Probably I shouldn't have looked in that NO ADMITTANCE HIGH VOLTAGE DANGER OF DEATH door. I was loitering on the ramp to the #7 subway train at Grand Central Station. I didn't want to go home to ... [+]
He put the finger in a small thermos and packed it in ice before going to the clinic. It was a nice warm sunny day, like most summer days.
The doctor at the clinic had never seen anything like it before. Never read anything about it in his studies or in his practice. He was a pretty new doctor though, that's why he was working in a clinic and not a proper office. Maybe others had seen something like this, but it definitely was an odd one. Didn't seem right that a finger that had always been attached would just come off. With no pain, no blood, no mark at all.
Did you notice anything unusual in the days leading up to this, the doctor asked. Maybe numbness or twinges or itchiness or heat. Some kind of warning.
No it just came off.
There's nothing I can do.
In the emergency department, he waited with his thermos for over four hours. Sitting next to him for a little while was a mother with her daughter who had broken her arm falling off a swing at the playground. Then a man who was really dizzy and had to lay on the floor. Across the room a construction worker who had punctured his leg with a nail gun. He had a bloody towel wrapped around the wound. They all got called in to be examined before he did. All of their conditions made sense.
When he finally got called in, he was examined by the nurse. She listened as he explained the morning's events, staring at the spot on his hand where the ring finger was supposed to be. He showed her the finger in the thermos. She asked if he had cleaned it up first because there was no blood, but he said no. There never was any blood. It just came off all closed up, like nothing had ever happened. At least that was how he had found it when it was tucked under his pillow. She asked him to wait and she left the room.
Three new doctors entered, two with clipboards who started taking notes. Probably interns. The doctor without the clipboard asked him to repeat his story. It just came off during the night, no pain, no warning. He found it tucked underneath his pillow when he woke up. So he put it in the thermos and went to the clinic and they told him to go to emergency. They didn't call it an emergency. They really didn't call it anything.
Have there been any strange medical occurrences in your family before?
One uncle went insane and jumped off a building because he thought he could fly. But that was all. Everyone else is healthy and happy.
Do you work with any toxic chemicals? Anything that could have deadened it?
I work at a desk.
Are you healthy and happy?
More or less. I was until this morning.
The doctor put on a pair of latex gloves then asked for the thermos. He unscrewed the lid, handed it to one of the interns, then reached into the ice and took out the finger. He examined it slowly, looking specifically at the end that should have been attached to the man's hand. It looked like a novelty item, like a rubber finger that you could buy in a practical joke store.
This really is your finger, the doctor asked. You didn't buy this in a store.
The man held up his hand and showed the spot where the finger should have been. There was no blood, no wound. But also no finger. The doctor nodded and the interns made some notes.
We could arrange for a prosthetic finger to be attached. It would only be for aesthetics though. It wouldn't be good for anything. All the nerves and everything are covered up since there's no wound. Nothing is exposed for us to work with so it wouldn't function. It would just be there as an appendage. Are you planning on getting married?
Maybe. I don't know. I doubt it. Why?
Well that's your ring finger. If you were going to get married, we could attach the prosthetic so you could still put a ring on it.
No that's ok.
The doctor put the finger back in the thermos. There's nothing we can do.
When he was waiting for the psychiatrist in the dark wooden office, he couldn't decide if he should lay down on the leather couch or just sit up. Laying down seemed so stereotypical. But so did the leather couch. He sat and was sitting when the psychiatrist entered.
I don't normally see people on such short notice but the doctor from emergency forwarded your file to me and it was too fascinating to wait. So you woke up and your ring finger was just off.
It was tucked under my pillow this morning. There was no blood, no wound. Just off. It's in here. He offered the thermos but the psychiatrist shook her head.
We should talk about your past. Your childhood memories. Were you abused? Were you loved? Did you experience trauma? Did you feel lonely? Did you have goals? Did you have nightmares? Did you wet your bed or question your sexuality or feel like a failure? Were you good in school? Did you have friends? Did you reject them or did they reject you?
We should talk about the present. Do you feel like a disappointment? Do you have a direction? Are you satisfied? Are you bored? Do you feel lonely? Do you have goals? Do you have nightmares? Do you sleep well? Do you drink or do drugs or look at porn?
We should talk about the future. How do you see your retirement years? What do you want as a legacy? Are you scared of dying? Are you scared of death? Do you believe in Heaven and Hell? Do you have a bucket list? Will you have regrets? Will you be satisfied?
We should set up a series of appointments. Starting at twice a week. There's a lot to discuss. I'll make the arrangements with my secretary.
The man held up his hand and showed the spot where the finger should have been. There was no blood, no wound.
Will all the talking help this?
The psychiatrist looked at the man emotionlessly. There's nothing I can do.
It was almost dinner time when he walked home, still sunny and warm. The thermos was in his left hand. Most of the ice inside had melted. A paper bag from the drug store was in his right hand. Inside the bag were three bottles of pain pills. Four hundred and fifty pills in total. Just in case. Should be enough, he thought. Just in case. Arthritis problem, he had lied to the cashier, never know when it's going to flare up. The cashier nodded and smirked but didn't care.
He stopped for a break and sat down on a bench at the edge of a playground. Kids on the swings, on the slide, on the teeter-totter. Laughter, happy yelling, game-playing, running. A bit of crying. Typical kid stuff on a typical summer day. Parents and guardians around the perimeter, almost paying attention.
A man sat down on the bench next to him saying nothing and without a glance. Just looking down at the ground. There was a space on his left hand where his ring finger should have been.