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View from Kilauea Lighthouse, Kauai

View from Kilauea Lighthouse, Kauai

This photo has nothing to do with the following story.  I used it because I love the colours and sense of motion.

Many years ago I bought my first house, or rather I acquired my first bank mortgage and they let me live in the house.

This was a new development, for me and for the area where the house had just been built.  The backyard or garden area was pretty rough, made up mainly of heavy gumbo (clay).  I was able to get most of it in shape but the patch beside the back door was very hard having been compressed during construction.  I thought the area would make a nice vegetable garden.  How to begin?  A friend suggested that I start by growing potatoes the first season.  My friend told me they would do well there and the process of gradually heaping up the soil around the plants as they grew would be an easier way to start breaking up the ground.  I was excited, went out and bought seed potatoes and after some soil preparation made several rows of potatoes.

English: Different potato varieties. – The pot...

This I thought, will be great, growing our own potatoes – harvesting them in a few months.  I just knew they would taste better than anything we could buy in the supermarket.

Time went by.  I continued to heap up heavy earth beside these wretched plants all summer.  This was much harder work than my friend had led me to expect.  The potato seeds just lay there and I did all the digging.

It came time for a couple of week’s vacation.  Happily I left the potatoes to fend for themselves.  “Good luck spuds” I cried as I left.

When I arrived back, I looked out at my spuds and they had really developed.  I thought I could see the tops of some good-sized potatoes poking through the ground.

When I was younger I used to be a bit impulsive – now I am spontaneous.  In my excitement at seeing a potential harvest, I acted impulsively, getting down on my knees and scrabbling through the dirt to find potatoes.  I found one!  I scooped the earth away and pulled it up and with joy in my heart looked fondly at my number 1 spud.  It was a beauty.  Well, this really encouraged me, and rather than wasting time going to find an appropriate garden tool, I started raking through the soil with my fingers.

The pain was rather sudden.  The nail of the middle finger of my right hand was giving me pain!  I had discovered another potato.  Unfortunately my nails had raked across the skin of the potato (I wonder if Skin Heads are really Mr Potato-Skin Heads?).  The skin had gotten between the nail and the flesh of the finger, like a sliver, and gone down about half way under the nail.  “Well that’s rather annoying”  I thought to myself.  I tried to pull it out, but the potato skin had broken off at the end of the nail, so there wasn’t anything to take hold of.  As I looked at my very grubby hands and the situation with the nail, I felt the pain increasing.  It seems potato skin rammed under a person’s nail is not desirable.  Apparently bamboo shoots work even better, if you are looking to maximize the pain.

I abandoned the harvesting for the time being and went and washed my hands.  I tried to reach the potato skin with tweezers – didn’t work.  The throbbing was getting worse.  I took a bath and let my hand soak till my skin became like a white prune, thinking this might make extraction easier – didn’t work. I thought about taking an aspirin and letting it gradually work its way out.  Nails grow, so how long could it take?  I couldn’t take it even for the rest of that evening.  So reluctantly I drove over to the nearest emergency room.  It was Sunday evening.

You would think hospital ER’s would be fairly quiet on a Sunday evening.  Wrong!  The place was packed.  I looked around at the poor people there.  All the cases looked far worse than my throbbing finger.  I took a number and waited to be called to register and be triaged (can you say that?  I waited to be go through the triage process, better?).

As I waited, I noticed a man with a bandage around his head with the blood seeping through.  There were several patients displaying quite alarming injuries.  It looked like I had entered a war zone.  I could feel eyes on me, as I sat there nursing my finger, which wasn’t even bandaged, and because of the soaking looked very clean and in good condition.

Shortly I was called to the registration desk, hanging above it was a huge sign ‘Respect Confidentiality’.  To ensure no visitors or patients would get a glimpse of any confidential patient information the hospital administration had thoughtfully installed thick glass panels between the reception clerk and the patient.  There was a tiny slot at the bottom through which patients could slide their medical cards.  Unfortunately this glass barrier meant it was impossible for the clerk and the patient to hear one-another unless each spoke with what my mother would have called an ‘outside voice’.  I call it shouting.

“Last Name” yelled the clerk – I told her – she repeated a different name back to me.  “No” I said and repeated my name a little louder, after the third rise in volume she got it, and so did all the people in the waiting room, who now were relieving their boredom by listening to the clerk and me.

Finally we got down to the matter at hand – yes pun intended, “Why are you here?” asked the clerk – good question I thought.  I was a little embarrassed so mumbled “I hurt my finger”.  “YOU DID WHAT?” she bellowed back.  “I HURT MY FINGER.”  “YOU HURT YOUR FINGER? WHICH ONE?”  I held up my middle finger.  It wasn’t a comment, or suggestion, it just seemed the easiest way to get her the information.

Through pursed lips she called out (I’ll stop with the caps, you know this was a very loud conversation) “How did you injure your finger?”  Now the waiting room went silent as they waited to hear what terrible injury I had sustained.  “I got some potato peel under the nail”  I mumbled.  “You did what?”  I then yelled out “I got some potato peel under my finger nail and I can’t get it out and it hurts”.  Well, you could see the sneers on the faces, particularly the man with the axe still cleaving into his skull.

I was told to go and sit down and would be called when it was my turn. I slunk back to my chair, trying to hide the offending finger and settling in for the night.

Within five minutes my name was called – well something approximating my surname.  I went over, “Me?”  “yes, come with me to the examining room” said a nurse.  I followed her in.  She examined my painful digit and said, “Hmmmm, need to get the doc”.  A little later ‘the doc’ came in, seeming far too jovial for working in emergency.  “So, had an escapade with your finger huh? Tell me what happened.”  As I told my story, as simply as I could, he prodded and poked at the nail causing me some considerable discomfort.  “We will need to operate” he said and with a glint in his eye, and possibly a little wink said to the nurse – “Let’s use the big operating room.”  I lost my summer tan in about five seconds and my legs went wobbly.  I am not good at blood, or knives, or  needles.

The nurse took me into the larger of the two theatres (I think I now know why they are called operating theatres.  I think I know now who is being entertained in them – and it wasn’t me.

They put me in a hospital gown – it was just my finger and just the tip of it too.  ‘The doc’ came in and the nurse handed him a green gown “Oh, you think it will be messy he said?”  I’m not kidding, that’s exactly what he said.  They had a little chuckle together then strapped my arm to a board that was sticking out at ninety degrees from the operating table on which they had laid my trembling body.

“First we will give you a local anaesthetic”  said ‘the doc’.  “then when it’s frozen I will have to cut down the nail and remove half the nail to remove the potato skin”.  Once they lay you down it is hard to faint.  The blood can’t easily rush to your feet – but you can still feel like you are going to faint. I wanted to faint. I wanted to go home, I wanted my mummy!  What I got was Burns and Allen!

‘The doc’ took out an extremely long and nasty looking syringe, filled it with something and did the shooting a little into the air thing.  It was good that my arm was secured to the board, because it really did have a mind of its own at this point and was trying desperately to avoid the needle.  I’m not sure at what point I started to whimper.

After the injection Burns and Allen did a little routine, then when ‘the doc (Burns)’ thought it had been long enough he took a needle and stuck it into the end of the finger to see if it was numb enough.  It wasn’t!  “Yeowww!” I yelled.  “Hmm, should have done the trick” said Burns as he prepared a second injection.  He put this one into the side of the finger. “Mmmmmmm” I said.   After three injections of anaesthetic my finger was thankfully and finally numb and no longer throbbing.  I’m not sure when I stopped whimpering.

The nurse brought a tray of instruments from which Burns took a very long, very pointy pair of scissors.  I decided not to watch.  There were some grunts and mumbles and a slight sound of snipping, then some smells as something was painted on the finger.  Then came the bandages.  I’m not convinced the size of the bandage on my finger wasn’t part of the Burns and Allen routine.  My finger was about two inches across and a couple of inches longer than it had been.  The whole thing stuck out like a, you guessed it, sore thumb.

They gave me some meds to take for the pain, which they assured me would follow once the anaesthetic wore off.

There was a mild cheer as I left the emergency waiting room.  I was a little unsteady and getting out money to pay for the parking was quite a performance.  Have you ever driven a car with your middle finger sticking straight up?  You really hope to avoid any controversies with large angry drivers.  So I drove home as carefully as I could.

Burns and Allen were right, the pain after the anaesthetic wore off was really well done.  The meds helped a bit.

The next morning, Monday, was my first day back at work following the vacation.  I hoped no-one would notice the bandaged finger.  But very soon a crowd gathered around my drawing board.  Lot’s of jeers and catcalls.  then the question “What happened to your finger?  What were you doing on vacation?”

What was I to tell them?  But if you hear anyone refer to Mr Potato Finger you will know who they mean.

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