Monday, April 25, 2011

A Thumb-altering Moment

I was sixteen, the only girl in woodshop. I remember being proud to say that I could cut white oak to a half of an inch (which isn't good at all, but still made me feel awesome.)

One day I went into woodshop. I goofed around with one of my friends. It seemed like the perfect day until I stepped toward the table saw. I don't know if it was my severe lack of concentration, or the fact that I was just having way too much fun, but when I put the board up, I didn't realize my thumb was too close to the blade.

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I felt a tickle. The saw kicked the board off the table and in slow motion, the woodworking monster pulled my thumb into its blade. I wanted to jerk away, run from the room, but no matter how hard I yanked, I couldn't get my thumb from the saw. Now, all of this happened in a matter of seconds, but to me, it seemed like forever.

An intense heat crept up my arm. It wasn't until the blade hit my thumb's first knuckle, that I heard a loud crack and was able to tear free from the saw's blood-lust. I stepped back and watched as the two sides of my thumb flapped. I stared, moving my thumb slowly. Everyone else stared to, even the guys behind me who were getting splattered with blood that the saw sent their direction like a sporadic sprinkler gone wrong.

"Oh my Hell!" the woodshop teacher screamed.

I held my thumb back together. I prayed for the throbbing mess. That's when I started singing to my bloody classmates. I sang a song from church--my favorite song.

"I'm trading my sorrows. I'm trading my shame. I'm laying them down for the joy of the Lord."

Everyone gawked at me and the blood pouring from my hand.

That's probably why I sang louder. "Though the sorrow may last for the night  His joy comes with the morning."

"Let me see it," the teacher barked. I let go and my thumb flapped to the sides.

"It's my left thumb," I said, nearly shaking.

"It's the worst injury we've had in fifteen years."

"But, it's my left thumb . . . that's the hand I hold my violin with." I burst into another chorus of song as the shop teacher wrapped my bloody hand in some shop towels.

The pain got so intense I felt like my arm might ignite into flames and then fall on the ground.

"I didn't get to finish my project," I told my teacher sadly.

Someone took me to the office, I don't know who, but after I got there, I remember being scared. Don't get me wrong, there are much worse things than losing a finger. I can't imagine being deaf or blind. I can't comprehend living without a leg or an arm. So, I'm not saying this was some massively huge catastrophe, but at the time--to me-- it was terrible. I asked if they'd call my mom and my best friend.

Tiffany came to the office and talked to me. I tried to act brave. I joked and laughed, saying I hated that thumb anyway; it was always in the way. I was tired of it "stickin out like a sore thumb and not being green enough." I went on and on because I was terrified I'd never play the violin again.

My sister came after that and rushed me to the hospital. They said if we'd been a few minutes later, I would have lost my thumb, but at the time even though I'd completely cut through my distal phalange, they could put metal where the bone had been. The doctor said I'd probably never have a nail again, that I'd never feel past my knuckle, that I wouldn't be able to bend my thumb. The list went on and on until my dad got a great idea.

He cleared his throat like a true Viking Warrior would. "Ummm, Doc. I don't know if you can do this, but give her my big toe."

"Excuse me?" the doctor asked.

"Give her my toe. This girl would die if she couldn't play the violin. She's not saying a word, but I can see it in her eyes."

"Sir, if I take your toe . . . you might walk funny for a long time. It helps you balance."

"I don't care. Like I said, she's not saying a word, but I can see it in her eyes."

Tears poured across my cheeks. Would he really give me his toe? But the more I thought about it, I worried--his toes are man toes--Viking toes. I looked at my weird thumb, then to my father's foot. Was playing the violin worth a limping father and a hand with a man toe? I shook my head.

"Dad, I love you, but you can't do it. You just can't." I didn't want a man toe on my hand--that would have been weird! So many thoughts crossed my mind; if the Doctor took my awesome father's advice, would my Viking father etch my name into his walking stick--or would he use a walker and end up holding that and bitterness against me? Would my hand stink like a smelly pair of feet? Would I ever find someone to love me--the woman with a man toe on her hand?

The Doctor chuckled after a moment. "We wouldn't want to do that anyway. We need to see how your thumb heals up first. Our bodies are amazing things. We should just wait."

So two months passed and by the time I started physical therapy, half my bone had grown back together, some of my nail came back-- albeit ugly--and I couldn't feel the last inch-and-a-half of my thumb let alone bend it.

I put new passion into my music, something I should have done anyway. I learned how to hold my violin in a different way and somehow I got even better.

A few months later someone called on the phone. "Elisa?" It was my woodshop teacher. "I have a surprise for you. It's waiting in the classroom."

I rushed over to the school. I couldn't believe my eyes when that angel--that master of woodwork--showed me my completed project. He'd stayed after school every day, just to finish it for me. I hugged him. "This means more to me than . . . thank you so much. I'll keep it forever."

And I have. It's sitting in The Hippie's bedroom. She loves it, but has no idea where it came from or how much it means to me.

So, it was a crazy experience, one I'll never forget, especially because I got a free end table and my Dad loved me so much he tried to give me a man toe.