Warning: this post contains some graphic descriptions. If you are squeamish, perhaps not the post to read with your lunch.
Also: this isn’t a post to garner sympathy. I had an accident. I wish I hadn’t. I’m now missing most of one finger. I wish I wasn’t. However, in the scheme of things, people lose far, far more. Let’s take it as read you feel bad for me. 😉
I’m on my way back to the office from the gym. There are 5 of us in the car. It’s started snowing, and, this being England, five snowflakes brings the entire UK transport infrastructure to a shuddering halt.
It’s about 2:45pm. Two of us have a meeting at 3pm. The office is a 5 minute walk away and sitting in a traffic jam will take a whole lot longer.
We decide, fatefully, to jump out and walk while one remains to drive the vehicle back.
There’s a shortcut through a car park and then abandoned waste land we’ve done a handful of times. There are a few ways through the wasteland, I go one way, the other three go another. The snow is falling. Couple of inches thick now.
I walk on another 20–30 meters and see there’s now a new fence; don’t remember it being there before but it’s been months since I last did this. It’s a brand new fence. Maybe 7/8ft high but I’m approaching a gate section. There are solid beams all the way up and across; plenty of foot holes. I’ve been over these kind of fences tens, if not hundreds of time in my life. Nothing about it looked sketchy.
I climb up and over and drop down on the other side. Unremarkable. Did I just catch my wedding ring as I dropped down? I glance down.
I can’t believe what I am looking at.
My ring finger is gone.
Mostly. It’s there to the point my wedding ring was and the rest it stripped, leaving a bloodied bone protruding.
I can’t compute what I’m looking at. Am I hallucinating? This can’t be real. This can’t have just happened.
Focus Ben. Focus.
I grab what’s left and apply pressure. And get my arm above my head. The only thing immediately worse than this right now is if I bleed out and feint. Then I remember shouting.
I’m opposite a cinema. A man walks by on the other side of the road.
“Please call an ambulance, I’ve cut my finger off!”
Nothing but an inane grin in return.
“Please, can you call an ambulance?”
On he walks. Is he for real? Is he worried about call charges? If I could chase him right now I’d kick him up the arse so hard he wouldn’t sit down for a month.
I remember the others. “Matt! Matt!”. A beat. Then from the distance.
Matt comes sprinting up the road. Thank f!!!.
I tell him what’s happened. He sees my face; he knows I’m not kidding.
He’s on it and calling 999.
And then I start thinking:
Where’s my finger?
I concentrate so I don’t panic. This is going to be OK. This stuff happens all the time. Find the finger, keep it in ice, get to the hospital; they’ll do their thing and it will all be OK.
But where is my finger?
The others joins us. One turns back to go and fetch help.
The phone is pressed to my ear. The ambulance call staff are running through their basic questions. “Do you have a temperature? Have I being sick in the last 24 hours?”. I try and implore her to understand that the most pressing thing right now is that my finger is no longer attached to my hand. Then she advises, “OK, if you can just get yourself to an Accident and Emergency centre within the hour.”
I look at Matt. He says something to the effect of “No f!!!ing way.” I decide to be a little more persuasive given my predicament. “I’ve lost my whole finger. The traffic is completely gridlocked. I can’t walk there!”
She goes away to talk to someone. Returns. “OK, we’ll get an ambulance to you.”
And now while we wait I’m asking everyone to find my finger.
There’s two inches of snow, no ‘smoking gun’ of a blood trail, nothing. I can’t believe this. If I end up with no finger because we couldn’t find my finger in this freak snow fall I’ll be pissed off until the end of my days.
The first of many tangential thoughts — my sons are going to be freaked out. I feel bad for them.
I at least have the presence of mind to stay where I was. So we have a point to search from. This is surreal. This is grim.
I start worrying about everyone else’s hands as they sweep through the snow trying to find it. Another random thought — what if they get frost bite or something?
I apologise. They tell me not to be ridiculous.
There is no sign of the finger. I can feel panic and desperation starting to build. The ambulance arrives. The paramedics get out in their usual laconic manner. This is nothing to them. They see this every hour of every day. While the rest hunt, they tell me to climb on so they can take details and get my baseline observations.
Turns out I wouldn’t have bled out anyway. The blood vessels in the finger are quite small. Apply pressure to close them and reduce the blood flow (as I had by holding it above my head) and they close pretty quickly.
They peel my good hand away to take a look. Jesus. What a mess.
And then the worst fear hits me. I have to call my wife.
I’m imagining the bollocking I will get. The condemnation. My shame.
Let’s just do this.
I call, she answers. “Are you alright”.
“No, sorry I’m not. I’ve managed to cut my finger off.”
A few back and forths and she realises I’m not joking.
She breaks down. She’s distraught. I tell her I’m OK but this is worse than a bollocking! I could have dealt with that!
Then I realise the time and realise I shouldn’t have called. She’s about to walk and collect our sons from school and walk back over a few busy roads; and I’ve just put her head in a very bad place.
I tell her to be calm. To just concentrate on what she needs to do. I’ll call her when I’m at the hospital. And now I’m worrying about her and the boys getting home safely.
Then back to the business at hand. I want my finger. I really want my finger.
I go back out, there’s more people from the office there now, plus an older man I’ve never seen before. They have a rake too — where the hell did they get that; must be the older guy, he must live near.
Everyone is pawing around in the snow bless them. But still no finger.
“We need to go I’m afraid”, says the paramedic.
With a heavy heart I agree. They’ll keep on looking they tell me as I climb in.
I’m just getting my seat belt on in the back and there is a knock on the side of the ambulance.
They’ve found it!
“We need to keep it cool” I tell them. For once the snow if useful. My finger is placed in a container with some snow. Matt throws my gym bag into the ambulance with me, the doors are closed and away me and my finger, never before apart, go.
Stoke Hospital 3:15pm
It’s a short journey. I don’t remember much about it. I remember walking in through the wide entrance they bring the real accidents in through. I should be thankful I’m walking in. Plenty aren’t that lucky.
My memory is a bit of a jumble at this point. I try and joke with people, try and get people feeling at ease with me, know that they can tell me what is actually going on and not some sanitised version.
More checks and then off for x-rays. Once they are done I’m left on the trolley outside for someone to wheel me back whence I came.
A surgeon arrives, introduces himself. In his best bedside manner he gives me a hammer blow.
“I’m afraid we won’t be able to re-implant the finger.”
The blood in my body recedes. Then, in the same breath…
“So, we can either terminate the finger at the knuckle or we could take away the remaining knuckle as well and close the hand up into a three-fingered hand.”
My face must have changed at this point as he them started to ‘sell’ me having a three-fingered hand over a stump for a finger. I can’t compute this. It’s too much.
I stop him and ask. Are there any hand specialist hospitals near by? Anyone we could get a second opinion from. I tell him I’m really struggling to come to terms with my options.
To his credit he agrees. I hear him make the call to Derby which is quite close and has a hand specialist department. They agree to take a look.
While I wait for transport, I’m talking to 5 of the surgeons. They tell me what I have done is a ‘ring avulsion’.
If I had chopped my finger off clean, they would be fairly confident they could re-implant. But in this kind of injury, the finger is essentially stripped from the bone, taking blood vessels and ligaments with it from down in the palm.
They tell me they get roughly one of these a week. Wait, what? Yes, one a week. Why didn’t I get that memo?
My eyes wander to each of the surgeons hands in turn. Not one, male or female, is wearing a ring. “Is that why none of you wear rings?”
They confirm. “Absolutely, it’s like having a guillotine on your finger waiting to go.”
I feel I’ve been kept in the dark about rings. Surely this should be more common knowledge.
It’s about 6pm now. They sort me an ambulance, get the lights on and off we go to Derby Royal hospital.
Derby Royal Hospital
Again, we enter through the ambulance staff entrance, right next to a corona virus containment/quarantine pod. That doesn’t exactly thrill me.
Then through to the main Accident and Emergency waiting room. It’s pretty grim in there. The usual collection of very ill and injured people.
Within about 30 minutes the hand specialist comes down to see me and my detached finger.
He lies my detached finger out on a sterile sheet, pulling the tendons and blood vessels that hang from it straight. He is inspecting it with some kind of mini-binoculars mounted to his glasses.
Jesus. How did today end up with me here watching someone doing that.
He doesn’t take long.
“I’m very sorry Mr Frain. There is nothing we can do for you.”
By now, odd as it may seem. I was sort of expecting it. The human mind has an enviable ability to re-evaluate and re-appraise things.
He gives me the same options as the surgeon at Stoke but leans towards terminating at the knuckle. I tell him that’s my preferred option (preferred option!). He says they can do the operation in the morning, I might be out same day.
I’m ‘nil by mouth’ from midnight, but I can drink water until 3am.
The specialist leaves. A nurse returns to the cubicle. He cleans up the swabs and other medical paraphernalia the specialist had been using.
There’s my finger.
Nurse looks at me.
I look at him.
We both look at the finger.
We both look at each other.
“Is there anything you want us to do with your finger?”
What a question to be posed with. I feel ill-equipped to answer.
“What do you usually do with them?”
A beat. I know he’s wondering how best to phrase it.
“We…just put them in the bin”
“You’d better put it in the bin then”
It’s perhaps redundant to call it out but to see someone pick up a bit of you, that was only hours ago attached to you, and put it in the bin before your eyes is pretty rough.
The only upbeat part here was talking to a nurse with the surname ‘Wisdom’. She had a Jamaican/West Indies accent, and just had one of those personalities you can’t help but be endeared by. I told her I wasn’t getting to keep the finger. She told me how sorry she was. I told her I would need to tell my wife.
Without missing a beat she glances at me, smiles wryly and says, “You’ll be all right, you still have other bits that work!”
It made me laugh. I needed a laugh.
I’m then waiting to get on a ward. There are no beds free. I have next to no charge on my phone. I’ve had to tell my wife I’ll call her when I get some charge.
It’s was gone 11pm by the time they got me a bed on a ward.
A nurse lends me a charger.
I make a couple of calls. There isn’t much to say. My wife is asking if she should come over. Should my Mum and Dad come over? There’s no real point. What would anyone do? What would anyone say? I was happier on my own.
It’s still not hurting much, all things considered. But it is freaking me out that I can see the shard of my finger bone uncovered when I look down the bandage. I get some gauze from someone and cover it up. Last thing I want is an infection in my bone or some other grizzly associated problem.
I don’t sleep much that night. It’s not through pain. I’m next to a man that, if they wanted to create the worlds loudest snoring machine they would need only copy his mechanics. This is an industrial snorer.
I maybe snatch an hours sleep between snoring man, and the frequent observation checks the nurses perform all night. Oxygen, blood pressure, anti-biotic drip etc.
Tuesday 11th February
That moment you wake and realise it’s still real.
It can’t be! But it is.
I’m oddly motivated. Let’s just get this dealt with so I can get out of here. I want to see my family. I want to get home.
I get a bag taped over my hand and shower with antibiotic soap. Then get some clothes on. My gym bag is still with me and has absolutely nothing of use in. I consider putting it all in the bin just so I don’t have to keep carrying it around with me.
It’s something like 7am when the surgeon comes around and asks how I’m doing. Tells me I should be in soon. He marks my arm with an arrow. I wasn’t even worried they might take a finger off the wrong hand until then!
So then I wait.
My parents arrive. They came against my wishes bless them. They have never let me down. Ever. The best people I have ever known.
Eventually, around 4pm I’m given notice I’ll be going in soon. My mouth is so dry at this point I wonder if it might spontaneously combust.
I speak to the surgeon once I get to surgery. It’s a different surgeon than the one I spoke to yesterday. But I like her. She inspires my confidence. I feel like I’m in good hands.
The anaesthetist tells me they will be using a ‘blocker’ rather than general anaesthetic. It’s an injection in the neck that will numb my entire arm while they work on it. I don’t like going under but not sure feeling the snap as they clip my finger bone away will be preferable either.
Whatever. Let’s just do this.
I’m wheeled in. I say hello to everyone in the theatre. I go a bit whoosy. “Have you just given me something?”. They confirm they have put the first bit of sedative in my line. I go to start another sentence…
What happened there then? I’m in a recovery area. The surgeon is telling me that everything went well and according to plan.
Someone brings me a cup of tea.
Oh. My. God! I swear the best cup of tea I have ever tasted in my life. And biscuits. They are in packs of three: bourbons, custard creams and rich teas. I must have polished off about 6 packs. Certainly the high point of the last 24 hours.
My recollection is hazy of the rest of the evening. I remember talking to my Mum and Dad some more and then they left to let me get some sleep.
This night I did sleep. The remnants of whatever they gave me giving me immunity against the industrial snorer next to me.
Wednesday 12th February
Yes. It still happened. I feel like this must be some other version of reality I have somehow slipped into.
I’m told I’ll be going home soon. They just have to sort paperwork and get me some medications sorted. That’s about 9am.
I don’t actually get out until about 2pm. In the meantime I overhear the plight of the guy opposite me. Same sort of age, fell off step-ladders about 14 months ago. His ankle broke in an open fracture. 10 operations later and a laundry list of pain killers and they still can’t sort his leg. If the next operation can’t sort it they may need to amputate the bottom of his leg.
And I’m upset about a finger.
That put things in perspective.
Eventually I’m out with my parents and they drive me back home. I arrive not long after my sons are back from school. Seeing my family I can’t help but feel, all things considered, I’m a lucky man.
Friday 14th February
I’m back at Derby Royal for a check-up. I have a list of questions for the surgeon:
- When can I exercise? Not for a few weeks at least; extra blood pressure could rupture the closing skin.
- When can I drive? Probably about a month. I need to feel in complete control of the vehicle.
- When will these phantom pains and itches end? No clear answer.
Aside – I can tell you that feeling itches on a part of your body that is no longer attached is pretty uncomfortable and very disconcerting.
- Did I have general anaesthetic in the end? No, just extra sedative.
- How long to heal? 1 month for most things, a year to heal fully.
- Do I need therapy? We will have to wait and see.
I take some photos of my hand before they redress it. I tell my wife not to look on our shared photo library until I have chance to move them. They are pretty grim.
Until now I’ve had a sizeable dressing on. I leave my appointment with a dressing that makes it completely clear to anyone that cares to glance down that I have no ring finger. It’s hard to take. I feel very self-conscious.
The next two weeks
I’m off work for the remainder of the week and the following one. It doesn’t really hurt exactly. But it does ache from time to time. I’ve got standard pain killers to take if it gets a bit much. Like tooth ache, it’s always worse at night.
There doesn’t seem to be a real correlation between what I do and how much pain and aching comes on later.
I’m pretty desperate to try typing again. I’m in the middle of writing the 3rd Edition of one of my existing books. For once I have a decent excuse why I won’t meet my chapter deadline.
Turns out, apart from the odd letter combination, it doesn’t take long to adapt my typing to the point it is of marginal difference from typing with all my fingers. In that respect at least I am fortunate.
Like always in these situations, it’s telling who bothers to reach out to you and check how you are doing, and who doesn’t. Getting the messages and visits was very much appreciated over those two weeks.
Pro Tip: if something like this happens to someone you know, send them a message at least. You’ll be surprised how much it can lift their spirit.
As of today, eighteen days on, I can’t give you a good summary of how I feel. Some days I feel fairly positive and resolved to just get on. Others, I’m incredibly pissed off at what has happened.
I’ve had plenty of injuries over the years through football, fighting and mountain biking. However, the thing they all had in common was no matter how bad the tear, broken the bone, or black the eye — given time, I knew they would be back to normal.
This is different. It’s not going to grow back. I’m stuck with my 1/3 of a wedding ring finger for the rest of my days (Terminator fingers still aren’t available on the NHS — I did ask).
Like I said at the outset. It’s far from the worst thing that could happen to someone. As losing part of your body goes, it’s probably the least impactful thing that could have happened. I feel both very lucky and very unlucky at the same time. Does that make any sense?
Will I wear my wedding ring on another finger? No, I’m selling it. I never want to see it again. I don’t have a tattoo but maybe something like that might end up on the cards.
What about a prosthetic? Not for me. It’s a bit like a hair transplant or wig for male pattern baldness. I get why people go that way but it would make me feel phoney. I need to own this. But it’ll likely take a while.
How have people reacted? To a person, everyone has been great. I can see kids are a little freaked out. However, I have a growing compendium of alternate, and far more exciting, stories I’ll tell when younger children ask what happened to my finger. For example, stranded in a life raft in the pacific with a fishing line and no bait, bitten by a Peruvian Death Adder in the South American rainforest etc. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story as they say.
Everyone tells me it’ll feel better in time. I’m sure they are right, and frankly, in these scenarios you don’t have much choice.
I have been lucky enough in life that until now, I have been able to believe that these things only happen to someone else.
But now I am one of those random awful accident stories.
All I have for you now is this: accidents can happen to anyone. With that in mind, tell that person you love them. Hold them close and appreciate them. Don’t go separate ways without resolving your fight.
Oh, and maybe give up wearing your rings!
This accident, in the scheme of accidents, is minor. Plenty of others are not so lucky. I’m mentally sending all my love and hope they can enjoy the mental fortitude to get through their challenges.
Finally, if you’re reading this at some point in the future and the same or similar thing has happened to you; by all means reach out. Hopefully I’ll have something more positive for you and if I can offer you even the slightest of comfort it will be my absolute pleasure.
Oh, remember the older man that came out to help the others find my finger. I was in the ambulance when this happened but when Matt explained to the guy what had happened he held up his hand and said “Like this!” and he had exactly the same injury — also from getting his wedding ring caught on a fence. I’m glad I didn’t see and hear that at the time!