Thursday, September 05, 2013

The "Noodle Under The Fingernail" Story

I used to tell this story in bars, asking a group of men to each put in $5 and that if they cringed or flinched in any way before the end of my story, their $5 was mine.  If they didn't react at all, I'd pay them $5.  And I am proud to say that I never once paid a single person.  The story goes like this:

I never would have guessed that something as mundane as doing the dishes could result in minor surgery (but leave it to me to find a way).  I was living in a house with two roommates during college.  One of the roommates had boiled pasta a few nights before and left the pot on the stove containing a few now-dried noodle stragglers.  I couldn't take looking at it any longer so I decided to just wash it and put it away.

Looking back, what I should have done was just reboil some water in the pot to loosen the noodles.  But I didn't think that far ahead, so I set forth to scrubbing them out.  Stuck they were, so I tried scraping them out with my fingers.  Well, as I was scraping, one of the hard noodles broke off and slid  . . . wait for it . . . under the index fingernail on my right hand!  (This is usually where most people cringe.It hurt like HEEEELLLLLLLLLLLL.  It ended up breaking off under the nail so that I couldn't even get to it.  I tried soaking my finger in salt water, then peroxide, then just plain old hot water, hoping to soften the noodle up, somehow hoping it might just slide out on its own.  Alas, it wouldn't soften or budge.   

After the pain eventually became unbearable (12 hours later when I hadn't been able to sleep because my finger felt like the size of a light bulb), I drove myself to the emergency room of the local hospital.  The ER staff was amazed.  While I laid waiting for my physician, the entire ER staff - one or two at a time - would come in just to look at my finger.  Apparently, it was amazing!  Somehow, they had all gone their entire professional careers and never once had a patient who had a broken piece of spaghetti stuck under his fingernail.  Imagine that!  

The ER doctor finally showed up, shaking his head in disbelief.  He thought for a second on hot to treat this wound, then said he would have to do a digital block (numb the whole finger from the knuckle down) and then scrape underneath the nail to remove the obstruction.   Needles don't typically scare me, so I said go for it.

After three shots around the knuckle (and the obligatory warning of a sharp pain from the doctor) I laid for fifteen minutes while the Novocaine took effect.  He asked me to tap my finger on the table to see if it was numb and it certainly felt that way to me.  The doctor then attempted to scrape under my fingernail with a small pair of forceps.  But my finger wasn't THAT numb and I could feel it so he immediately stopped.   

He sat back, thought for a minute, then scowled.   

He looked at me.   

He looked at my finger.  

He scowled again.  

Then he said to me, 
"I want to do this with the least amount of pain caused to you as possible."        Me:  Thank you for taking me into consideration.
"We're going to have to numb your finger again."  Okay, that's fine.
"And it's going to be very painful."  Well, I hate to be wimpy about it but this really does hurt. 
"Oh, you're not being wimpy at all.  Remember, things shoved under fingernails was a form of torture during wartime."  No kidding, I can see why.
"What you're not going to like is where we have to inject the Novocaine."  Where?
"We have to inject it next to the injury."  Meaning ... ?
"We have to inject it under the fingernail itself.  And I'm not going to lie to you, it is going to hurt like hell."
OhmygodOhmygodOhmygodOhmygodOhmygod!  A needle going under my fingernail!?!?!  If I could feel those forceps how in the world was a needle going to feel?  After my initial panic, I did what I do every time I am faced with a situation that seems out of my control: I take a deep breath and give the task over to the universe to handle.  I trust that it's just something I have to go through and I may as well just accept it.  

I held onto the bar alongside the bed with my left hand.  He asked me to squeeze his hand with the remaining fingers on my right and I braced myself.  I'll tell you now, even to this day, after 16 hours of tattooing, open heart surgery and a myriad of other health-related quirks, never in the history of my life have I ever voluntarily experienced such physical pain.  I felt so sick to my stomach that I couldn't breath.  The room spun, I got tunnel vision, and I almost fainted from the pain itself.  

After the injection, he lifted my nail and scraped the underside of it with the forceps, then flush out the end of the finger with a syringe.  He then popped my nail back into place and plunged my finger into an iodine mixture.   

Then, I vomited.

I was drenched with sweat at this point.  He then administered a tetanus shot (which I frankly didn't even feel compared to what had just happened), allowed me to rest and sent me to the pharmacy for a prescription of cephalaxin and acetamenophin.  

It was by far the most pain I had ever experienced.  The next day, I advertised for a new roommate.

That'll be $5, please.