Monday, February 4, 2013

An Unkind Cut

By definition, an accident is something unintended and unexpected, an innocent mistake. In hindsight, so simple to avoid, but in the moment just before it happens, not even on the radar. I worry about accidents, but never about the right one. An accident is something that occurs when you're not worried.

I had a little accident the other day. So minor that I can afford to make fun of myself about it. A dumb mistake, but also a cautionary tale.

Here's what happened. I have a nifty little pair of scissors with a comb attachment that I use to trim my eyebrows (that's another story). The comb is removable for cleaning but it doesn't come off easily, and refitting it back onto the blade is even more challenging. After several frustrating attempts to insert the comb's protruding ridge into the groove on the blade, I finally succeeded. I also succeeded in cutting myself.

In pushing the comb onto the blade, I apparently also pushed the blade into the soft pad of my index finger. It was a small cut, about a quarter inch, but deep. I felt nothing at first, not until after I noticed blood, a surprising amount of blood for such a tiny wound. I thought of Sylvia Plath's poem, "Cut," in which she describes cutting her thumb:

Dead white.
Then that red plush.

Never mind the fact that in her poem, Plath slices the tip of her thumb almost entirely off. In my alarm at seeing the bright bloom of my own blood, I allowed myself a moment of maudlin identification. Then I calmly set about stanching the blood, first with a tissue, then with a tightly applied band-aid.

I had been about to wash up before the cut, but now found myself stymied when it came to flossing my teeth. I couldn't figure out how to do so without involving my injured index finger. I refused, however, to forego my morning flossing, which for me is a sacred ritual. My grandfather lost all his teeth and my mother lost most of hers. I'm determined to do everything possible to avoid a similar fate. Hence, twice a day, religiously, I floss. It takes longer than all the rest of my toilette and is not something I would set aside lightly.

With much difficulty, I accomplished the task by wrapping the floss around my middle finger. I won't go into detail, other than to say there was a lot of drooling involved. I then washed my face with one hand, not wishing to wet my bandaged finger and start it bleeding again. This sounds simple enough, but since the cut was on my dominant left hand, I felt more than a little uncoordinated. By the time I'd put on moisturizer and gotten dressed, I realized the process had taken me about twice as long as usual.

I was reminded of a simple truth—even the slightest injury to the smallest body part affects my ability to function. I take my wondrous body for granted until something happens to make me notice how interconnected every part of me is.

When I was in college, I sprained my ankle badly and couldn't bound across campus with my usual speed for several weeks. I remember feeling a newfound appreciation for the agility I'd always taken for granted. But once my ankle healed, that appreciation faded to a memory rather than a daily awareness.

Now, a little cut had shown me how much I rely on a single fingertip. I couldn't type comfortably for a couple of days and I had to be constantly mindful of my finger while doing a variety of tasks, from preparing food to taking a shower. Even retrieving a tissue from my pocket risked re-opening the wound.

The cut has healed, thanks in part to a wonderful product called liquid bandage, which protected my finger far better than band-aids. Since then, I've been appreciating my intact hand. And I've been trying to avoid accidents. I'm sorry to report that so far I'm not making much progress in that regard. A couple of days ago, while simultaneously walking and admiring a pelican flying overhead, I stepped off a curb and twisted my ankle. No harm done, but clearly I have a long way to go in my accident avoidance program.


  1. Ouch on both counts! Hope the sprain isn't serious.

  2. I grew up thinking that there were three types of actions: accidents, intentional but ill-directed, and intentional with positive results. Many Buddhist claim that intention is everything (for producing good karma), though a very few acknowledge that the results do matter. I understand that somewhere in Jewish law it "is written" that if a man falls out of tree "into" a woman, he has not sinned ... but if he thinks lustful thoughts he has. Freud certainly didn't believe much in accidents, though I hear that today's psychologists do. I know I'm more clumsy than some. When I do have an accident, I don't blame God for producing a weak tree branch (I once almost cut off the part of the branch that was holding the ladder ... just like in the cartoons). I often blame myself for "being careless." I guess I'm the son of Sigmund.

  3. Like you I thank my lucky stars when nothing worse happens to me than a small cut or bruise. It reminds one of the hardships those who are crippled have to live through - but then, most of us get on with our lives, and forget the fact that we do have nimble fingers that work those keys right! Thanks for a sensitive tale. As always.

  4. glad you are still writing! why is it that we cannot easily sustain the appreciation of our working parts (including our mental health, etc.) without a periodic reminder? 5 years ago I was hit by a car and both legs were broken. oh, how I longed to be able to do things again, anything! it did not take me long after I recovered to complain about mundane chores again. as much as I try to channel Ghandi, I often fail. I was blown away by the recent reports of the double arm transplant on one of our soldiers who had lost all 4 limbs. wow, that will make ya grateful!! Pat