Tuesday, April 9, 2013

My Exploding Finger!

Perfect Moments:

Here’s my perfect moment for today…well a series of perfect moments.  Last night I spotted something in my Twitter timeline that was retweeted by @emmiemears.  It was a piece of a story.  One tweet.  I was so hooked by that single tweet that I followed it back to its source to discover @erinscafe who is, I’ve since learned, Twitter-famous for telling fabulous Twitter-stories.  Her fame is well-deserved. 

I was spellbound throughout the story.  It was true, it was gory and it was gutsy.   @emmiemears was inspired by the story and agreed to share one of her true, gory and gutsy stories today on Twitter.  Wow!  I was tardy tuning in, but once I got there, it proved to be another doozy.  Seriously, it left me breathless.  @emmiemears ended her story with a photo of a scar, a big ol’ divot in her leg!  @storymultiverse was inspired by @emmiemears and began one of his own stories in the same genre and under the hashtag #burnbaby.  It was gripping and I refreshed my page about a dozen times between each of his tweets, trying to hurry the story along.  He also finished with a photograph of an impressive scar.  It was all like a sophisticated and grown-up version of show-and-tell and the entire experience was a blast!

If you’re on Twitter and don’t already follow these three folks, I highly recommend them.  They are tough as nails and tell fabulous stories!  I’m a great sucker for a Twitter story and, as most of you probably know, that’s how I wrote my short memoir last month (It’s available on Amazon for $.99 through tomorrow).  Twitter story-telling takes the usually solitary act of writing and transforms it into performance art where the audience and the performer create a level of zipping, zinging energy between them that is more usually associated with concerts and stand-up comedy.  The near-instantaneous feedback is a marvelous tool for authors wanting to fine tune their delivery or to better understand what their audience is thinking while reading…not to mention that all the zipping and zinging is an unbeatable energizer!  I’m energized and inspired, just by being part of the audience last night and today.  In fact, I’m so inspired, I’m going to tell you a story of my own.

My Exploding Finger

It was late July about 14 years ago when a co-worker and I first noticed that the wooded area behind our building had become Kitten-Central.  It’s a bit of a challenge to be fully attentive at work, even when it is good and important work with people who want and need your help, when there are kittens wandering outside your window.

They weren’t newborn but they were small and fuzzy and adorable in that fey way that little kitties are.  We were worried, my co-worker and I.  There didn’t seem to be a mama cat and the nights were getting colder and wetter as fall came on.  Also, our building was situated next to a creek with spawning salmon and there were bears about. 

My co-worker knew more about cats than I (I’m primarily a dog person) and I believe she tried the lure of canned tuna, but the kittens were leery of humans and wouldn’t let anyone touch them.  My co-worker contacted our local Humane Society. 

Gastineau Humane Society is a wonderful no-kill shelter and a terrific community resource. I adopted Cavall from them in 1997, and Jeb in 2011.  The folks at GHS provided a live-trap and told my co-worker that if we could capture the kittens, they would take them and care for them until they become healthy and socialized enough to humans to become adoptable.

We caught one kitten right away and I was eager to hotfoot it out of my office and assist my co-worker in removing the bundle of cuteness from the trap so that said bundle could be taken to GHS that day and the other kitten captured in the same fashion. 

Did we have a crate, a box or a pillowcase to put the kitten in?  I don’t recall.  What I do recall is volunteering to reach into the cage and pick up the kitten.  I may be a dog person, but I was awfully darn eager to cuddle that cute fuzzy kitty.  I shake my head in wonder, now, at my own naiveté.  These kittens were feral.  I reached in, wrapped gentle fingers around the warm baby and got the surprise of my life!  That kitty was 7 inches of terror and fury.  All four legs thrashed, the tiny kitten teeth bit and the whole fuzzy body wriggled and struggled so fiercely that I was afraid it would squirm from my grip!  But I, by golly, was not going to lose that kitty!  It was being rescued whether it wanted to be or not.  I clutched the little critter to my chest and we somehow managed to re-set the live trap and contain the kitten in whatever transport container my co-worker had for that purpose.  My co-worker took the kitty to GHS and I went inside to clean up in the restroom.

I had bloody scratches up and down my neck and chest and across both hands.  I scrubbed up with antibacterial soap like I hadn’t showered in a month.  I knew the risk of infection from cat scratches is high.  I spent close to twenty minutes scrubbing the heck out of every open wound I had.  Then, I went back to work.

We caught the other kitten the following day and transferred it from the live trap to another container without any attempt at hands-on contact. 

Time passed.  I don’t know exactly how long, two weeks? Three?  The scratches on my neck healed right up.  So did the scratches on my hands and arms.  Except one tiny spot on my left index finger that wasn’t so much a scratch as a teeny-tiny kitten claw sized puncture wound.  It got a little infected.  Not much, at first.  It was a very tiny spot.

I washed it carefully, several times a day.  I was aware that it was infected, but I’d grown up in bush Alaska and my body had fought off many infections.  I was young, healthy and strong.  I wasn’t worried at all.  After all, I’d once had salmon poisoning across the tops of both my hands that had been cured when my stepdad scrubbed my hands with undiluted bleach and a wire-bristle brush.  I’d once stepped on a rusty nail that had gone through my boot, in the bottom of my foot and out the top.  I’d once had my scalp split open by a stick my brother had thrown for our dog and my stepdad had stitched the wound closed without any sort of numbing agent or antibiotics.  I hadn’t needed a doctor’s care for any of those injuries (or two dozen others) so I didn’t need medical care for a tiny infected kitten scratch.

By early September, I still hadn’t fought off the infection.  My left index finger was swollen and warm to the touch.  The psychiatrist where I worked said to me, “if that was me, I’d go to a doctor”.  I laughed and brushed off his advice.  I still thought that I would just fight the infection off.  I was taking extra vitamins and soaking my hand in hot water and Epsom’s salts each night.

In mid-September as I was driving home from work, I realized that resting my left hand on the steering wheel was very painful.  It’s not that this pain was a sudden development, just that my attention to it was sudden.  I’d been ignoring it, tuning it out.  I worked in mental health so I even knew the word for my problem: denial.

I went to Urgent Care where they looked at my hot and swollen finger and promptly prescribed oral antibiotics.  It was a ten-day zip-pack but my finger was in no way improved when I finished the antibiotics.  In fact, it was hurting more.  The pain was waking me up several times a night.  I would rise and spend a half hour or 40 minutes running cold water over my hand to numb the pain.

I went back to Urgent Care.  This time, the doctor decided to lance my finger and see if he could squeeze the infection out.  The lancing was not painful.  The squeezing was excruciating.  I’ve felt worse pain, but not often.  I was dizzy and asked the doctor to stop squeezing so I could lean forward and put my head between my knees.  “Oh, I’m so sorry for scaring you like that Sweetheart” he replied.  The man had no idea how close to death he was in that moment.  Scared?!  He thought I was faint from being SCARED?!  It’s a good thing that I was feeling dizzy because it kept me from acting on assaultive urges.  The doctor also wanted to know if I had a husband or boyfriend.  It was a weird question but I answered it.  No husband. No boyfriend.  Well, then, did I know any fellows who could help me with a small project.  I glared at him.  No? Well then, did I have a roommate?  Seriously, folks, there was murder in my eyes at this point.  I informed him that I lived with my dog and that whatever the fuck he had in mind he better spit it out and stop condescending.

He explained that he wanted me to hammer a nail about a foot above my bed and attach a piece of twine to it that I would tie to my bandaged hand each night so that my hand would be suspended above me while I slept.  He also prescribed another round of antibiotics.

I tried the hand suspension thing for two nights, discovered that I simply could not fall asleep in that position and discarded the practice as idiocy.  I took my antibiotics and when they were gone, I did not go back to Urgent Care. 

Meanwhile, my finger continued to grow.  My left index finger was roughly twice the diameter of my right one.  It hurt constantly and whenever my hands weren’t otherwise occupied, I rubbed that knuckle.  By this time, I was getting up in the night about every two hours to numb my hand with cold water and ice packs.  It hurt constantly and it hurt badly enough that I was having recurring fantasies of cutting the finger off at the base.  I knew I couldn’t do that, though, because if I did I wouldn’t be able to type treatment plans and progress notes at work.

It was October 31, an easy date to remember.  I was sitting in my supervisor’s office and we were discussing the general course of treatment for someone that I worked with who was diagnosed with a personality disorder and in great distress.  I was rubbing my knuckle in an absent-minded way when…IT EXPLODED!  It had split open at the spot of the original puncture and large quantities of greenish puss were spurting out of it!  My supervisor moved swiftly to position her office garbage bin under my hand and provided me with a handful of paper towels.  The pressure began to ease and the spurting turned to oozing so I squeezed and a fresh gush of puss exited the fissure.  At that point, I was shocky.  My head buzzed and I had trouble focusing on what my supervisor was saying.  But I also felt really, really good.  There was an immediate decrease in the amount of pain I was experiencing.  I returned to my office and spent about ten minutes squeezing the hell out of my finger until I wasn’t getting much drainage and then I proceeded to complete my day at work. 

When I got home, I noticed that my finger seemed to be swelling back up.  I called my mom and asked her to come over and take a look at my finger.  When she arrived, I told her about the explosion.  Then, as I demonstrated to my mom the way I’d been rubbing my finger, it erupted again!  I think I cracked a joke about Old Faithfull and my mom loaded me in her car and drove me to the emergency room.

The E.R. doctor contacted Urgent Care immediately to find out what antibiotics I’d been given.  There is, apparently, a very specific antibiotic that you should take when a cat scratches you.  I hadn’t been prescribed that antibiotic and I remember that the doctor was livid and yelling into the phone at the folks at Urgent Care.  The E.R. staff got me hooked up to an IV (they installed a port that would remain in my arm for several days) and began administering the antibiotic.  I was given strict instructions to return promptly every ten hours for more IV antibiotics for five days.  During that time, I was also instructed to make an appointment with a specialist who installed a drain in my finger.  He used a small strip of gauze and I fancied that I had a wick like a kerosene lamp.

The infection seemed to subside over the following days but not fully.  The specialist was dissatisfied and finally determined that the infection had settled within my finger joint and that the wick was not sufficient.  He was a wonderful doctor and I loved his straightforward explanations and no B.S. approach.  Once he decided that I needed surgery to remove the rest of the infection, he told me to cancel everything on my work schedule for the afternoon and completed the surgery before the day was out.

The anesthesia from my surgery made me very sick.  I wretched with dry heaves so violently that both my eyes were bloodshot.  In spite of the nausea, I knew from the moment I awoke in the recovery room that my finger would finally heal.  My mom says that before I was awake enough to speak I made eye contact with her and winked.  I felt clean.  The best I can come to describing the sensation is that it felt like fresh, cold water was running through my veins.

My finger healed, then.  Finally.  My doctor did a beautiful job and then sent me on to physical therapy where I regained about 60% of my range of motion.  The scar from the surgery is faint and very tiny.  Today, the only way you would even know that there is a difference between my left and right index fingers is that when I curl my left index finger in, I cannot bend it far enough for my finger pad to touch the base of my finger.

And Holly, my kitty rescuing cohort, if you read this, know that there was NEVER a reason for you to feel guilty or responsible for my exploding finger!

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