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Emerging from an anesthetic fog, my most vivid memory was seeing how troubled and freaked-out my family appeared to be. A good friend sent me a note today, describing the ordeal as “a parent’s worst nightmare,” and my reaction at age 13 was to be as stoic and calm as I could be for the comfort of those around me. It was as if that demeanor and approach to life was forever seared into my personality at that moment.
However, upon further reflection, I had exhibited similar traits at a much younger age while hospitalized after tumbling onto my forehead from a moving pick-up truck in the middle of a busy intersection. (The full story of that incident is an anecdote for another day.) With my head bandaged as if I were a character in the "Spirit of '76" painting, I tried to reassure my aunt, telling her "It's OK. I bounced!" So, it's most likely that my dramatic emotional turning point was merely a conscious realization rather than true change.
After surgery, my mom - easily the world’s best and most caring mom - slept in a lumpy recliner in my dreary and drab hospital room the rest of the week, while dad sold all of the motorized vehicles from the garage before I even got home. Just like my fingers: never to return.
I don’t recall significant trouble being impaired or hampered in the weeks that followed, even with the sling and the bandages, unless you count nearly setting those bandages ablaze while lighting fireworks a week or so later. (I didn't tell the family that anecdote at the time.) I struggled trying to return to competitive tennis, but I was soon going to be 14-years old, which meant getting a learner’s permit and working as a “lot boy” at my dad’s dealership. Plus, an increased interest in the ladies meant it would have been likely for me - in any scenario - to soon gravitate towards four wheels rather than two.
I began a dizzying number of visits to a variety of doctors. One doctor theorized that the padded leather glove I was wearing likely saved the rest of my hand from more severe damage, while another believed the tough-to-tear glove only drew my fingers into the sprocket at a faster rate and prevented me from pulling back. A third doctor, a rehab specialist, took a quick look and offered only one kernel of advice. “The best therapy is to do what you do normally,” he said. (Wonder how much my parents paid for that 'genius' analysis?)
Because the injury had been so grimy and greasy, I had been pumped full of an array of antibiotics to stave off infections. The grotesque result was thick and colorful scabs covering the incisions, which made the removal of the stitches nearly unbearable. I was so shaken that I blacked out during the procedure. So much for being calm and stoic.
I never experienced “phantom pain,” where an amputee senses pain in the missing limb. However, because of how the skin was folded over like a flap from underneath to the top of my middle finger, a simple touch to that area registered in my brain as still being attached to the underside of the missing digit until the nerves began to heal.
After a few months, complications set in. The doctors had initially tried to save as much of the fingers as possible. (They say 'size matters.' Or so I've heard.) But, the bone on my index finger was slightly longer than the skin that had remained to cover it, and I developed excruciating pain with the injured skin pulled taut around the bone. So, more surgery was required to shorten and “clean-up” the index finger. The surgery was scheduled for the day after Christmas so I wouldn’t miss a day of school, and also quashing any joy I would have during the holidays that year.
So what are the long-term results of being digitally challenged? Other than still being painful if hit and very sensitive to cold weather (I nearly always have a pair of gloves nearby), it never slowed me down. It did remove any chance of becoming a famous guitarist or pianist, but I had never touched either instrument before or after. But, I did became a pretty damn good eight-fingered drummer, which I view as abundant recompense. With a few oddball exceptions (like trying to use nail clippers or using the front, left buttons on a Playstation controller), I’m able to do anything I choose. With full use of my thumb and outer fingers on my non-dominant hand, I can still grip and carry most things. (I do occasionally have items slip away from me, most frequently an icy glass or cup. Or my iPhone, as it tumbled into a pitcher of juice. Oh, the mess!)
Yes, I am more squeamish about certain things. Just as most men cringe and double-over in empathetic pain when they see another gent receive a direct impact to his ‘man parts,’ it’s the same for me seeing another’s bloody or catastrophic injuries. It makes my stubs ache, so no horror movies or emergency-room teledramas for me. Seeing and hearing about the horrific injuries in the Bostons has been particularly rough.
Primarily, my stubs have led to a lot of bad jokes, visual and otherwise. You have the jokes about the cheesy old TV show “8 is Enough,” or calling my audio and video work “8FingersProductions,” and naming my sports PR firm “fingerprint inc.” I also had an email address for many years that included the numeral 8, which some believed was a reference to my role with the No. 8 Budweiser team. They were wrong.
I joked a lot about it with the Bud team, resulting in some funny reactions from innocent bystanders when a crew member would needle me. “That’s so cruel!,” the unaware would say, shaking their heads. “No, he likes those jokes,” they’d reply with a chuckle. One of the Joe Gibbs crew members I worked with several years ago started calling me “Ocho!,” which I thought was superb and more succinct than the other nicknames.
I usually bet on the number 8 at the roulette table, but, surprisingly, it still hits approximately once in every 38 spins. (Yet another reason I've switched to craps.)
I've never had the courage to go into a nail salon and ask for the "20-percent off" discount on a manicure.
How about the ol’ cliche of “Chicks Dig Scars.” Much as I yearned for that to be true, it hasn’t seemed to be the case. Perhaps I needed bigger, more dramatic scars. (I am unwilling to voluntarily try out that option, however.)
But, I do love a lyric from the Goo Goo Doll’s song “Name,” which says:
“Scars are souvenirs you never lose.”
And that’s the truth.