Thursday, January 27, 2011

Six Stitches in Time Save a Digit

My husband makes a great paella. He has a recipe from the Wall Street Journal and even has a special paella pan. I got the pan for him for the holidays. For $40, it is a flimsy piece of aluminum with no useful handle that is impossible to clean, but it seems to do the trick. He goes to Whole Foods and buys all the ingredients the day he makes it, even if we already have the ingredients at home. And there are many ingredients. My only role in the paella-making process is to puree three ingredients: parsley, garlic and almonds. Seems like a pretty good deal in exchange for several helpings of the final dish.

Along with the special paella pan, I also got my husband a hand blender for the holidays. He is not as big a fan of gadgets as I am, but likes them in theory. The espresso maker from Christmas 2009 remains in pristine condition, as does the iPod touch he got when he bought a MacBook. Although I sensed he wouldn't use the blender, I knew it would help me fulfill my paella sous chef duty. My previous attempts at pureeing the three magic ingredients proved to be cumbersome in the regular blender, so the hand-held food processor was part of a package deal with the paella pan.

So, you can imagine my excitement on a recent Sunday when my husband had all the paella ingredients laid out on the kitchen counter and I knew my opportunity to use the shiny, red vintagey-looking hand blender was just moments away. Mind you, I had broken in the lovely appliance on a banana smoothie, and marveled as it pummeled and liquified the fruit with just a few hits of the blender. So, as soon as my husband had the trio of ingredients in the mixing bowl, prepared to be technologically pulverized by the Cuisinart goodie, I was ready.

Now, pureeing three dry ingredients is not as easy it as it sounds. And mixing a small amount of items can also be a bit tricky, since most of the ingredients end up stuck in the blender. So I blended and added droplets of liquid to the puree to get it to just the right consistency. I was so pleased with the progress of the puree that I did one final swipe of the appliance to get every last atom of parsley-garlic-almond paste from the blade with my left index finger. And simultaneously pressed the power button with my right index finger. Whoops.

"Mommy has a boo boo," I called to the next room to give a head's up to any minors in the house who might wander into the kitchen and be alarmed by the sight of blood spurting from their parent's limb. Good thing those Bounty paper towels are as absorbent as the ads claim (truth in advertising--who knew?), because I am descended from a medical family, which means we have no first aid supplies of any kind in the house. But I buy paper towels by the case at Target, so I was set.

"You know, this might need a stitch or two," I told my husband, who had not witnessed the incident. He offered to pack the kids in the car and go, en famille, to the ER about a mile away. Even though my left index finger is, literally, my driving finger, I figured I could make do steering with an alternate digit, and was thinking that a stint in the ER with my texting fingers intact might not be all bad, as long as my Blackberry was juiced up.

So I declined the offer and drove over to our local hospital. The hospital looks more like an enormous, modern condominium campus than a place where medical manipulations occur. The Emergency Room entrance is off a side street, sort of like if you were driving to the building that houses the Community Room at a Senior Citizens' complex. There is even valet parking. The fact that I rarely carry cash and ER valets don't tend to take credit cards was an issue that would consume me for most of my four-hour ER wait. Wading deep into a bottomless purse with a bloody hand, looking for six wadded-up ones is more of a challenge that you might think. After only coming up with five, I considered asking the woman next to me for a loaner one, but she was shivering and had her head wrapped in gauze, so I continued feeling around for some coins.

Of course, a trip to the ER means a stack of the requisite official documents to fill out. I am a stickler for filling out such forms, but tend to vascillate between providing too much and not enough information. I was given a middle name at birth, but do not use it on official forms, which I'm sure confuses both the IRS and the State Department. I will provide an estimated weight and hair color on a whim. When it comes to providing emergency information, I have been known to go into far too much detail explaining "relation to subject," but think that a future employer might be interested in the fact that in an emergency they can contact the trusted neighbor down the street because of the time she picked up our mail when we were on vacation. I try to limit the snarky comments I make on official forms, although I do not regret a cheeky post-script (on the check) I included with the payment for a traffic ticket I did not deserve. So when I came to a section of the intake form that sought a yes/no response to "Advanced Care Directive," I was truly stumped. I believe in nuance, and do not do well with either-or questions. And there weren't any hyphens or colons to give me a little more clarity. What was I being asked to yea-or-nay? Did I want care in advance of my infirmity? Did I want it directed, rather than implied? Did I want care or to be ignored? I was going to make some notes in the form's margins to explain my dilemma in answering this prompt, but I was distracted by the flashing of my Blackberry and lost interest.

Even though I could tell I was low-sickie-on-the-totem-pole and that it would be a long wait, I was still reluctant to go to the bathroom or step away in case my name were called. That meant a long four hours of sitting on a hard plastic chair, dodging uncovered flu-laden coughs, and grimacing as ambulatory children ran amok as large families descended upon the ER for an apparent Sunday family outing. One women gossiped with a relative as she attempted to clean and/or dislodge something from her daughter's ear. Every time she sent the girl back to the reception desk for more alcohol pads, the on-duty nurse had to re-screen the mother to ensure the swab was not mean to treat the illness that was awaiting ER attention. Half a soccer team came in to support a fallen teammate's ankle injury. A husband and wife arrived after an outing to the Huntington Library and Gardens, their membership stickers still affixed to their shirts. According to their loud conversation, the wife was diabetic. To amuse herself during the wait, she had brought along a book of Chinese Proverbs, apparently selected at the Huntington's gift shop prior to dropping by the ER. The pair sat in different areas of the waiting room and had a protracted debate over the very same Advanced Care Directive question that I had pondered. After surveying the crowd, the wife remembered she had a granola bar in the car that would even out her blood sugar, and they left.

When my name was called to be screened, the nurse asked me to rate my level of pain on a scale of 1 to 10. While this query gave me more wiggle room than the Advanced Care Directive one, it still required some thought. I asked the poor nurse to clarify the question, for example, what context should I consider before I provided an answer? The pain did not compare to labor for Child #1 (whose arrival did not coincide with the epidural as well as I had hoped), but the pain for Birth #2 was not as bad as I had anticipated. Perhaps I had developed a higher threshold for pain? Perhaps I was better able to cope with discomfort? I was clearly getting off topic. The nurse explained that I should rate the current pain I was in from 1 to 10. Even without an historical context, I felt compelled to offer the disclaimer that since I do appear to have a high tolerance for pain, I would probably rate the level of discomfort lower than someone else would, but by rating it lower, I also increase my chances of having to wait longer to be seen. Just because I might react less than someone else to my injury does not mean that the level of injury is any less than it would be for someone else. The nurse wearily looked at me and awaited my answer. Six, I said. He sent me back to the waiting room, telling me if the blood soaked the bandage I had, to let him know and he would provide me with a clean one.

Somewhere betwen hours three and four, I was escorted through numerous double doors to be seen. I shared the finger-in-the-Cuisinart story several more times, and was asked to remove my sticky bandage myself. I was given several shots to numb my finger, with a warning that the shots would hurt. And yes they did. The number of stitches needed (6) to close the wound on my digit was not only the very same digit (6) that I had cited to describe my level of distress, but also the number of dollars (6) needed to retrieve my car from the valet.

When I got home, warm paella and wine were waiting for me.


  1. Now I'm NEVER going to use the immersion blender we got for our wedding many years ago. And I was just about to try it out on a pot of soup...

  2. Hi, Susan! Aha! Immersion Blender! Those are the words that have eluded me for the past four days! I have spent hours explaining to medical folks what happened to my finger by describing a hand-held gizmo that I think they all thought was an old school hand mixer--one of those with no blade at all. No wonder they were so bewildered by the gashes... Thanks for reading. LOVE your blog! See you soon--K:)

  3. Well at least you did actually need stitches after all that wait and hassle. I have no idea what an immersion blender is, i was picturing a hand held one like you're describing above.
    I'm surprised at your lack of sarcasm when dealing with all those medical people too! Perfectly good answers to the pain range question.
    I have made a mental note to never ever make paella myself. . .

  4. Hi, Josie! Speaking of injured fingers, how is your finger and hand doing? Maybe the fates are trying to keep us from blogging with all these hand injuries :). Take care and thanks for reading! Best, Karen