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Terez Mertes

Lucky, or Careless?

November 12, 2007 at 1:50 PM

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.

From Mara Gerety
Posted on November 12, 2007 at 2:40 PM
I was trying to chop onions for a batch of khinkali dumplings last month with a really dull knife and the damn thing slipped. Thankfully, as already mentioned, the knife was ridiculously dull so all I got was a little nick in the side of my thumb--still freaky though.
From Terez Mertes
Posted on November 12, 2007 at 3:14 PM
One friend has poked fun at how dull my own kitchen knives are, but I'm thinking now that I will happily keep them dull. I mean, they're not "saw away furiously" kind of dull (which, Mara, you've discovered can produce its own little whoopsie), but no "sharpest knife you've every used!" in my house.

Freaky - that's it. Just a really scary feeling to slice yourself.

From Samuel Thompson
Posted on November 12, 2007 at 3:46 PM
Terez -

Your story, while frightening to all of us fiddlers (I too have lopped off skin while chopping), is incredibly beautifully written...waiting for the next installment in the violinist's adventures!


From Bernadette Hawes
Posted on November 12, 2007 at 4:09 PM
Your story is gripping. You are definitely a major treat to read. I'm due to be having upwards of 20 guests shortly. I'm getting very scared of knives ... (Er... I like 'em sharper than razors ...) I'll try and be super careful. Rather like going to sleep with a light turned on after watching a scary movie...
Don't think about what ifs. Let's thank God you still have your finger tip.
I've only ever done a serious slice of my left thumb. THE ONLY DIGIT you don't desperately need for violin (well, not the tip anyway!)
From Anne Horvath
Posted on November 12, 2007 at 4:27 PM
The movie "Duet For One" features a scene like this (no spoilers from me, sorry!). That movie is not out on DVD yet, but I got a cheap used VHS copy on Amazon. Julie Andrews, a great favorite of mine since I was a wee tot, does a great fake job playing the violin! Cheesy plot though.

I was chopping up a whole bunch of green peppers and onions yesterday, and I was being extra-paranoid about injury, as usual. No damage, just the usual onion-induced weeping.

Get Well Soon!

From Terez Mertes
Posted on November 12, 2007 at 5:30 PM
Aww, Samuel and Bernadette, what sweet comments about the writing. In truth, I was afraid the post might be perceived as too glib, and I felt compelled to dig deeper into the writing to get to the core of the issue - how unsettling it felt to have this self-inflicted injury. And a finger - only a musician can appreciate the significance of an injury here. I don't think any of my family and friends thought twice about it. I certainly didn't offer comments to them about how dangerous it had been. Particularly to my husband who always winces when he watches me chop stuff and has always said "I'm just waiting for you to cut yourself..." I didn't need an "I told you so" on top of my own anxiety here.

And Anne - just looked up that movie/video on Amazon. Wow, I'd never heard of it before. It sounds a little depressing, though, yes? For others who want to see what she's talking about, here's the link here.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on November 12, 2007 at 5:48 PM
Oh, and Bernadette, good luck with those 20 guests. A Thanksgiving thing, I'm thinking? And this comment made me laugh:

>I'll try and be super careful. Rather like going to sleep with a light turned on after watching a scary movie...

: )

From Anne Horvath
Posted on November 12, 2007 at 9:18 PM
Gee, you smart computer people with your fancy links and all (insert smiley face here). Actually, maybe "cheesy plot" is not the best turn of phrase. "Duet For One" was originally a play based on the tragic later years of the great cellist Jacqueline DuPre. The movie was based on the play, but expanded both in story and character count. So "cheesy" is a poor word to choose. The ENDING of the movie is cheesy. Oh yes, don't miss the Vegetable Chopping Scene!
From Sydney Menees
Posted on November 13, 2007 at 4:02 AM
Wow! That's really freaky, Terez. I heard Nadja cut off the tip of her finger once...
From Terez Mertes
Posted on November 13, 2007 at 4:05 AM
>I heard Nadja cut off the tip of her finger once..

Yes, the event and its aftermath was chronicled in that Speaking in Strings documentary. I must say, that scene played in my head right away after my own slicing episode. And now Anne has given me another scene to seek out. Oh, Anne, do we have to watch it? I'm squeamish, am I going to want to shut my eyes? I must say, now I'm really curious about that movie.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on November 13, 2007 at 4:09 AM
Oh, and Sydney, Lise de la Salle and the Rach #2 was really good. Very very evocative, although I had a tough time seeing Lise actually play, as the piano's lid completely cut off her hand movements from where I was sitting. But her face looked pretty. : ) Hope you enjoy her in KC.
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on November 13, 2007 at 6:02 AM
Terez, that must have been awfully scary. I'm so glad that your injury was not as severe as it might have been. Get well soon.
From Karl Nelson
Posted on November 13, 2007 at 3:36 PM
I'm glad the cut wasn't too bad...

And to those who favor dull knives over sharp experience has been that dull knives are *way* more dangerous than a good sharp one. You can actually control a sharp knife, whereas a dull one can slip and slide, and you'll need to use way more force. So, keep 'em sharp!

As an aside, I just heard a funny cooking demonstration with Joshua Bell where he mentions that he tries “to stay away from knives…and cleaning up plates!” (More links here.)

From Terez Mertes
Posted on November 13, 2007 at 5:19 PM
> So, keep 'em sharp!

Just not "this is the sharpest knife you'll ever use" sharp. : )

And Pauline, thanks for your well-wishes. Off I go to check Karl's links.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on November 13, 2007 at 5:50 PM
Karl, I LOVED hearing that Joshua Bell interview/cooking session. I sat there and listened to the whole thing (for others interested, you can go to 13mn 45 seconds and Josh's part starts around there). I'm a real foodie, so any time violin meets food, I'm on it. And I smiled real big when he mentioned the part about staying clear of knives. : )

The only problem is that now I'm really really hungry now.

PS - Sydney and Karin, you'd love the Josh section of the program, I'm sure!

From Bernadette Hawes
Posted on November 13, 2007 at 9:36 PM
Oh, and Bernadette, good luck with those 20 guests. A Thanksgiving thing, I'm thinking?

Thanks Terez! It'll be over 20 plus a bunch of kids. Should be fun. We could call it Thanksgiving actually, especially if my digits survive my 'sharpest-ever knives... :-)
We don't have the Thanksgiving holiday in Poland, we're doing it cos our church meets in a rented building and once or twice a year they have an exhibition so we can't use the building. So we meet in smaller groups in people's homes. Good opportunity to spend some time together, 'have church', have a good nosh up etc.

I'm off to watch the Joshua Bell thing. I like foodie stuff too ...

From Tom Holzman
Posted on November 13, 2007 at 10:56 PM
Yikes! As they used to say on Hill Street Blues, "Be careful out there."
From Terez Mertes
Posted on November 14, 2007 at 4:43 PM
>"Be careful out there."

The great beyond; the place where even brave men fear to tread..... the Kitchen : )

From Ray Randall
Posted on November 14, 2007 at 9:47 PM
A few comments. Good writing, you had me cringing.
A sharp knife is safer than a dull one my medical friends say. Two reasons, as mentioned above; a dull knife slips easily. A dull knife slicing into layers of skin and tendons leavs ragged edges, a sharp knife cuts cleanly making a finger repair much easier.
From Ray Randall
Posted on November 14, 2007 at 9:56 PM
Forgot to mention, cuts like that, vs.
paper cuts which really hurt, do not hurt initially because the knife severs the surface nerves which transmit pain.
From Terez Mertes
Posted on November 15, 2007 at 4:30 AM
Loved your comments, Ray. All right, that's it; off I go to buy the self-sharpening knife! (My sister ordered it after seeing it advertised on TV. I think she got a set of Amazing Ginzu Knives If You Order Now, Hurry Operators Are Standing By as well.) No, actually, I would agree that dull knives are tricky to use, and it's really amazing how many households have really dull knives. And, oh my, this line made me cringe:

> ...because the knife severs the surface nerves which transmit pain.

Oh, jeez, I was severing nerves in the process?! Oh man. I feel faint. Someone bring me the smelling salts. Or how about a shot of tequila?

From Ray Randall
Posted on November 15, 2007 at 3:09 PM
Several very fine musicians in our Town and Country Symphony are medical doctors or in the medical field. I called a few after I wrote about nerves above and they agreed. Paper cuts don't sever nerves so you have pretty good pain for a tiny boo boo, (their words)
A famous concert violinist friend has almost a full machine shop in his basement and uses the tools and machines regularly. As he said "I'm not going to spend my life with my fingers snuggled in my armpits for safety. I enjoy making things, but I'm careful with these electric saws and routers. I have fun with them, but I'm not stupid."

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