How I did not lose a finger (twice)

You probably noticed that I did not write much anything this last week, and you might not notice the why in TNET. Here it is.

Content warning – description of injuries and first help.

Since I was 10 years old, I was working with sharp instruments in the house and around the garden on nearly daily basis – knives, chisels, axes, shears, sickles and scythes. My father gave me a small pocket knife for birthday and he taught me how to take proper care of it and how to work safely.

I started wood carving that year and I never hurt myself with a knife in a manner worth to mention until a few years later. That one time I was slicing a piece of paper out of sheer boredom, I got overconfident, I misjudged the distance and sliced into the tip of my index finger by accident. I nearly cut the tip off on one side. My father went into full panic mode, but he nevertheless managed to compress the wound, stick a patch on it and haul me off into the town to my mother’s workplace (this was still behind the iron curtain, we had no car and no phone either). There we got a ride to the hospital where the wound was deemed not worth stitching up, just a tight enough patch will do. It turned out later that I actually have damaged a nerve, and the piece of flesh that was nearly cut off, although it grew back together nicely, was completely numb afterwards. But about three years later I got back the sensitivity, so it was only a temporary hindrance.

I have learned my lesson and for next 25 years I again did not hurt myself in a manner worth to mention. I did get a small nick with a knife or a chisel now and then, but nothing that won’t heal with a simple patch in a few days. And almost never when working, mostly during sharpening. I was always careful. The history repeated itself nevertheless.

The weekend before last I was splitting wood for starting fire. I have done this a thousand times before, and an axe is actually one of the instruments that never got to taste my blood so far at all, or at least I do not remember it (I definitively got a splinter under my skin more often). But a piece of wood had a knot in it, i did not notice it, and the axe instead of going through and slicing of a nice splinter went to the side and into my left middle finger. In nearly the same manner the knife did all those years ago.

One advantage of having really, really sharp tools was immediately apparent – I did not feel a thing. I immediately put a pressure on the wound with my thumb so no blood came out. I went up from the cellar, asked my dad to go and start the fire and my mom to prepare disinfectant, a bandage and a patch. Only after I disinfected the surrounding area, i have let go of the pressure and allowed some blood to flush out any debris the axe might have dragged into the wound. I also got a good look at the damage. Then I again applied pressure with my thumb, cleaned of the blood, applied pressure with a gauze and wrapped it tightly with an adhesive patch.

I have thought it to be prudent to not play a hero and get stitches, so I wanted a surgeon to get a look at it. Nowadays we have a phone and a car. For a wound like this I did not think to be necessary to call an ambulance. But since neither of my parents can drive, I had to drive myself to the emergency surgery at the hospital 40 km away, with my dad in the passenger seat in case it all went wahoonie shaped and it turned out I need an ambulance after all.

The nurse was a bit bad-tempered, but I am used to that. It is a difficult profession having to deal constantly with idiots like me, so I do not care for sour faces from medical staff that much. But I attached the band-aid very tightly and she got irate that she cannot find the end and unwrap it, so she said “Well, when you wrapped it so tightly, remove it yourself!”. What could I do but laugh “Taking it off was the least of my worries at the time”? I could not find the end either, so I asked whether they have scissors. “Not ones that would get in there!” which is a statement I very much know to be false but fuck it, I was not in a mood to argue. I took out my multitool, opened the blade and removed the bandage. It turns out there is an advantage to having a very sharp knife that can be opened with one hand only after all.

I got three stitches and a tight bandage on top of that. The surgeon was nicer than the nurse and when I said my goodbyes “Thank you and I wish you an uneventful and boring rest of the weekend” she laughed a bit (the nurse did not move a muscle).

For last ten days I was unable to write properly due to the thick bandage. I learned ten finger typing in high school and I am so used to it that writing without the use of my middle finger was very difficult – I could do it, but I kept tangling my left hand into a pretzel all the time. But that particular torture is hopefully over for now. I got no complications, the wound is healing nicely and I got the stitches out. I only have a small band-aid now and I have full use of my fingers – with care, of course. I will have second crescent-shaped scar and maybe partial numbness in the tip for a few years. That remains to be seen, so far it seems I might not have even that.

The lesson I learned from this is that I never ever should get too confident in my skill and lose vigilance. Shit can happen anytime. Second lesson, or perhaps experience, is that I still can keep a cool head in such situation, whether the injury happens to me or to someone else (at least that was luckily the case so far). That is somewhat comforting. Third lesson I knew already – a really, really sharp tool is better and safer. A blunt axe might cause shallower wound, but the edges would not be clean and easy to stitch, there would be some blunt trauma on top of it and a much bigger area for dirt and an infection to get a hold on. And it would probably hurt a lot more – I banged my thigh on a table edge the same day and it hurt a lot more than this cut ever did.

I hope this weekend to be able to do my share of writing again.


  1. lumipuna says

    My childhood accident was almost exactly like yours, expect the bit nearly cut off was on the knuckle of a middle finger, and we had easier access to a clinic.

  2. StonedRanger says

    I didnt fare as well as you. When I was 19 and in the army, I got my hand caught in a winch mounted on the front of a 5/4 ton army truck. Left ring finger gone down to the third knuckle. Almost 64 now and its like I never had a ring finger. Glad your injury wasnt serious.

  3. Jazzlet says

    Glad it’s healed well so far Charly, I hope that continues!

    Nerve regrowth is one of those things that people were wrong about when I was a child, the view then was that if you lost feeling you never got it back. I realised this wasn’t true after one of my brothers had a stellate ganglion lump removed from his neck. Immediately after the operation you could tap him hard on the adjacent shoulder and he wouldn’t notice, by around three years later he had normal feeling in his shoulder again. I exerienced it for myself after having a hysterctomy, immediately after the operation there was a half moon of stomach I couldn’t feel at all, again by around three years later I had much of the feeling back, although in my case not all. I think that return of feeling after complete numbness is pretty cool.

  4. says

    My dad cut his finger badly late last year. He got a bit distracted and got too close to the blade of his big circular saw before it stopped spinning. And he’s probably been working with that kind of equipment for 60 years at this point. So he spent several weeks with his finger wrapped up. In his case they didn’t do any stitching because of where the cut was, which probably slowed up the healing a bit.

  5. voyager says

    I’m glad your finger is healing well, Charly.

    I’m sitting here open-mouthed that a nurse forced you to cut off your own dressing with an unsterile pocket knife without even looking for a suitable pair of scissors or a blade. If it’s a place where they stitch up boo-boos (like an emergency department!) then they have appropriate scissors. She was lazy and she lied to you. Plus, it shouldn’t matter how busy or tired or stressed a nurse is they should treat every patient in a open, friendly and professional manner. Bad-tempered nurses make everything more difficult than it needs to be and they erode trust in the profession.

  6. DonDueed says

    My scar is a double one — I managed to lose control of a hatchet and sank it into both my left thumb and forefinger at the same time. It happened on a camping trip, and the repair involved a long drive to the nearest town, and at that was lucky the doctor hadn’t left for home yet (home was on the other side of the mountains!). Two stitches in the thumb, four or five in the finger.
    Like you, I lost feeling downstream of both wounds, and like you got it back to some extent. But here some 40 years later those areas still feel a bit weird.

  7. says

    I noticed the “stitches” in another posting but didn’t ask on the basis that maybe you had already siad, or I did not want to know.

    Axes force wounds apart with extreme leverage. They are no kind of good. But I’ll take a katana any day over a circular saw or a belt sander -- those simply make material vanish. The old machinist I invited in to do a safety checkout on my bridgeport mill simply said “those things and motor lathes just flat out kill you.”

  8. Ice Swimmer says

    That was a close call. I’m glad it’s healed this far. May the rest of the way be speedy.

    My dad didn’t cut any of his fingers even though he did pretty much all the meat cutting in the shops he managed or worked for, for twenty years, including sawing bones with a bandsaw. He said that the bandsaw or knife did trim his nails a few times but that was all. However, they had to amputate multiple toes and one finger when he was retired because he had diabetes.

  9. says

    Ouch. I nearly cut off the tip of my thumb as a kid trying to make “potato stamps”. I didn’t say a word, too shocked. My mother only noticed when my sister asked where the red paint came from. I remember my mother holding my hand over the bathtub(!) and the blood running into it. That’s when I started screaming. The doc said I needed stitches, but then I screamed so loud that he changed his mind.

    My dad once cut off the very tip of his fingers doing some handiwork for his old mum. She lived opposite the hospital so he just walked over. They asked him to bring the tip, but when he returned he found out that grandma had swept it up and thrown away.

  10. avalus says

    Aua! I hope it heals good and fast, Charley!
    When I was still fantasy-larping we, had a guy axing his left leg open while preparing firewood. After that no one laughed anymore when I wore my greaves as protection. Also my grandfathers taught me well as a child.

  11. Nightjar says

    I’m glad to hear your finger is healing well!

    I don’t think I have ever cut myself in a way worth mentioning, thankfully, it’s always small stuff. But I did cut myself this week in the lab and I’m still not sure how I did it. I didn’t feel anything before noticing blood under the latex gloves and all I know is that whatever I cut myself with must have been in the acrylamide-contaminated bench, so I don’t want to think too much about it…

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