This was published in the May/June 2006 issue of “Stitches”, a Canadian medical humor magazine.
It is about 800 words, reduced from the original 1,000.
The triage nurse took one look and ordered me wheel-chaired ahead of a full waiting room into the Emergency Room treatment cubicle. She saw me as a large middle-aged male in trauma-caused distress, sweating, ashen-faced, rubber-legged. A fall risk. The prospect of my two-hundred pound six-foot self laid out on the waiting room floor must have influenced her decision.
She couldn’t see bleeding because there wasn’t much. In anyone else, my trauma would not have earned VIP (Very Injured Patient) treatment.
I’m a doctor’s worst customer. Prescribe an injection - I’ll get dizzy, sweaty, nauseated - I’ll have to recline on the examination table for the procedure (is an injection a “procedure”?). The word “needle” makes me queasy. I get ill passing a jewelry store if a sign offers ear piercing. Driving by a hospital depresses my appetite (maybe I should drive by more often to help my diet.) I’ve fainted more than once when they drew blood. I lost my lunch at the lab where they did the pre-marital blood test.
The day I came to the ER triage, I was bleeding. A little. I had shut my car door on the tip of the second finger of my right hand. Just the very tip. When I released the trapped finger, I saw blood. And immediately started sweating, trembling. I wrapped the wound in a handkerchief and rushed to the hospital.
There was pain. Not excruciating but it doesn’t take much for me. Mostly there was fear. I was submitting myself to medical care. I knew there would be… STITCHES. And stitches are applied by needles. You know how I feel about needles.
The ER doctor numbed my finger. This was the one time in my life I didn’t hate the needle. In a few minutes my injured finger was completely dead. I couldn’t feel a thing as the doctor started sewing up my wound.
I couldn’t feel anything but I could think. And I thought the stitches might involve thread. I couldn’t see the thread because my eyes were tightly shut. I thought, if he’s putting thread in my finger someday he’ll want to pull the thread out. Like a reverse injection. The thought almost made me faint. I, with this enormous wound in my sensitive finger tip would be reporting to a doctor to have the threads yanked out. It would be worse than an injection. Injections go into parts of the body that aren’t injured. These stitches were in my finger tip, a very sensitive wounded spot. I had visions of skin starting to heal around the thread, of the doctor having to jerk the thread free, of reopening the wound, of more stitches…eek! I asked the doctor to use that surgical
thread that just dissolves when the wound heals. He said no. Why not? He didn’t answer.
The next two weeks weren’t bad. I was a celebrity at work with an aluminum splint and over-sized bandage. There wasn’t any pain – so I saved my pain pills for removal day.
Removal day. I was constantly haunted by that reality: Removal day was coming.
One week into the recovery period, there was an anxiety-producing check up with the doctor. He said I was healing nicely. He assured me he is the best stitches-remover in the business. Don’t worry, he said.
A week later removal day arrived. Two hours before my appointment, I swallowed two of my hoarded pain pills. I wanted to give them plenty of time to start working. On the way to the doctor’s office, I stopped at a local lounge and ordered a couple of Margaritas. My wife canceled the order. “Alcohol and pain meds don’t mix.” I said this was an extreme case but she wouldn’t relent.
The doctor had said he’s really good at removing stitches. He had promised no pain. In spite of his assurances, I presented myself in much the same condition as when I arrived at the ER two weeks before. Sweating, taking deep breaths, quivering all over. The nurse ushered me into the treatment room. She (wisely) laid me on a treatment table for the procedure. A second nurse was summoned whose role, as far as I could determine, was “catcher” in the event I were to faint and roll off the table. I doubted she was strong enough to handle my bulk.
The first nurse started fiddling with my finger. I was annoyed. Just leave me alone until the highly skilled doctor arrives to perform his much-dreaded magic. “What are you doing!?” I asked the nurse. “That stings. Ouch.”
She said, “All done.” I said, “Good. Now when does the doctor come?”
"He isn’t coming. I’ve removed the stitches. You’re all finished.”
I had really thought it would be worse than that.
My wife chided me, “Next time you’ll handle it better won’t you?”
Next time? Just thinking there could be a “next time” started my stomach turning and raised a little sweat. Let’s go get those margaritas.