Armed with a phone book and cell phone I struck out to find the nearest walk-in clinic. I was bound and determined not to go to the emergency room, knowing that they cost a small fortune. Moments later I was relieved to arrive at the clinic that I had pinpointed in the phone book, and I jumped out and went in.
When I walked in, the receptionist let me know that they were about to close and that they couldn’t see me, but when I presented to her my bloody appendage, her eyes got big and she immediately changed her story. She showed me to a room and a nurse and doctor promptly arrived on the scene. The doctor gave it a quick look, barked a few instructions at the nurse, and said that he would return in a moment. He had a worried look on his face that did not provide me with comfort.
After the nurse had cleaned my wound a little with some type of solution, the doctor arrived, with his cordless rotary cutting tool in hand. He had a look on his face now as if he were about to get busy on one of his home-improvement projects that had been on his honey-do list for awhile. He wedged a piece of something between my wedding ring and finger, and as I winced with pain he set out to cut the ring off. The high pitched scream of the cutting wheel was bringing flashbacks of being in a dental chair. As Doctor Death gritted his teeth plastered on the front of his intent pudgy face, he seemed to enjoy this a little too much. Then, almost as quickly as it had started, before the cutter could sink into my flesh, or the gold of my ring, it ground to a screeching halt. Dead.
I looked at the doc, and he looked at me, both of us with bewilderment and shock. The battery in his whirling wonder had gone dead. He sat back, looked back at me, and said, “Well, I guess the janitor has been using this thing again and ran the battery dead. Let me go charge it for awhile and then try again.” Then, he and the nurse trudged out of the room. I just sat there on the table, bumfuzzled. I was going to pay good money for this ride at the fair, and the carny just shut down the ferris wheel and walked out on me.
I sat there for what could not have been more than fifteen minutes, and the doc and his assistant arrived, tool in hand, determined to finish the job. As I tensed up again and clenched my teeth, he clenched his and cranked up the meat cutter again. It was music to my ears this time, as I was ready to end this ordeal. But no sooner had he dug into the small scratch he had made in my ring on the first attempt, the blade of death ground to a halt. Dead.
I looked at the doc this time and said, “There’s a Wal-Mart across the street. You want me to run across there and get you a battery for that thing that works?” He looked at me, then looked at the nurse, and said “Get him directions to the emergency room. We can’t help him here. And be sure not to charge him for anything.” The doctor seemed as grateful for me to leave as I was. Somehow, I think he had forgotten about that oath he had taken back in med school, something to do with saving lives and helping sick people. As he headed out the door, glad that he could still make his tee time at the golf course, I walked out, jumped in my van, and away I sped, in search of medical attention. Again.
Now that I think back on this, perhaps I should have driven right to Wal-Mart and waltzed right in to the power tool section. I could have possibly found some teenage kid stocking the isles that had a sense of adventure that could have held my hand down while I cut the ring off right there in the store. We could just explain to the manager that I was just trying out the cutting tool to make sure it would cut through anything. But I didn’t.
What I did do, now that it was high time for Branson show traffic to pick up steam, was head toward the emergency room per the directions given. As I sat in traffic, cell phone in one hand talking to Katrina, and my bloody nub on the other, I inched my way closer to a doctor that could help me. I finally got to the right connecting road, which directed me away from the heavy traffic. I was home free. I made my way down this road, and as I was driving, I spotted another clinic. Eureka! This was not the emergency room the nurse had directed me to. It was even better, another walk-in clinic.
I careened the van into the saving graces of this great looking facility, grabbed my phone and ice-pack, and headed in the door. The place didn’t look busy at all, so I thought I had surely found a place that could help me. Was I ever wrong!
I walked up to the desk, and since I had the show-them-the-hand movement down by now, I flashed them my hand and said, “Can someone please help me? I’ve had an accident and I need to have someone cut this ring off.” While the receptionist did not shriek on the outside, I could tell she was screaming on the inside. She hopped up immediately to seek assistance.
A nurse promptly came to my aid, took one quick look at my hand, and said, “You should probably just drive to Springfield. They have some large hospitals there, and that’s probably going to require a hand specialist anyway.” As I paused, dumbfounded, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Was there anyone capable of performing basic first aid in this town, someone with the decency to help a lone, bleeding stranger in need? Maybe I could just find some old guy with a pickup that had a pair of bolt cutters in the back. It didn’t take long to realize that I was getting no help here, so I thanked them, for nothing, and headed out the door to continue toward a real health care facility, assuming one existed.
By now I was getting pretty good at driving with my lame hand. The intense swelling coupled with the ring cutting off my circulation had made my finger pretty numb. I hadn’t been in the van long when I spotted it, like a mirage in the distance—the emergency room! With heightened anticipation as I got closer I was getting excited that I might actually be getting to the place that could help me.
As I pulled in the parking lot of the hospital, I noticed immediately an after-hours clinic that was connected to the hospital that said “Urgent Care” over the door. That was me, someone needing urgent care. I parked and went in quickly.
The receptionist greeted me politely, and I greeted her with “Is there anyone here who can please help me? I’ve been in an accident and I need to have this ring cut off.” Mostly unaffected by the horror of my hand, she hopped up and said, “We should be able to take care of that. One moment please.” Then she turned away and headed out the door.
Moments later she returned with a guy in scrubs, and he greeted me and said “Let’s take a look at that.” As he looked it over I said, “Do you have anything that will cut that off that doesn’t require batteries?” He said, “Yes, we sure do. You sit tight and I’ll go get it to show you.” So I sat there and waited, and with my good hand filled out all of my personal information for the receptionist. Soon the male nurse came back and showed me a can opener looking device and said, “This should do the trick.” Somewhat relieved that this ordeal was getting closer to an end I sat and patiently waited until they called me back, which they soon did.
They took me back to a fairly large room lined with all manner of medical supplies in glass cabinets, not your ordinary room you would typically see in a doctor’s office, but much larger. The nurse helped me up on the table and settled me in for the doctor to come in and have a look. He soon arrived, took a look at my mess, and instructed the nurse to soak my hand in some type of iodine solution.
My hand soaked in the liquid for some time. It was very cold, and every time I moved my hand a little, it stung as the solution worked itself into my flesh, cleaning out the impurities of the lake. The doctor soon returned, and as the nurse held my hand down, the doctor injected my hand with a local anesthetic. That stung a little, but as it worked its way in my hand began to feel much better, as if it were not there. Much the same way that a dentist does, the doctor said he would be back in a moment when it was properly deadened.
The doctor soon came back, ready to go to work. He had a great manner about him, and talked to me as he worked, asking about all the details of the accident and what I’d been through. As the nurse helped him, they worked together to get the “can-opener” in place. When they did, they began cranking it, a little at a time, and in not too long at all, they had the ring cut all the way through. That was the easy part.
Even though the ring was cut, it would have to be pried apart. The doctor got a couple of pairs of thick needle-nose pliers, and began working to pull the ring apart. This was not an easy task, but he finally got the ring opened up enough to pull it over my flailing wound, and off it came. Hooray!
He settled my hand back into the brown solution to soak for a few moments, then turned to get all of his surgical tools ready so that he could finish this job. In a few moments he began the task of repairing my open flesh. He snipped and clipped, making comments about how fortunate I was that the tendons in my finger were intact, and that there was no apparent damage in that regard. After he finally got done trimming the fat, he began like a seamstress sewing me up. He worked with steady hands, pushing the needle in and out of my flesh as I lay there watching the skilled craftsman at work.
My finger was beginning to take on the appearance of one of those scenes from Frankenstein, where you can see all of the stitches on his head. The good doctor was getting close to finishing the task, only a few stitches to go. He again inserted the needle into my finger, and I suddenly felt a searing pain. Somehow the anesthetic had not reached all of my finger, and when that needle went into that one spot it was excruciating.
As the doctor quickly took notice of my pain, he asked me if it was too unbearable. He said that he could give me another shot and wait for it to deaden, or that he could do these last two stitches if I thought I could handle it. Although I was telling myself that I couldn’t handle it, I reluctantly told him that I could, so we pressed on.
As I looked up at the ceiling I could feel the fire of the needle puncturing my skin, then into the flesh of my finger. I tensed my whole body and braced myself with my other hand as I held onto the table. One down, one to go. Again, the needle entered with the same ferocity, and as I held my breath through it, we were done. The sixteenth and final stitch was finally in there.
Now that he was done, the doctor and I examined his work, and the inspection passed with flying colors. We were both relieved that he was through. Finished at last. After the nurse bandaged it up, the doctor gave me instructions not to remove the bandage for three days, and he also loaded me up with a pain pill prescription, which I gladly accepted. I thanked him very much for his good work and was on my way.
I left the clinic and was happily on my way. It had been a long day, elongated by the catastrophe, and I had to have some relief—McDonald’s. I pulled through there and gathered a sack of comfort food, glad to be finally heading back to the condo.
After I made it back and showed off my large oversized bandage to Katrina and the kids, we discussed what we would do the next day. We still had the boat rented for one more day, and the kids were sure up for some more fun in the sun, in spite of Dad’s injury. I didn’t have any idea what I was in for, even for the night ahead, but we decided that we would give it a try, as long as the older boys could really help us out a lot.
After the initial anesthetic wore off around midnight I woke up in intense pain as if someone had been smacking my hand with a hammer. I was sure looking for the pain pills now! Although it took a while to numb me down, I finally fell asleep and got a little rest so that we could take on our next day on the lake.
I struggled a little, well, maybe a lot, but with everyone’s help we had a good second day on the lake. After we made it home later in the week I made an appointment with my local doctor to have my finger looked at, and to have the stitches removed. It healed pretty nicely, but it took several months for my finger to begin feeling the same again.
Now, several years later, my wedding ring fits nicely, resting against my scar that goes about two-thirds of the way around my finger. Now and again it will throb a little, sometimes while I’m telling this story, and other times when I get near a boat. But every memory we made on the lake that summer was worth it, and I’d do it all again in a second, minus the tragedy.
Written by David Steen, with God smiling, August-October 2009.