I cut my thumb. I was pruning a tree in my neighbour’s backyard when the saw slipped from my right hand onto my left thumb and did a surprising amount of damage. I thought it just needed a couple of stitches but after we consolidated the kids at the neighbour’s, got turned away from the Urgent Care Centre (they don’t do hands), got in to see the doctor at the ER (swiftly! Thanks C.C.), and failed the bend-and-straighten test, we were told that I’d need stitches both inside and outside, a cast for several weeks and a month or more of thumb rehab. We cancelled our dinner plans.
They called in the plastic surgeons to repair my tendon. When I get this cast off and admirers notice the youthful perkiness of my left thumb in comparison to the saggy and weathered look of my right, I suppose I’ll have to admit I’ve had work done. The surgeon spent an hour or two reconnecting things while K. watched eagerly and I alternated between cringing at the wall, practicing my meditation breathing, eating my dinner of chips, and calmly watching them explore the inner workings of my opposable digit. I knew I’d regret not watching at all but I did have trouble getting the image of my well-lit gaping thumb-wound with white tendon and violet sutures out of my head that first night. Thankfully the doctor, peering through her little spectacle-binoculars, knew what to attach to what. I’ve now got a gash along the top of my thumb – longer than the original injury as the doctor needed to open it further to fetch the tendon – neatly stitched up and encased, along with my wrist and forearm, in stylish black fiberglass.
When I cut my thumb it didn’t hurt much. I grabbed it, went inside to wrap it up and squeezed it tight. A few moments later a wave of uneasiness washed over me. That was my signal that something was damaged – that my body was hurt. And I’ve been surprised by how long it’s taking me to bounce back after the injury. For the first week I needed a nap every day. I think because these things are fixable – there are patient and well-trained people who know how to repair the physical damage – we tend to think that injuries are no big deal. They heal, and thank goodness for that. But just because I couldn’t feel them poking, prodding, sewing and pulling at my thumb innards doesn’t mean I didn’t feel it.
These past weeks I’ve been reminding myself that our bodies know when something is amiss. When my body needs to grow new tissue and heal itself, I have to give myself a break and understand that it wears me out. I gave myself this freedom – to be tired, to do very little – when I was pregnant. I used to tell people it was tiring growing a whole human! It’s tiring growing new tendon too.
Now it’s been two weeks and I can type (obviously) and do most of my regular daily stuff. But I do many of them with careful deliberation because I have to do them with all of one hand and four fifths of the other:
- Opening twist-off things. Without a thumb I can’t grip anything with my left hand so unless I can hold the thing with four fingers and twist the top off with my right, I have to wait for K. to get home or challenge the puny kids to do it. I never knew how many twist-off openings my typical day required until now. Cooking curries? Every spice in a separate jar. Sugar for your tea? In a jar. Kids want peanut butter and jam with applesauce? Jar, jar, jar. Laundry detergent? Twist-off top. The toothpaste tube, the shampoo bottle, the goop I put in my hair…
- Trimming the fingernails on my right hand: can’t be done. K’s job now.
- Showering: I have perfected the cast waterproofing (long narrow plastic bag from a loaf of bread, secured at the elbow with an elastic) but some washing tasks are difficult. Let’s just say that there have been undignified moments of squeezing the shampoo out of the bottle with my knees. Only one armpit is getting the attention it deserves.
- Holding my beer glass at an angle to pour. I know; I’m very brave to be surviving this one. Pity and pouring assistance are most welcome.
I can’t do dishes. Can’t grip, can’t get wet; can’t do dishes. That one is easy to get used to. Still, I’m looking forward to washing dishes if it means I can also double-squeeze my kids, stretch my wrist and perform a few other useful two-thumbed tricks like shifting gears on a curve.