Frankenfinger (or Oooops!)

On November 11, 2013 I accidentally slid my hand into a jointer. I say they don’t call it a “jointer” for nothing. In a fraction of a second the end of my middle finger on my left hand had been deboned. The bone was reduced to fragments scattered around the workshop, which I have collected and intend to frame in the shop with “Safety First” written across the top.

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The image above shows a tasteful look at the difference in my hands. I will spare you from seeing under the bandage. My middle finger is now the same height as my index.

At the time, I was prototyping a new line of wooden sword for kids. I was trying to drink less caffeine. Moon was in Pisces. I was being lazy, and instead of setting up my router and doing it right, I was shaping the side of the sword slowly with the jointer using the rail at a 45 degree angle. My eye had strayed to the rail to see if the wood was tight and my hand slid the sword forward an extra inch too far.

The worst part was that my two youngest kids were in the shop with me. I went into a rational state of shock, unplugged the machine, searched for a clean rag, and bled all over the place. Drew later told his mom, “I knew it was serious because dad never freaks out, but this time he said ‘fuck’ like five times.” Gracie said, “is ‘fuck’ spelled F-O-K?”

I told the kids to get into the truck and they didn’t argue, which told me they understood the situation was serious. They still didn’t complain when I peeled out of the driveway before they had their seat belts on and put my foot to the floor. I could see Drew filing away the experience that will no doubt come back to haunt me when he’s a teenager—“Wow, you can go this fast without getting caught by the police or killing yourself?”

I don’t know why I bothered. I got to the hospital, let some very nice person take my kids into the waiting room, and then was ushered to a gurney where I waited. It was at this point, as I tried to get someone I knew on the phone to come and take my kids home, that I realized my hand friggin’ hurt. At least there is a maximum pain level, and thank God. Once you have met that level and can handle it, you’re good. Eventually, they took me down to X-ray where the attendant said she wouldn’t tell me how bad I’d screwed up, which made it clear it was as serious as I thought it was. I’m not sure how long I endured the feeling that someone was taking a blow torch to my finger before I was shot up with a local anesthetic, and morphine. Ah, morphine…

My doctor did a great job and had a fine sense of humor. I like a man who can laugh and talk about good literature as he grinds away at your bone. Needless to say, I kept his email address so I could drill him for information about medical procedures—you know, for my books.

I specifically asked for no Oxycodone and got it anyway. That shit is evil. I went cold turkey after about a week and haven’t been right since. First, my mood plummeted so low I could imagine someone jumping off a bridge feeling like that, except that it would take a certain amount of ambition which oxycodone kills. I know myself well and recognized that these feelings were outside myself, not me, as it were, and didn’t give into them.

I had been scheduled to play congas at the local theatre for a private school’s production of In the Heights. I love latin music, and an opportunity like this in Vermont comes around every decade or so. Monday, detoxing and messed up in the head, I went to listen. I decided even with one hand I could contribute something so proceeded to practice everyday that week to do the show that weekend. The first night after practice I took off my bandage feeling in the heights of my depression and wondered if I was insane. What the hell am I doing? Why can’t I just lay on the couch like a normal person? I had a perfect excuse to be taken care of and I was still dragging wood into the house with stubborn determination and now I’m drumming all night?

The truth is, I am slightly crazy, but maybe not as stupid as I felt after I took the end of my finger off. Music is a healer. The pain that had been shooting up my arm and into my head from cramped muscles went away. My feeling of uselessness gave way to feeling a part of something great; the show came off well and as one of the few members of the band versed in latin music I thought I helped contribute something important. By the time the show was over my detox was over.

…ah…with the exception that I couldn’t sleep. I don’t sleep much anyway, but oxycodone robs you of your ability to sleep easily no matter how tired you are. Frustrating. Did I mention that oxycodone is evil?

Okay, this was supposed to be a short blog, but there’s something else I have to tell you. I’m on week three since the accident and I’ve just started to try typing with it—which was my number one concern the instant it happened. Luckily, the week before it happened I’d been listening to Stephen Hawking’s A Theory of Everything, and in the hospital I decided if Hawking can write without the use of his hands, than I could, too, if necessary. Now, that thought makes me laugh at myself. Losing the end of my finger is a long way from having amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. But, I have to say, “Stephen Hawking, you the man!” You not only completely warped my sense of reality, but gave me hope as well.

I have a weird factoid about losing the end of your finger. Your brain still thinks it’s there and it’s waiting for some message from it. Since that doesn’t happen, the message is that the end of your finger is touching nothing, and whatever your hand is resting on must have a hole in it. I think the Police had a song about that…

The ultimate result is that I’m a little slower on the keyboard, but I appreciate everything so much more—my partner Sarah, especially, who has given me a deeper understanding of how important it is to be loved by someone who’s got your back. I won’t forget it.

3 thoughts on “Frankenfinger (or Oooops!)

  1. I thought I’d heard the whole story about your joint loss..or should that be one finger end loss? Oh well, the many remarks you have heard or made yourself with lots of ‘play on words’ are probably getting pretty old by now. I was fascinated and laughed out loud at some of the facts I had not heard before. It is truly amazing how young children can come to attention and realize immediately that there is a serious situation going on. If you had needed more help from them, I ‘m sure they would have responded in kind. Better days ahead!

  2. Eric, I am sorry as can be, for 10000 reasons, but especially because I know how important hands are to people like us. We don’t just point; we make. We don’t just hold; we put. Because of that, fortunately, when a loss like this happens, it’s just one more limitation we face in getting the things we want in the world to occur. You are used to that, as am I. So there’s some shock, like any small death. Their is a loss, like a favorite lost tool. But adaptation has been your lot for a long time. I own proof. You will be able to do whatever you want to do, terminal digit or not. Just different. A little persistence, a little patience, a little creativity and some calendar leaves. A new normal awaits.

    I recall seeing Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver once and noted that his Emmy-winning banjo player had one finger and a thumb on his fret hand. That day, I shamed myself into be a better guitarist, what with all 10 at my disposal.

    Every time I plug in my power tools, I remind myself how much I love my guitar. I hope to make it to the grave with all the pieces, but life never has a single guarantee on such matters, and I am so sorry you have to deal with this. I will say, though, that I have never had a pain that wasn’t an inspiration on some level. It’s the old blues player that lives in here, I guess. Blues gotta be squeezed out with pain, maybe?

    I hope you heal well, fast, and thoroughly.

    • Thanks, man. Your words mean a lot. I can tell you get how much a finger can mean for your art. I think what is the hardest is looking at my life and realizing I’m a Vermonter and I’m never going to stop building shit or cutting up wood. So, I have no choice but to move forward being who I am…but maybe a more cautious self?

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