Monday, January 12, 2009

Reverend Gren's Holey Finger

I have a hole in my finger. Personally, I am fascinated by it; but knowing that most people get a little nauseous when they see it, I do my best to conceal it from friends and customers. Most days I remember to put a Band-Aid on it, but when I forget, I spend my working hours bending my left middle finger under my hand while I type so as not to disturb the little old grandmother who has come to our store for a loan.

I guess I should qualify my statement. The hole isn’t really in my finger as such. That implies impaled flesh, and that’s not what I’m dealing with here. It’s more precisely a hole in my fingernail. It’s one of those injuries that make people a little queasy to look at but that’s about the extent of it. Having never lost a fingernail before, I would have assumed it was a more painful ordeal. It certainly looks painful. But the truth is that my left middle finger feels no different than my right. This leaves me totally free to marvel at the oddity of how my body is dealing with this injury.

The body’s ability to heal has always impressed and mesmerized me. Its ability to rebuild itself to a state that is almost indistinguishable from the pre-injury condition is just shy of magic to me. And something like this, this slow-motion restoration, gives me time to watch and wonder what will come next.

It began as little more than a slightly smooshed finger while building a stack-brick wall around our mailbox in early October. You see, the previous owners had surrounded the mailbox with decorative lava rock, and my wife thought it would be even more decorative to have some flowers sprouting from that rock. I agreed with her easily since it didn’t really involve me. Some money spent on bulbs, sure…but mostly it just meant I’d get to look at pretty blooms when I get home from work. Who would complain? She would simply scoop the pebbles aside, shove the bulbs down there and walk away; waiting for nature to work its tiny miracles. And that’s how it would have been at our old house. Our old house with its rich topsoil deposited by the muddy Missouri River and left untouched when the house was built 70 years ago. But here in this new house nestled in the suburbs of the St Charles explosion that metastasized in the 1980’s, there is no topsoil. It was hauled away by the same trucks that brought the concrete and asphalt to the trees and farmland; sold by Bob Whitaker as he unfolded his curved streets and cul-de-sacs to make room to plop down his little, green, plastic houses. And so, when my wife donned her gardening gloves and cleared a small circle in the lava rock, all that greeted her was clay.

She returned to the house and announced that we needed to buy some dirt to pour around the mailbox. Reasonable, I replied…but difficult. The stonework edging that was currently holding in the red rocks was only three inches high and already packed to the hilt. Where would this new soil go? The obvious solution was that a deeper space would need to be dug for this new dirt. And having dug this space, the old edging would certainly not be up to the task of containing this newly enlarged space. So, new stone work, more rugged and sturdy would need to be purchased and installed.

My wife’s eyes pleaded and suddenly this project very much involved me.

Fortunately, I was up to the task. Not only do I secretly enjoy a day’s hard labor, but I had also just purchased a 2005 Subaru Baja (white with leather seats and a sunroof) and had yet to come across a good reason to use that bizarre, little truck bed.

I was meticulous. After the digging, I tamped and retamped each layer of crushed stone foundation, leveled and releveled each brick. It was somewhere in the midst of the leveling that my middle finger found itself between two bricks.

I may have cursed a bit.

Always conscious of the possibility of loosing a nail, I walked to my open tailgate and rubbed firmly on the point of injury. It’s true that I often get strange looks when I do this.

“Doesn’t that hurt?” people will ask as I grimace.

“Oh, it hurts enough to make you pee,” I always reply...which is the exact reply my father gave me when he taught me this painful trick. His theory was that by continually rubbing the smashed nail, you prevent blood from pooling, thereby preventing the loss of the nail. Better, he reasoned, to suffer momentary pain than a protracted period with no fingernail. Although I have never attempted to prove this theory, I have religiously maintained the tradition. Consequently (or maybe coincidently,) I have never lost a fingernail, a distinction that will soon need an asterisk at best, a complete refutation at worst.

I completed the wall and it was a thing of beauty. We included a chicken wire floor for the planting area to keep moles and other burrowing animals from disturbing the bulbs. I washed my hands of the task and declared it good. Over the days, however, a small semi-circle of deepest purple appeared at the base of the squished fingernail. It was not sore in the least and was pretty easy to disregard, so I thought little of it. The small amount of blood would dry, I reasoned, and be broken apart and dissolved at my body’s own pace. I went about my business.

The purple grew. I reasoned that the blood was being flatted; marched toward the tip of my finger to be ejected like a splinter. I continued to ignore the coloration, but received ever more questions as it became more and more noticeable. It became more difficult to convince people that it didn’t hurt…not in the slightest. I would tap it vigorously to prove my case, leading only to more wincing from my unconvinced audience.

Then, last week, I gave up trying to convince people of the painlessness. Not that the injury became more painful…just that, well…the aforementioned hole appeared and no one was willing to believe that the nail could be anything other than agonizing. With that said, I feel I should warn my more squeamish readers that the next few paragraphs, while still painless to me, are a bit more graphic. If you’d like, you can skip down to the paragraph that begins “I have no idea what will happen now.” Conversely, you are welcome to the details.

I noticed that the very back of the nail, where the purple had originated, was surprisingly thin. Just a rice paper thin wisp of an idea of a fingernail. I pushed the cuticle back a bit and found the nail just faded away to nothing, leaving just the dried blood there from months ago. While the nail itself had clung on stubbornly, the finger’s ability to grow new nail seemed to have been nixed from the collected blood. Unexpected this was…and unfortunate. Would my fingernail fall off from the back forward? I’d never seen such a thing happen, but who knows. If that was true, I reasoned, I might be able to clear the way for new nail growth, allowing my body to grow a new nail before the old nail fell off; a slick piece of healing that would leave me nailless at no point during the process. I peeled back just a bit of the old nail, thinking to clear out some of that blood. A few chunks fell out, revealing soft skin below, visible through a squarish hole at the base of my nail.

It was at this point that I got nervous. Should I keep picking at the injury? Was I making it worse? Perhaps I should go back to my original theory of letting my body handle this, I thought. And perhaps I’d done enough already and this small hole would relieve pressure, giving the rest of the nail a chance to cling to life.

I reverted to my waiting game.

I have no idea what will happen now. Will the new nail grow from the base forward? Will the soft skin beneath simply secrete a new nail? And in either of these cases, what will the remaining old nail do to help or hinder this reparation? I wait to find out and walk about with a violent violet rainbow on my nail; pink above and pink beneath like some miscolored manicure depiction of my fair city’s arch.

As I said, I am astounded by my body’s long trek back to a healthy, non-descript fingernail. I watch with detached curiosity to see how this disappears, as I know that it must. In the meantime, I’ll keep the offensive sight of my disfigured finger, my grisly reminder of my attempt to bring flowers and beauty to our neighborhood, away from unsuspecting onlookers. A Band Aid here, an awkwardly turned hunt-and-peck there, and a picture of it viewable only through this link…for those of you who may have been curious to find what’s under the surface of this impish Gren.


émilie b said...

It seems to be your body's sense of humor hinting at you that it's about time you restarted sharing your own humor with the world. Glad to read you again.

Simon said...

All the way through that I was thinking to myself, "He damned well better post a picture, or I'll be sorely disappointed." The link is probably best. Wouldn't want to be grossing out the more squeamish of the readers. Your description was apt, then, because it looked exactly as I pictured in my head.

I can't wait to hear how this tale ends! You also get random story points for 'metastasized' as well as the Star Wars reference. Good show!

JET said...


Mouse said...

Not to worry Moksha- one summer while I was home from college I worked in a furniture factory. One night I smashed a finger in one of the machines (I'm pretty sure it was my left pointer finger), and also garned myself some interestingly bloody cuts on the palm and back of my hand from the edges of said smashing machine. I can't remember if I actually lost the nail or not, but I did have a scary purplish mark like yours for several weeks. Today there is nary a scar and I have 10 unremarkable fingernails (well, perhaps they're remarkable for their lack of manicure). I have a scar on my ring finger, but that resulted from an entirely different teenage misadventure.

Oh, and you're right about it not being painful - the cuts hurt a lot more than the fingernail.

Moksha Gren said...

Simon - I was hesitant enough to post such a long discussion of something so many find disgusting. Hitting them between the eyes with a gross-out shot seemed even meaner. But, I knew folks like you would want to see it.

I knew you would catch the Yoda quote, but I was so proud of my wife for noticing it too. I've taught her well.

Also, now that I've posted a shot my my hideous malformation...where's my picture of that "beard" of yours?

JET - Yup. And what's grosser than that? I totally touched your pizza with it when I was over for dinner Sunday night ;)

Mouse – I have very little doubt that I’ll get back to normalcy (well…as close as I get anyway.) I’m just interested to see how long it takes and what other odd phases it goes through in the process.

I always forget that you were a factory worker in your younger days. It’s hard now to imagine you working the smashing machine, acclimated as you have become to the tasks and arts of the government bureaucracy. Not likely to get smooshed fingers in that line of work. Course, one wouldn’t expect a loan shark like me to have such injuries either. Go figure.

Mouse said...

yeah, people never believe me about the factory. They also never believe that I was on "field" part of the track and field team in high school. Yup, I threw me some shotputs and discii. I was terrible, but I did throw them. :)

I just think of my gentle thoughtful exterior as camoflague for my inner lumberjack.

I wish I could smoosh some people's fingers in this bureaucracy sometimes. I'd come into the office, yell 'It's clobberin' time,' and proceed to right some wrongs.

Simon said...

Moksha, I'm also proud of Moonshot for catching the quote. See? It's not only wives who can train husbands but the opposite also seems to work on rare occasion. Nice.

Given that I also work in an increasingly bureaucratic environment (damned publicly traded companies), I admit to being mildly turned on by Mouse's little tirade here. I'm not sure if it's the inner lumberjack that appeals more or her "Fantastic" reference to The Thing. You go, girl!

Also, I'll post a goat-pic this evening. OK? I'll strike a pose, light my face appropriately, and get Amy to shoot the facial hair. The first step of any nefarious infiltration of world organisations with the intent to promulgate evil is ALWAYS growing a goatee. I'm just that much closer to my goal.

Moksha Gren said...

Emilie - I had written a response to you...but just noticed that it apparently didn't get copied or pasted when I brought it over from word (I really can't do without spell check). It wasn't a particulalry clever response, but I didn't want you to think that I was ignoring you. I said something like: My wife is also glad to see me restarting sharing my humor with the world so I can share it with her a little less.

Mark said...

Looked exactly as I had pictured it, too. Great macro shot, by the way.

When I completely blackened a toenail a few years ago (hammer toe while hiking downhill a lot), I never lost the nail completely. The new one grew under it and sort of pushed the old one out for regular clipping. I never cut a hold in mine, though, so I can't vouch for what yours might do.

This took at least six months, by the way, so I'd be surprised if you saw a new nail within the few weeks mentioned above. Fingernails might grow much more quickly, though.

Mark said...

This reminded me of Ben's Big Toe, about my son's misadventure. I used the same method of linking to the grisly picture instead of forcing it on the unsuspecting squeamish.

Moksha Gren said...

Mark - I'm glad to hear everyone is getting a good image of the injury prior to the picture. I'm hoping to start writing stories again and while this little piece seems an odd way to start, I'm trying to work on physical description, always a weak point in my writing I think. I had fun taking such a silly topic seriously.

Six months, eh? This smashing took place almost exactly three months it's not looking like the fingers are any faster than the toes.

As for the photo, I don't have a good macro lens. I took this one at high resolution from a distance and then cropped it. Does that make you respect me less?

Mouse said...

Simon - Why thank you, kind sir. It's not too often that us comic-loving lumberjack girls get such compliments.

Also, people who comment on this blog sure have some cute kids.

Moksha Gren said...

Mouse - It's true. I pick my online friends based almost solely on the cuteness of their kids. A secondary consideration is the hotness of their spouses, but I don’t tell them that since it would make Emilie jealous…what with my not thinking her spouse is my particular brand of hot. FreddyJ on the otherhand... ;)

Mouse said...

Yup, FreddyJ is hawt! :)

How is your own cute progeny? Better? Less snotty?

Jess Austin said...

The first time I lost my big toenail, it was held in by the sides and the replacement grew back underneath. The second time, it completely came off, although for a while I had it taped in place. (I guess maybe the flaps of skin on the side of my toe, being 5 years older, just couldn't hold it together anymore.) IIRC, both times, I think it was back to relative normalcy within 3 months. Both times I lost it, it hurt like hell, and unfortunately I wasn't in situations that allowed for analgesia via profanity.

Having something like this on one's hand rather than in one's shoe would have certain gross-out-the-coworkers advantages. Not that severed big toenails aren't unsettling to some in their own right. Eventually, regrettably, you have to throw the thing away.

Mike Young said...


Feel free to use the pictures of Ha Ha Tonka. Just give me a clue when you do so I can read your story! I don;t get around as often as I should anymore.

Subject to Change Without Notice said...

Nail polish. That's what comes to mind. Theraputic nailpolish. Maybe even tax deductible. (sorry for any spelling oddities).

Of course, then you wouldn't have had this practice with descriptive writing. I also "got what you said!"