“I run my fingers across the hand I am holding. This is the hamate. This is the pisiform. The triquetrum, the lunate, the scaphoid, the capitate, trapezoid, trapezium. The metacarpal bones, the proximal phalanges, the distal phalages. The sesamoids….I continue holding her hand, stroking the fingers with my own. The things that matter. The truths we hold on to until the end. These are things that make life as we know it possible, I used to say in my lectures, pointing to each phalange in turn. Treat them with the utmost reverence. Without them, we are nothing. Without them, we are hardly human.” Alice LaPlante, ‘Turn of Mind’
Last night I dreamt I was in a field of wildflowers with Damon and the girls. We were out on a walk, in the sun. I felt content, happy. The girls and Damon scampered ahead while I took picture after picture, of the flora and fauna, their frolicking forms moving away from me and then back again.
As I wandered over a small hill, I saw a twitch-nosed, gray bunny right there in the grass. I approached slowly, expecting it to hop away, yet it didn’t. It turned its head and froze, watching me approach. It’s fur glittered silver in the sunlight. I thought how still and life-like it was, and wondered why it didn’t leap away…
When I was within a foot or so of the rabbit I knelt and reached out my hand. I thought it must be someone’s pet, and therefore used to humans. Perhaps it was lost and alone, there in the meadow. As I stretched out my fingers the rabbit lunged forward. I jumped backwards. Looking down, I realized with horror that a huge chunk of my hand was gone. That rabbit had bit into the flesh above my pointer and middle fingers, gouging a cavernous, bloody crater into the spot where my fingers joined my palm.
The rabbit was long gone by the time I managed to stand, my mangled hand clutched carefully out in front of me, dripping blood down into the grass.
I removed my sweater, wrapped the knit cardigan tightly around my hand. Then I bent to look in the grass for the missing bits of skin and tendons, perhaps even bone.
I saw nothing but wildflowers, a ladybug meandering merrily up a blade of grass. As I searched, more and more panicked, Damon and the girls called my name.
“Look what we’ve found!” Damon cried happily. I looked up towards his voice and there he was, in a halo of sunlight, clutching a gray rabbit, while the girls hopped up and down excitedly by his side.
“We found this sweet, little bunny, Mom!” one of the girls gushed. “And he let us pick him up. We’re going to keep it, and make him our pet, OK?” their childish voices pleaded, one on top of the other.
“This rabbit has a scratch on the back of its neck, though….” Damon said, coming close to me now. “We’ll have to take it to a vet, check for rabies….”
His voiced trailed away and I could feel him looking at me intently. “What’s going on?” he said.
“Take the girls and the rabbit to the car.” I said, smooth as ice. “That rabbit bit my hand. I’m looking for the lost piece in the grass now, but I don’t want the girls to know, or panic.”
Damon eyed my sweater-wrapped hand.”Do you need to go to the hospital?”
I couldn’t find my flesh there among the daisies, nor anywhere. “Maybe the rabbit ate it,” Damon said quietly. “Let’s get you to the hospital now.”
Damon dropped me at the emergency room door. I walked in and was seated on a gurney in a hallway. When the doctor unwrapped the sweater from my hand he asked me If I had any of the missing cartilage, tendons, skin.
“No, they’re scattered like wildflowers, somewhere in the meadow.” I said.
They sewed me up, but not before amputating the pointer, middle, and ring finger of my right hand. The tendons were gone, bits of bone gone, too much to ever make those fingers usable again, and therefore they would just atrophy and wither away. Better to chop them off.
Damon arrived after it was all over. I was bandaged, sedated, and in a chair in the lobby waiting for him. He came in through the sliding doors and rushed to me.
“The girls are home. The bunny’s fine, it does have rabies, but they will give it shots, perhaps after a few days…” His happy-go-lucky voice trailed off. “Are you ok? Did they stitch you back up?”
“They’re gone,” I said, holding up my two-fingered hand. A permanent hang-ten sign. Drink up. Peace out. Live and let live.
“What?” he gasped. “Are you serious?”
I stood up. “Lets go home. I don’t want to talk about it, ok? I just want to climb into bed. Please help me climb into bed.”
Damon took my arm, my bag of instructions and medications, and gently led me out into the sunshine.
“Where’s the car?” I said, instantly upset that it was not right there in the loading zone, ready, waiting for me.
“I had to park at the Burger King in the shopping center across the street. This place is packed.”
Damon was striding through the parking lot now, irritated that I had criticized him about the placement of the car.
“Why didn’t you park in the drop-off/pick-up zone?” I fumed. “You were picking me up, right? And they designated a pick up zone for a reason, right?” I said the words angrily, fury gathering behind my eyelids like an impending storm.
“I’m sorry!” Damon said quietly, tersely. “I had my mind on other things, you know. Taking a bunny to the vet, getting the girls home, running back through that field trying to find the missing piece of your hand. I’ve been busy!”
I snorted. “Well, that was an idiotic move, wasn’t it? To waste your time going back to that field to search for my hunk of hand. You never can find anything, ever. Why on earth would you think you could find a fist full of flesh buried among a field full of flowers?”
Damon said nothing, just kept walking towards the car. I realized I had just enough fingers on my right hand now to lift a tea-cup to my lips like a demented queen.
I stood in the parking lot and looked around, at the miles and miles of asphalt, row upon row of cars. I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to crawl into bed and lick my wounds. I pondered what to do, slowly turning in circles, there outside the emergency room.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a red Porsche came barreling around the corner, and smacked right into me.
“Mom! Can I borrow your phone?” Annalise said this repeatedly from the bedroom doorway. It was morning, I was awake, my nightmare abruptly over. As I rose and dressed, I realized my hands were sore, stiff. The joints achy, swollen. Yet my hand was whole, intact, usable.
“You don’t get emotional over a hand. A hand is a collection of facts. The eight bones of the carpus, the five bones of the metacarpus, and the fourteen phalanges. The flexor and extensor tendons that maneuver the digits. The muscles of the forearm. The opposable thumb. All intertwined. Multiple interconnections. All necessary to the balance of motion that separates humans from other species.” – Alice LaPlante, ‘Turn of Mind’
Over the years I have dreamt repeatedly of having my fingers chopped off, in one way or another. Back in college I chopped them off with a kitchen knife while slicing carrots, and I had to slide those bloody fingers into a ziplock baggie, then carry them with me on the bus, all the way to the emergency room. Another time they were stuck in elevator doors I was holding open for the kids, and they stayed up on eleven while the rest of us went sailing down to the lobby.
‘Fingerless Me’ is a recurring theme in my subconscious. I seem to constantly need to remind myself: Your hands are important! Cherish them! Get up and use them while you can!
Most everything I like to do requires many fingers – playing the piano, writing, fixing my children’s hair each morning, taking photographs. It is my hands that open the window to this soul, let the sunshine in, keep me alive and searching, even when what I’m looking for is lost within a field full of flowers…
“From the moment I opened up the arm of a cadaver and saw the tendons, the nerves, the ligaments, and the carpal bones of the wrist, I was in love. Not for me the heart, the lungs, or the esophagus – let others play in those sandboxes. I want the hands, the fingers, the parts that connect us to the things of this world.” – Alive LaPlante, ‘Turn of Mind’
I am connected, still. Huzzah!