She told me it was sharp. She specifically said, “This self-sharpening knife I have is really sharp.” Therefore, it was with a sense of inevitability, even a certain grim satisfaction, that I watched it sink into the tip of my left ring finger ten minutes later as I was cutting tomatoes. There wasn’t even any pain. More like a little sting, an uh oh feeling, before my brain processed just how wrong it was to have a knife so deeply imbedded in my flesh and maybe I should jerk it away now. So I did. Then I clamped the other fingers down onto the spot now welling up crimson. “Um,” I called out in what I hoped was an unconcerned voice, “Got a Band-aid anywhere?”
My sister, a nurse, at whose house we were making dinner, bought the unconcerned act and ambled off to fetch the medical kit. As I waited, clutching my finger, my brain whirred. There was no tip lying amid the half-chopped tomatoes. This was good news. It meant I had not fully cut off my finger tip, and that most likely it was still attached and flapping around, the digital equivalent of Nearly Headless Nick of Harry Potter fame. How much flappage we were talking, I didn’t know. I didn’t have the nerve to look.
My sister reappeared, cheerfully pried my finger clamp off the wound and directed the maimed finger beneath the stream of water. “And then we squeeze the cut, letting some blood out to sort of clean it out,” she sang out and I panicked like a child, not wanting to see how easily it flowed out, just how deep it was. “And then some antiseptic soap, and then dry…” She proceeded and finally taped on a bandage, which, within seconds, bloomed red at the tip.
“Um,” I quavered, “I think I need another one. Maybe two.”
The finger throbbed all night long. And that scared me, in a way I hadn’t felt in a long time, a raw, gut-churning fear that I’d really messed up this finger I’d been taking for granted. How bad I’d messed it up, I still didn’t know. The bandages were fabric, a super-grippy hospital type, not worth prying off to assess the damage. I could only wait till the next afternoon, when I attempted to practice on the violin.
Long story short. I could play, albeit awkwardly. The first attempt to apply pressure on a string had me yelping in pain, but then I realized if I angled my pressure point to the right side of the fingertip, I could still play. Not well. Quite clumsily, in fact. But I could play.
When I pulled off the bandage finally to inspect the cut, it scared me all over again. The knife had indeed gone deep and yes, there was a flap of nearly detached skin. But oh, how very lucky I was to have that skin still attached. I have two friends who’d sliced off their tips and had to get skin grafts from their thigh to recreate a tip, and to this day they struggle with loss of sensitivity there. (Nadja S-S also had a tip chopping-off episode that challenged her career.) How very lucky I was.
Lucky, or irredeemably careless? It doesn’t matter anymore. The fingertip is now healing, slowly but surely. When I apply pressure at the wrong angle, the pain shooting through the tender new skin is like a slap on the hand. A small price to pay, I realize. What, I can’t help but wonder, would my practice be like if the knife had landed just a fraction of an inch further to the right? Or if the flap of skin had come off completely?
Lucky me. I still get to practice. And I’m here to tell you, I won’t be taking that for granted any time soon.
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