Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Reasonably Entertaining Old Journal Entries

Many people don't know the sad saga of my gone, but not forgotten left middle fingertip. So here's a catch up:

October 30, 2005
Phrae, Thailand
1,140 words

Events Overtake Mr. Fred

One of the classical (Greek) theories of comedy is that anything bad that happens to someone else instead of the viewer is funny. Someone slips on a banana peel . . . boy, I bet that hurt! In much the same spirit, here’s a hysterical story about Mr. Fred’s adventures in the Kingdom.

Thailand is a land of limited liability. America has been stripped of all dangerous products. Sorry kids, no lawn darts for you. Build with only safety glass, please. Safe electrical products, safe power tools, safe, safe, safe. By the same token, if something does happen someone must be responsible. Fall out of a roller coaster? They had a duty! They breached it! You were hurt! They must pay! None of this is true in Thailand.

In Thailand, if you are hurt at a tourist attraction it is considered to be your own fault: you were not careful enough. Didn’t you see that muddy floor? No one else fell and broke their arm. If you are brave enough to go para-sailing or speed boating or riding hanging from cables in a rain forest don’t expect any sympathy if you get dumped or flipped. You’re lucky if the concessionaire calls the hospital for you, he has to get back to work, make a living. There’s no one to sue; in Thailand you are left to your own devices and all risks are assumed by you.

With regard to products this is a mixed blessing. Some dangerous products work very, very well. Too well in many cases. Like super glue, you can still get that REAL super glue here, the kind where you can glue your hand to your chest if your not careful, or glue your eye shut for good. And drain cleaner, the stuff here will take out any clog at all plus a thirty-second of an inch all around the pipe, no fooling around.

So it was a shock, but not a surprise, when I discovered an incredibly sharp edge where I least expected one on an ice chest I was cleaning recently. Real hard plastic, so sharp you could hardly run your finger over it. And it closed on a fixed line with huge leverage behind it, the entire weight of the heavy cover. At the hinge side, no less, leverage like a pair of bolt cutters. Right where any unsuspecting Peace Corps volunteer could put one of his fingers. And let the cover drop. And cut a piece of a valuable finger clean off.

Boy, that was one of those “can I please buy back the last ten seconds during which I did something very, very stupid?” moments. At first I though I had just jammed it, you know, like in a car door, and the worst thing is that you might lose a fingernail. But the nail was the only thing I didn’t lose, the nail was fine, still is. The nail was sticking out half an inch past where the finger tip used to be; the new “tip” was as flat as the top of a soup can, flowing blood. Oh, I wish I had a picture of my face when I first saw that, that absence of a fingertip on my left middle finger, that bloody stump of a finger important to forming any guitar chord you ever heard of, on any one of my seven, count ’em, seven guitars.

“Ann, come immediately!” I screamed with my head thrown back. Something needed to be organized, and I was indisposed. When Ann did not immediately burst out of the door of the house I added, “not fast enough!” Ann had that look, that “what did the baby do now?” look, the same look she had when I pulled her away from a favorite TV show to drive me to the hospital when my appendix burst.

We quickly arranged a trip to the emergency room. Ann said, “should I come with you?” I said, “oh, you’ll have to make those decisions for now.” A Thai doctor turned out to be a good choice for this type of wound, they see lots of strange machete mutilations here. Very Thai, though, certainly too Thai to tell you when he was going to suddenly hurt you real bad. “You will feel this,” they say, American doctors say, and you know to brace yourself for the pain. I didn’t want to look, so my head was turned away when the doc and a couple of nurses were getting started. He chose not to tell me before he jammed the local anesthetic injection into the stump, I jumped a foot off the bed. The next couple of jabs weren’t so bad, I expected those. Then they cleaned it up and cauterized it, a faint cooking smell. After the shots I didn’t feel a thing, and I mean from then on; I never had any pain at all with the healing. I mean, if I jammed it into something it hurt briefly, but just lying there in the bandage it never hurt at all. “You’re lucky,” the doctor said much later, “you have a high pain threshold.”

I did, however, have a low gross-out threshold. I didn’t look at it for two weeks, “mai ow hen, c’ap.” (“I don’t want to see.”) I had to go every day for three weeks to get it cleaned and re-bandaged. It was always a pleasure, the nurses were all typically pretty, cheerful, graceful Thai women. The nurses loved me, I never complained, just smiled and said thank you. They practiced their English. The worst part was wondering: what will it end up looking like? Will it take guitar string pressure? Will it get infected? How long will it take to heal? Will I finally lose the nail? Where does the bone end . . . will the tip be too thin?

It’s two months later now, and it looks as though everything will settle down just fine. It’s already a fingertip to look at it, about three-eighths of an inch abbreviated. The nail is fine. I can type on the new fingertip, although it does still feel weird. In the meantime I have finally made sense of open tuning and can play guitar just fine without it. A forced excursion into the land of slide. I was never versatile anyway. I played songs at an English camp this week. It should be fine for all purposes in a couple of months.

Any lessons learned? Probably not. This case is probably what lawyers call “limited to it’s own fact pattern.” When washing out an ice chest it is important to take your time, focus on what you are doing, and don’t think about ten other things while your doing it. You should be fine.


No, it will never be fine again. A couple of years later, it's still hyperascthesic and not much use for guitar playing (bass guitar is a little better, I can use the flat part of the fingertip).

I had a procedure from a decent American Ortho, a "V-Y Projection" or something. It did a little good, it put a little more meat over the bone tip, stopped the worst of the cupping of the fingernail. Once you rip up a fingertip, however, it's kind of over, Johnny.


Anonymous said...

Sheesh, then learn to play drums, dummy.

fred c said...

I don't have enough room to swing a cat, much less own a set of drums. I could work a piano, and keyboards don't take up much room, but I'd rather feel sorry for myself.