Benefield: My holiday in the ER
Please forgive my typos on this one. I’m typing with nine fingers.
This is a holiday story of hubris and bad listening skills. And blood.
We were set to host family for Christmas Eve dinner. For a new scalloped potatoes recipe I wanted to try, I needed a mandoline slicer. I was not sure what it was or how it worked (or how it was spelled, imagine that) but knew I needed one for this dish.
I went to Hardisty’s Homewares. I bought a meat thermometer that it turned out we didn’t need, a new compost pail, which we well and truly did, and a mid-price range mandoline.
As she was ringing me up, the helpful woman at the kitchen supply store warned me — warned me — about how sharp the blade was, about how to be careful, about how to never, ever under any circumstances, use this mini guillotine without the guard.
I nodded and smiled in the way that I nod and smile after asking directions in the big city before I walk back onto the street and head in the opposite direction from which I was moments before instructed.
Off I marched with my cooking tools and unearned confidence about how good the meal was going to be. It was just before 11 a.m.
By 3 p.m., I was in my kitchen ready to make my awesome scalloped potatoes. By approximately 3:01 p.m. I had not sliced one whole potato before I had sliced the tip of my right thumb off right there into them spuds.
I looked down and saw what I now understand to be capillaries. They were tiny red dots on the tip of my thumb. It was like looking at the stars except I was not looking at the night sky. I was looking down and the stars were red.
In retrospect, I might have been seeing stars. I am not a brave person.
I sat down. I laid down. It continued to bleed. My husband, Charlie, asked, suggested and then urged me to go to the emergency room. I was adamantly opposed. I am not brave, but I am stubborn.
They would want to look at it, after all, maybe even touch it.
But I knew he was right.
A benefit of having a teenager who knows everything is that he does know how to drive. We enlisted my older son to take me to the hospital, and he was a remarkably calming chauffeur.
I was checked in and brought right back (perhaps the only upside of a good deal of visible blood).
The first clinician unwrapped my hand and said, “I see what you did there, you took the tip right off.”
I was asked if I had brought it with me. I was thankful I was sitting down.
When the doctor approached, readying to give me injections to numb my thumb, I reflexively started chanting Earl Campbell’s name. “The running back?” the doctor asked as he stabbed me with the hot pitchfork he called a needle.
Some people, in times of need, pray to the heavens or the universe to give them strength. I pray to the greatest running back of all time.
The numbness settled in quickly. I now felt braver than I had before. I allowed myself to take my eyes off the floor, take in my surroundings and listen to the sounds of the ER.
Some people call this eavesdropping.
It was at this point I heard a voice that sounded familiar. I heard keywords that gave me more clues, like “our son.” Then I heard the laugh.
With my left hand I pulled out my phone and texted David, the father of my younger son’s oldest friend: “Are you in the ER???”
Turns out David’s wife, Janet, had possession of his phone for the following exchange:
Janet: “David has a cut finger.”
Me: “I’m in 33!!!!!”
David, too, had left a piece of his hand in the Christmas Eve meal — with a mandoline, slicing potatoes. No wonder we are friends.
But in his case, he lost the tip of his right ring finger. We were two doors down from each other.
Unlike me, David was in good spirits, making jokes. He can handle these kinds of things; he’s from Wisconsin.
Janet, a calming presence (she, too, is from Wisconsin), popped over to ER Bay 33 to check on me.
A text thread, subtitled “Christmas in the ER” with more mutual friends was launched. There was comic disbelief: Same tool, same dish, same injury, same time.
The care included a temporary tourniquet, cleaning and, ultimately, glue. My thumb would be fine in no time.
As I received my after care instructions from a nurse, the numbing agent began to rapidly wear off. I panicked a little, my newfound bravery evaporating. The nurse suggested taking Ibuprofen. I said a beer sounded a lot better.
She suggested maybe waiting awhile after I got home before having any beer, just to be on the safe side. For the second time that day I smiled and nodded at sound advice, knowing full well I’d ignore it.
When I left, Janet, who has escorted her husband to the ER a time or two, took our picture, two hobbled, would-be chefs felled by the same device, making the same dish at the same time.
In the photo, my eyes are barely open. No longer buoyed by the numbing agent, I did not want to risk seeing anything gross. “There was a lot of blood,” Janet confirmed later.
My son drove me home from the hospital, and my husband pushed back the arrival time of our guests before managing the lion’s share of the meal prep and slicing the rest of the potatoes himself with nary an injury.
My nieces and sister-in-law set the table (no I hadn’t gotten that done in advance) and my younger son finished the scalloped potato recipe. They were delicious.
And, shhhhh, I had that beer.
Post script: On New Year’s Day, I sheepishly walked into Hardisty’s and held up my bandaged hand to show the same woman who had so clearly warned me just days before.
Once it was confirmed that I was fine, there was some chuckling.
They asked if they could post my picture on the wall as a warning to all other non-heeders of sound advice.
Permission was granted.
You can reach Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or [email protected] On Twitter @benefield.
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