family is story

My Worst Scar: How I almost lost a finger

My Worst Scar“Where. Is. DAD!” I screamed through tears. “He’s coming, he’s coming. He just went to look for your finger,” my mom said. “Please hurry,” I begged.

Minutes earlier, my brother, Tim, decided to crank up the family dune buggy and take it for a spin. It had been parked for some time, so he knew he would have to tinker with it in order to get it going.

Since I love to help—I’m a good helper—I joined his efforts.

Dune buggies, generally, are convertibles or have some type of removable top. Our dune buggy was green with a white vinyl removable top. The engine in this dune buggy was located in the rear, and was exposed. This day, with the cover removed from the dune buggy, I was able to sit in the back seat and lean over the fiberglass rear end to look into the exposed motor as Tim attempted to crank it.

Having been “employed” as assistant mechanic to my brothers and dad since I could hold a wrench, I knew just enough about cars to know what made them go—that belt thingy that looped around flywheels that turned a fan was one of those important pieces to the puzzle of making an engine run.

Every time Tim turned the ignition switch, the motor churned, but that belt didn’t always turn. I figured it was getting stuck somehow and to dislodge it, I would need to pull it loose. I reached my hand down. I pinched the fan belt between my index finger and thumb. I recognized that I’d need to be quick; I could only pull for a fraction of a second, then I’d need to let go. I pulled. Tim, not knowing anything about what was happening behind him, turned the ignition. My finger squeezed between the belt and flywheel, pinching off the tip of my right index finger. I pulled up my hand, looked at the blood pouring from the end, and screamed.

I gripped my right hand and finger with my left, held both high above my head and started crying, frantically scrambling out of the dune buggy. (It should tell you something about my experience with injuries, that, at about the age of 11, I knew to hold my injury higher than my heart.) Tim turned and saw all the blood and thought he’d better carry me to the front of the house.

“I cut off my finger! I cut off my finger!” I yelled as he set me down on the front porch. Mom and Dad came running and quickly wrapped my hand in cloth and ice. Everyone was scrambling to get out the door and take me to the hospital, including my grandparents who lived next door.

The only hold up? My dad. He seemed to disappear. But in fact, he was looking for the tip of my finger in the dirt behind the dune buggy. He found it, washed it off, packed it in ice and the whole family took off in the car to the hospital.

Unless you arrive at the hospital in an ambulance or are pregnant or are hemorrhaging all over the linoleum floor, it seems that it takes forever to be seen in an emergency room.

Finally, when I was taken back behind the institutional blue curtain, the doctor took a look at my finger and declared I would need to see a surgeon. My dad held out the baggie containing the portion of my finger he’d found on the ground. Unfortunately, they told him, it couldn’t be reattached. He offered his own finger. Perhaps they could take the tip of his pinkie finger, which was about the same size as my index finger. But no, they said, that wouldn’t work either. (What an awesome dad, right?)

We returned home with my finger packed tightly in gauze and white medical tape. We wouldn’t be able to have it stitched up until the next day, so until then, I needed to keep it clean. Oh, the drama.

Fortunately, the following day, the doctor we were referred to was able to take a skin graft from the heel of my hand and stitch it over the tip of my finger. Also good news, the nail bed was undamaged—but only time would tell how jacked up my finger would look once healed.

During those weeks of waiting, classmates were assigned to help me write out my homework since I couldn’t use my right hand. And I had to adjust to using my left hand for most everything. As it healed, yet was tender still, I learned to write without using my index finger on my right hand. And finally, when all was healed and back to a semblance of normal, I had full function of my finger.

Today, I don’t think anyone really notices unless I point it out or unless I’m getting a manicure. Or unless I choose to show it off in a my-scar-is-worse-than-yours conversation.

Have you ever had a my-scar-is-worse-than-yours conversation? What’s your worst bodily scar?

©2013 Jennifer Wilder. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint or publish this content elsewhere, please contact me through this blog.