Seems Like Everything Used To Be Something Else

Christian R. Ward

Human Parts
Human Parts
Published in
6 min readJun 2, 2015

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“The ideal man bears the accidents of his life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances.” — Aristotle

The “e”, “d” and “c” keys are impossible.

They rest on my keyboard just as they always have. It is not their fault they are now icons of despair. The middle finger keys’ places are not meant to have any meaning other than being letters set in rank according to someone’s long ago sense of how frequently words require their use. Their presence more than any other letters reminds me that now is a different time, a sort of post-finger apocalypse where the entire typing and writing landscape has changed.

A fraction of a second’s inattention using a table saw, rushing to finish a home project, cost the middle finger on my left hand its life. My carelessness using one of the most dangerous of tools even in safe conditions doomed this useful and loved digit.

Now the index finger, my middle one’s smaller neighbor, will bear a double burden. It unnaturally will have to take on much of the work the middle finger so easily accomplished.

New mental gymnastics are required. The first few words I started to type were awkward. The first “e” I pressed didn’t happen. It was there. I saw it and naturally my brain told my middle finger, press “e”. The “e” didn’t respond. There was only air. I stopped typing in that moment and thought about the significance of not only my missing middle finger, but missing fingers for everyone. How different things now will be. My left hand is bandaged so even simple tasks like hitting the shift key and a letter at the same time are not really going to happen. I know this is a temporary adjustment. But it’s significant nonetheless. I will have to adapt to an unfamiliar way of doing something that has been an intrinsic part of my life since I took my first typing class in eighth grade.

The worst part may not be actually losing my middle finger. On Saturday evening my wife and I had sushi with her parents. I ate as I always eat sushi, with chopsticks. But this time I used my right hand (I am left-handed). It was an adaptation that happened as if automatically. Something I just did in order to eat. I wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t have the other-handed awkwardness one might expect.

The darker part is the haunting vision of the moment when the rotating saw blade chopped through flesh and bone. It plays over and over in my head, especially at night just as I lay down to sleep. The past few days, just as I close my eyes, like some horror movie opening on a big screen, I see the churning blade rising up through my finger. The alarms in my head are screaming. I see blood shooting out like auras of sun spots in all directions. I feel the chunk-chunk, chunk-chunk as the teeth scrape the bone. I cannot pull my finger away. I am watching as if I were watching someone else’s horror. Suddenly the pain kicks in and I sweep back to now. In my vision I pull my hand away, scream to whomever is in earshot — “CALL 911!” The burning in my hand rises. I feel faint as I bend over, squeezing my right hand over my left. Someone places a blanket over my hand to stem the bleeding. Just before they do, I see my poor, trusted middle finger dangle, like a fallen, dying soldier. Massively raw at its base, as if gnawed by piranha.

It all was so surreal, movie and real life coalesced. A bad dream. I do not cry. I am embarrassed, scared, angry at myself for rushing, for not being more cautious. I’m worried what my wife will think. What will my kids feel? Dad, the freak with a lobster claw for a left hand. All these thoughts running through my head. All the while the intense burning of my wound.

But when I try to sleep it is only the moment where blade and flesh and bone interact that stirs me. Haunts me. The replay is so vivid, so real. I sense the rotating blade against bone. I feel the burn. I see the blood. It only lasts a couple of seconds before I wake, trying to stir to consciousness and away from nightmare. It cycles through once or twice before I am able to sleep. I don’t know if it is fatigue or the narcotic pain reliever or both. I don’t care. I welcome the peace from this horrible stupid accident. This lapse in judgement and precaution. It didn’t just cost me my middle finger. This accident is a scar on my psyche. I know it’s not fair to put it into the same silo as servicemen who suffer PTSD from wounds caused by war — not even close and i’m deliberately trying to avoid that comparison — yet something lingers.

I am not a soldier. I am a DIY homeowner who overstepped a safety boundary. Who tried to do too much too quickly without taking precautions. I set the stage for this exact situation to occur. All the stories one hears about people exactly like me getting injured while using power tools and I am now one of the many, a statistic compiled in an emergency room.

“Diagnosis: TRAUMATIC AMPUTATION OF OTHER FINGER(S) (COMPLETE) (PARTIAL).” As I stare at the notes from the ER, I get a sense they were written for someone else. “Amputation” is such a vile word. As disgusting as any ever spoken. Now I am forever connected with this loaded term.

I went to the garage this weekend. The table saw lies quietly on the concrete floor, like some sleeping dragon after a meal. Dried blood spatters the table and dots the blade. I was anxious about table saws before the accident. Now I am more so. It’s crazy to be irrational about a tool. It’s not a sleeping dragon. The saw has taken an anthropomorphic leap. Maybe I have to have a villain. I do not wish to power up this tool again.

I will look at the empty space on my left hand, knowing that my moment’s inattention caused that. The stitches eventually will be taken out. The wounds on my hand eventually will heal. I’m not so sure about the collateral damage in my head.

The journalist David Moranis said:

I believe that life is chaotic, a jumble of accidents, ambitions, misconceptions, bold intentions, lazy happenstances, and unintended consequences, yet I also believe that there are connections that illuminate our world, revealing its endless mystery and wonder.

Maybe it was time for my middle finger to get ground up in that saw. Maybe I needed to suffer this trauma to grow. Who knows what doors will open with this new awareness I possess. Sure, I lost my middle finger. I could have lost all of the fingers on my left hand according to the ER doc. Somehow the damage was limited. I still have NINE fingers, including two all-important thumbs. There’s solace in that. I got off with a warning, a speeding ticket in the fast lane of my life. I still don’t know what to make of it all. I guess I’ll figure it out.

Christian R. Ward is a relentless learner, seeker and essayist living in Ann Arbor, MI. He coaches clients in value-based living through his firm, Thrive Life Design.

This piece originally appeared on his blog.

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Human Parts
Human Parts

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