Monday, November 18, 2013

Noodle Incident: That Time I Cut Off a Finger

Noodle Incident: An incident in the past referenced but never explained with the understanding that it's too ludicrous for words.

Since I've referred to 'the injury' a few times as I completed the project that caused the injury, I figure it's time to share and boost safety awareness. We're coming up on the one year anniversary after all.

Be forewarned. There are some mild graphic images. These images are thumbnail size, so if you don't want to see it, don't click them.



November 30, 2012 11:30am.

My family was out of town for the weekend. I stayed home to finish the mantle in time for Christmas.
I briefly considered cleaning out the gutters, but decided my wife wouldn't want me home alone on the roof. That would be dangerous. So  I decided to start the table saw.

I was ripping through boards at a great pace, using a scrap of wood as a push stick in the interest of safety.

As I'm pushing a board through, it lurches. I was using my left hand to push the board through (luckily I'm right handed), and when the board lurched my hand went forward.

A few safety tips here.
First: It's best for a push stick to have an 'L' shape cut out to grab the edge of the board and prevent slipping. Better yet use an actual designated push stick, not 'some board'.
Second: Never have the blade taller than it needs to be.
Third: Never push harder than necessary.
Fourth: Wear safety glasses, it's just good practice.

If I had been following steps one through three, maybe I wouldn't be typing this story. Then again, who am I to change fate?

The push stick was kicked out of my hand after the board lurched when the blade hit it, so I immediately shut down the machine.

I was thinking how irritated I was going to be if the table saw marred my board.  I look at the board and it doesn't have a scratch. That's good.

I pick up my push stick and it has a little scratch on it. That's good, let's get back to it.

I happen to look at my left hand.
It just so happened, I was already holding it palm up, fingers cupped.

I saw my ring finger. That's bad.

You know that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when something bad happens. Yeah, I had that feeling about now. The thing is, I didn't know the extent of my injuries, but I instantly knew I would have to visit the ER today. At the time I thought the ring finger was the only one injured (I managed to hit all four. I like to be thorough).

As I cut off the radio and lights in my shop and shut the door, I'm running through what I need to do as I walk upstairs. Should I call a neighbor? How long would it take them to get me versus driving myself? Would the ambulance be a quicker option?

I grab my wallet, keys, and insurance card. I briefly considered changing clothes as I looked like a bum in my shop clothes, but determined it would be too difficult to pull my injured hand in and out of clothing.

I put the dog's food and water (and dog) outside, and locked the house.  Someone needs to know where I am/am going. I knew my wife was nowhere close, and I only had time for one call. I called my mom as I'm walking to my vehicle. She lived close enough that she could visit the hospital if necessary.

"Mom, I'm going to the hospital. I cut my hand"

She was a bit shocked, and all my years of calling her and telling her a ridiculous story didn't help my credibility.

As I'm nearing my vehicle and need the use of my only working hand, I reiterate.

"I'm going to the hospital. I cut my hand. I have to drive now."

I'm holding my hand close to my chest now. I didn't really consider getting a towel. I haven't looked at my hand since the initial unveiling as I know that if I do, nothing good shall come of it.

I'm driving along, irritated at slow cars and stop lights.  Don't they realize I just cut my hand? (Unfortunately, they didn't. I'm sure if they had realized they would have sped up.)

I try to reassure myself now. My mind has begun to play the worst case scenario game.  I steal a few glances at my hand.  I would have assumed there would be more blood. It also appears that I injured more than just my ring finger.

I finally get to the hospital. I've never been to this hospital and I've never been to the hospital for a personal emergency. I make note of where the ER is and find a place to park.  I walk (quickly mind you) to the front desk and explain my situation.

"I cut my hand on a table saw."

"What is the extent of your injury?"

"I don't know. I'm trying not to look at it. It's bad enough that I immediately drove myself to the hospital."

I show her my hand.  Rather quickly after that I'm in a wheelchair being taken to the back. I skipped the waiting room entirely.

I'm asked if I can get on the bed by myself. I tell them  I can.

I'm asked how much I like my sweatshirt and shirt as they would like to cut them off if they can, provided I allow it.

I reply that I'd like to keep the sweatshirt, but since I'm not going to pull it over my hand, they could start cutting.

About this time my mother, brother, and father show up.  One of the nurses asks them if they can go to my house and get my insurance card.

I tell her I've got it right here and retrieve my wallet from my pocket.  The nurse looks at me mouth agape.  I tell her I got it before I left the house.

This part is a little fuzzy.  I know multiple times I was asked how I got to the hospital and I replied I drove myself.

I knew I needed to get to the hospital and I preferred to get there as fast as possible. I knew the rescue squad would take ten minutes to get to my house. I could be half way there by then.  My closest neighbors would be fifteen minutes to pick me up. So the only option was to drive myself.  People seemed more stunned about that than I would have imagined.

I got a lot of shots, an IV, and various tests. My fear of needles kind of subsided after my day in the hospital.

I was asked if I needed a wheelchair to get to the x-ray room. I told them I could walk.

I got various x-rays. I knew the situation wasn't good when they told me to spread my fingers out as wide as possible and I could feel my ring finger poking my middle finger. It just wouldn't move, no matter how much I tried. Oh well!

See how all the finger tips are bent? That's because I cut through three
tendons. You can see the chunk of bone missing in the middle finger,
and the splinters of bone in the ring finger.
I go back to my room as the doctor reviews the x-rays.  Let me say, the staff was phenomenal. Extremely nice and caring.  I heard 'bless your heart' many times, after staff would ask me what happened and I told them I cut my fingers with a table saw.

I call my wife. I couldn't get her. I had forgotten she would be out of range all day. I leave her a message and tell her I cut my hand, but not very bad. I just need a few stitches. It's basically a scratch. That's what I tell her.

I didn't want her rushing home and getting into an accident. She was four hours away.

The doctor could not determine the extent of my injuries.  I was told I would lose two fingers, but they weren't sure they could even handle the procedure. They called a hospital an hour away.

During this time I was told I might only lose one finger, but it could be three.  The hospital told me they could stitch up one or maybe two of my fingers, and they might do that before sending me to the other hospital.

I can't say it enough, but the staff was phenomenal.  I was really impressed. I'd prefer not to meet them under the circumstances though.

I was on various pain medications, but never experienced a magic carpet ride as they called it.

The nurses would check on me periodically. And ask me my pain level on a scale of 1 to 10.  I heard various comments about my high tolerance to pain. And I didn't even know! What a way to find out.

I gave my brother my car and house keys and tell him where  I went in the house and to clean up any blood he sees before my wife returns home.

2:30 pm

The hospital tells me they will not bandage me up and instead will send me to the other hospital for surgery.  The other hospital thinks I will only lose one finger. The EMT's come in and bandage my hand for transport.  I found it a little weird that I hadn't been temporarily patched up before. I hadn't even thought about it.

I got to ride in the newest ambulance. It was my first time in any ambulance.  I talked to the EMT about my impending surgery.  I come to terms with the fact that  I will lose a finger. If I had to lose one, the ring finger would be the one I'd pick (though I do prefer to keep them all). We also talk about the possibility of anesthesia during surgery. The EMT recommend that if it's offered, take it.

I get to the other hospital at 3:30 pm.  The doctor that will perform my surgery is currently in surgery. I get to wait and they give me pain medication.

My surgery is finally scheduled for 7:30 pm. I don't recall what I did during this time. I know there was a fair amount of waiting. I know I didn't sleep. I got to pull an IV stand around with me whenever I had to leave the bed.

It was beneficial that  I injured myself before lunch as they like to wait six hours after a meal before surgery. I was happy I could oblige.

The doctor tells me what he plans to do during surgery. He tells me I will lose the ring finger.  He has to 'power wash' the hand and clean it up.  I fractured three fingers and cut through three tendons.
By fractured, he means I knicked the bone of the index finger, cut half way through the bone of the middle finger and cut all the way through the bone on the ring finger. All of this is at the top most finger joints.  I hit the ring finger right on the joint, so it's kind of a mess. The tendon and a little bit of skin is the only thing holding it to my hand. The little finger was just a flesh wound.

The anesthesiologist talks to me about going under, I may have signed some forms,  I don't recall.
I put on the mask and start breathing. He tells me to count to ten. I don't think I even got to three.

I wake up. For an instant I don't remember what happened and I have no idea where I am. I can't open my eyes. I try to get up. A voice tells me to calm down. I feel a hand on my shoulder push me back onto the bed. I relax as I realize I'm in a hospital bed. Someone wipes my eyes with a towel and my sight is restored.

The doctor tells me surgery was two hours long and went very well.  I have three pins in my fingers. He pauses before stating, 'I tried something. I reattached your ring finger.  You may still lose it if the bone doesn't fuse, and you will never have that joint.'

I was agreeable to that. It would be six weeks before I 'd know if I could keep the finger (so I thought).

My wife arrived at some point that night, despite me telling her there was no need to come home early.

She said she got my message and called my brother when she couldn't get me.  My brother was not as subtle in his description as I was.

"Ward cut off his fingers on the table saw. It's bad."

If you recall, my description to my wife was, 'just a scratch that requires a couple of stitches.'

I had to stay in the hospital another day. The nurses would check on me.
"What's your pain on a scale of 1 to 10?"

I was usually a 4. There was a picture on the wall with a smiley face showing the thresholds 1 from 10.

1/2 is practically no pain.
3/4 is a bit of pain but bearable
5/6 is pain. it's starting to get irritating
7/8 is pain that impacts activities
9/10 is some kind of excruciating, tears flying kind of pain, at least judging by the image on the wall

My next pain medication dosage was an hour and a half away.  The pain was beginning to increase.
I reached level 8, which for me was writhing on the bed as the pain surged down my arm.

I asked the nurse if I could get my next dosage early. She said she could just give me a different kind. I could take that as needed.  I really wish I had known that when I reached the level 8 threshold. That kicked the pain down to 6. For me that, meant taking laps around the hospital.

On the second day at the hospital, I got to leave, finally, My arm wrapped from hand to elbow. I liked the big cast as it really communicated that something terrible happened to me.

Every time someone would ask what happened, be it at the hospital or afterwards, I would calmly reply with two words. Table saw.  Every single person reacted in shock and horror, cringing at the mere thought.

The accident happened on a Friday (I had the day off. This was Thanksgiving). I was released from the hospital Sunday, and I was back to work on Tuesday.

I really felt I deserved a gold star for nearly cutting off my fingers and missing only one day of work, can't win all the awards I suppose.


For six weeks I was one handed. I didn't want to bother my wife and I didn't want help with everything, so I managed to get dressed, tie my shoes, and everything else I needed to do with only one hand while using my bandaged 'fist'.  (Try tying your shoes with one hand and a fist.  After the first day I just wore tennis shoes that I didn't untie/tie.)


I had resigned myself to losing a finger in the hospital.  With the six week wait, I had to try to resign myself again the day before my appointment. It was a real possibility that the bones had not fused. It was a little more difficult this time to accept my potential fate.

Now my ring finger was akin to a stray puppy I had been caring for. I didn't want it to leave.

I went for my checkup and had my arm unwrapped.  It was unsettling as they unwrapped my hand because the bandages were brown and stiff with blood.  As my arm was unwrapped, the fabric had to be ripped apart as my blood had fused the fabric together. I couldn't move my hand or wrist. I hadn't used them in six weeks.

Once the nurse left I took pictures.  The hand was black and charred looking. Oh, and I had two pins sticking out the ends of my index and middle fingers.  That was kind of neat.
At two weeks. Click to enlarge,
but be forewarned.

At two weeks. Click to enlarge,
but be forewarned.
I got to take x-rays. (I took a lot of x-rays through the course of six months.) The doctor told me the hand was healing right on schedule.

As he looks at the ring finger, he says, "Huh."

"What is it?" I ask.

"It's a little crooked."

I look, and sure enough it is. The end of the ring finger is rotated slightly. I reply that, "If I get to keep it, a little crooked is fine."

So I asked him the big question. "Can I keep all of my fingers?"

"We don't know yet."

At six weeks. Click to enlarge,
but be forewarned.
I heard that a lot as I went to the doctor on a bi-weekly basis. (quick spoiler; I got to keep all of finger, well except for the quarter inch the saw took out at the joint of the ring finger) It was five months later that  I actually got confirmation I would keep it. After two months, I just assumed  I would.

I saw a physical therapist as I rehabilitated my hand. My forearm had noticeably shrank in six weeks time. After a couple of weeks  I regained all wrist movement. The fingers took longer.  The swelling in my fingers took six months to subside.
At seven weeks two of the pins are out. Click to enlarge,
but be forewarned.
Details during the six month recovery are sparse as it wasn't that exciting. I'll let images do most of the talking.

The therapist was always surprised that  I wanted an awesome looking scar. I figured I earned it. When  I tell people I cut my fingers with a table saw,  I want the scar to match.

I had to keep the fingers wrapped with splints. I got to clean the fingers everyday too. At this juncture, I realize how much every day use removes dead skin cells. With my hand being wrapped, my skin became pale and scaly. The skin would begin to peel off, similar to a sunburn.
At eight weeks. Click to enlarge,
but be forewarned.
At three months two pins have been removed. Click to enlarge,
but be forewarned.
The pins in my index and middle finger were removed after three months. I got to keep them. The doctor took a pair of pliers and pulled them out. I assumed that's what would happen. My concern was what I would feel during this process. Luckily, it didn't hurt as the pin bypassed nerves and went through the bone.
At five months all pins have been removed. Click to enlarge,
but be forewarned.

At five months the pin in my ring finger was removed. This pin was fully enclosed. The doctor cut the skin above the end of the pin and used pliers again. I got to keep that pin too.

After six months of doctor visits and physical therapy I was officially released. I'm mostly back to normal.  The tip of my index finger doesn't fully straighten and my middle finger has a dip on one side where I took out a chuck of bone, with a slight lateral curve. My ring finger is sensitive. If I accidentally hit it, the pain will reverberate in the finger for a few minutes.  The end of the finger is numb since I cut through all the nerves, and I have two fingernails.  One grows vertically on the side, the other is a tiny sliver in the 'normal' fingernail spot.  The saw blade cut through the joint and nail bed, so it scrambled it.  I was hoping I wouldn't get a fingernail at all and it would be one less to trim, instead I have two that are exceedingly difficult to trim.
Nearly one year later.

My friends have told me whenever they saw or cut anything, they think of me. If I can help people take proper safety precautions, that's great. It has increased my safety awareness, and I don't have any permanent detrimental damage so it's not too bad of a lesson. It's a cool story and I get to be 'that guy'.

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