In fact, he would be the one who three years later, while working on our guesthouse with his contractor/friend would wrap a towel around his friend’s hand and speed him to the clinic. The table saw had extracted another sacrifice, and the stubby club got a new member.