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The Lowly Finger

Laura Preble
by Laura Preble

I’ve been out of commission for a couple of weeks, column-wise, because I was hospitalized. Why?

A staple.

That’s right. I was felled by one of those run-of-the-mill Swingline staplers, the ones that cost $7. I accidentally stapled the inside of my finger while reloading staples amidst 40 whiny high schoolers, wasn’t paying attention, and I closed the thing down on the inside of my middle finger. Two days later, I was in the ER being prepped for 3 a.m. emergency surgery for a staph infection. And three weeks later, I still have a Frankenfinger. A jagged lightning-shaped phalanx of stitches occupies my entire finger from palm to the top joint. I am typing with my left hand and my right thumb.

This escapade has made me really appreciate my fingers.

They are these fragile little digits that we use and abuse daily. I already have numerous scars on my hands and fingers from burns, scrapes, cuts, and camping accidents. Although our hands are so, so critical to almost every function we do, we still put them out there first when we fall down. We hold them up to protect us when things are flying. We use them to fish spoons out of boiling water, to change the cat box, and (after careful washing), to eat our food.

Hands are miraculous, fingers even more so, and I admit I took them for granted until I couldn’t use them. Here are the things I could not do without a right hand: type, open mail, wash my hair, put on makeup, write anything, play the piano, type without massive mistakes, grade papers, plan lessons, put Legos together, fold laundry, cook dinner (except for microwave stuff), hold a book, hold the phone for more than a few minutes, drive a car, open my son’s backpack, move furniture, open cans, cut roses, open the garage door manually, and many other things.

I also had a lot of time to read stuff on my computer. I read a story about a girl who felt absolutely no pain. She had a genetic mutation that kept her from sensing anything more than pressure and texture. As a young child, she had burned all the skin off her palms, and she’s caused numerous other injuries unknowingly because her nerves did not register physical pain.

All of this I learned while sitting in the hospital watching numerous reruns of bad action movies on TBS and cruising as best I could on the spotty hospital Wi-Fi. It made me realize something that is very important: hands in many ways define our humanity. Without them, and our clever opposable thumbs, we would be relegated to helpless awkward consumerism. Although some artists have figured out how to use their feet in place of the five-fingered wonder, I don’t know how many of us could do that (I suppose with the proper motivation and helplessness…but I wouldn’t want to.)

In short, today I am thankful for my hands and fingers. I get the stitches out tomorrow, almost three weeks after the surgery. I have a new appreciation for that Michelangelo painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. There’s a reason God and man are depicted with their fingers almost touching. I now believe those hands are perhaps our greatest gift.


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