Newsletter 110: The Woe of the Finger Injury

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I’ve decided to start putting some of the best newsletter essays here on Medium, so more people can read them. You’re still better off just subscribing. Here’s one from June 2018, about how the plague of finger injuries afflicting my family.

When I was in middle school, my dad chopped the top of his middle finger off at the knuckle. My dad was an electrical substation worker, in charge of, among other things, heading out in the middle of the night and fixing whatever had made your power go out. (Usually a tree falling in a storm, a substation overheating or, once, an owl flying right into a major power line and exploding.) Dad did this for 30 years and was excellent at it. He got called out so often that the CIPS (Central Illinois Public Service Company) dispatcher and I become phone friends, back when there was a person who had that job, before it became automated.

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One night, a stray branch had broken off a mostly frozen tree and landed right on a substation, shorting it out and sending Dad and his crew out to get everybody’s power back on. It was a huge branch, and it had to be cut into pieces to get it down from the substation so they could clear it all out and get the power back on. Dad’s crew had a tool that you could navigate from the ground, slide around the branch and then chop from below so you didn’t have to have some guy in a hoist whacking it with an axe. This day, Dad’s job was to guide the tool around the branch, give them thumbs up when it was secured and then break it apart once the guy on the ground had pulled the lever to cut.

Except there was some sort of miscommunication, and the guy down on the ground thought Dad gave him the green light to chop even though Dad, up on the hoist, was still securing the tool. So the guy pulled the level, and, nice and clean and quick, WHUMP off went Dad’s finger. It actually fell, from the hoist down the rocks below. It was so fast Dad didn’t realize what had happened until he looked and his hand and realized something that had been there his entire life suddenly wasn’t.

They rushed him to the ER, with his finger in a Ziploc bag on ice. After a series of surgeries, they somehow got it back on. Dad had his whole hand wrapped up for a month; he used to enjoy walking into a room where my friends and I were and yelling, “Hey, Will, I need you to buckle my pants!” You can still see the scar where they reattached his finger. Dad was back to work in a month, but his finger was never quite the same. You can stab the tip of that finger with a needle and he can’t even feel it.

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When she was eight months pregnant with our oldest son William, my wife sliced most of her finger off with an immersion blender. She was actually making muffins as a bribe, a payoff for a painter who was working for one of her interior decoration clients, and a piece of muffin got jammed in the blender. Perhaps it was pregnancy brain, perhaps it was just general absent-mindedness, but she stuck her finger in to dislodge the piece while forgetting that the blender was not only plugged in, but her other hand was still on the trigger. I was getting geared up for that night’s Game Six of the 2011 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers when I heard the scream from the other side of the apartment.

There was a hospital just across the street of our Brooklyn apartment, and we rushed over there, getting through the emergency room much more quickly than we would have had she not been pregnant. The doctor commented on my Cardinals jersey and said, “I hope they don’t get rained out tonight.” (Mercifully, considering we were in the ER until about midnight, they did, and thus I didn’t spend the Freese game in a Brooklyn hospital checking my phone.) The cut, because it was an immersion blender, went in a circle around her finger, and it required 12 stitches, a huge number for such a small finger. We mostly remarked on how dirty the ER was, like it was a makeshift unit constructed in a war zone. I think we called it “Beirut General.”

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We were so careful with that finger over the next three weeks, particularly after the stitches came out. But when my wife went into labor three weeks later, it happened so quickly that she wasn’t able to get the epidural we had been counting on, and she screamed and kicked and passed out and then woke up and did it again. Every time she woke up and pushed, she would whack that finger, the one she’d been yelping about anytime anything had touched it for weeks, against the side of the bed, and the wound opened up, and there was blood gushing out of her finger everywhere and honestly neither of us even noticed.

You can prick her finger with a pin now too, and she can’t feel it either.

This past Mother’s Day, I was making breakfast for my wife when I tried to dislodge a slice from a frozen loaf of Ezekiel bread. I was in a hurry, I’m a lousy cook and I wasn’t thinking, so I used a bread knife to separate the slices and then WHOMP through the bread, and the tip of my left ringer finger, went the bread knife. I spent Mother’s Day in the Urgent Care getting it re-attached, though it missed the fingernail and thus required only four stitches. I’ve had a wrap around it since, and it’s a shame that all the pictures of me at my wife’s round-number birthday party will immortalize the injury.

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Also here I am explaining the injury to Keith Hernandez.

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I’ve had this damned wrap on my finger ever since, and even though we’ve had the stitches taken out, it hasn’t fully healed yet, which means every time I hit the “W,” “X” or “S” on my keyboard, I groan. (I’m trying to use fewer plurals.) My fingers are how I make my living, the moneymakers, and to be honest, I have had nightmares in the past where I’ve broken my wrists and can’t type for months on end. This is the most irritating injury I can imagine; I think I would have rather broken my ankle. I’ve been cranky and grousing ever since I did it.

And it’s still not even near the injuries my father and my wife had. I’ve been pretty fortunate in my life. I’ve never broken any bones, I haven’t had major surgery since I was five years old and I’ve never had a disease or debilitating injury. I’d say of my 10 worst personal maladies, half were hangovers. I clipped off the tip of my finger, and, to be honest, I’ve been acting like I was attacked by wolves for a fortnight now. It is only now, typing this, that I realize just how much of a wimp I really am. God forbid anything actually bad happen to me.

Still, this sucks. There are a lot of plural words.

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Written by

Writer, New York, NYT, MLB, WaPo, others. Founder, Deadspin. Author of four books, with fifth, “How Lucky,” coming May 2021. https://williamfleitch.substack.com

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