Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Sunday, February 18, 2018

cram half“You have an intra-articular middle phalanx fracture.”

These words were delivered to me recently by a hand surgeon. They refer to an injury that occurred back in November.

I’ll start at the beginning. Several months ago, I spent the night with my daughter and son-in-law in Newtown. Tierney and I were horsing around (O.K., we were skipping) when I tripped and fell headlong in a spectacular swan dive. I landed with a thud, breaking my fall with one finger.

It appeared that the only serious injury was to my pride. Nevertheless, I iced the finger in order to appease my beloved son-in-law. End of story.

The next morning, my finger looked like a giant purple cucumber with a ring in the middle. It was obvious that the ring needed to be removed, so I called my husband for ideas. He suggested that I go to the emergency room to get the ring cut off. “The emergency room?” I gasped. “I was thinking more like the local hardware store!”

A compromise landed me at our friendly neighborhood jeweler, who did the job quickly and with appropriate humor. End of story, right?

Not so much. The finger continued to swell and turn colors so, under duress, I visited a walk-in clinic for an X-ray. The nurses were wonderful but the physician assistant had something of a “There, there, don’t you worry your pretty little head” attitude. Ultimately, they informed me that the finger was just sprained. I was given a splint and sent on my way. The end.

Once again, it was not the end. Several months passed and the finger remained swollen, painful and curved. It wouldn’t straighten. It wouldn’t fully bend. When both my physical therapist son and my psychiatrist urged me to see a hand specialist, I begrudgingly hauled myself to a doctor. I’m pretty sure I was the only patient in the orthopedic waiting room who was referred by a psychiatrist.

I was also pretty sure they’d laugh at me and send me home. I mean, a boo-boo on my finger?

They neither laughed nor sent me home. “When did this happen?” staff members inquired. “Does this hurt?” “How much can you bend it?” They measured angles and reviewed the original X-rays. They took a new X-ray.

After assembling all the information, the hand doctor presented his findings. “See this?” he said, pointing to a spot on the X-ray. “You have an intra-articular middle phalanx fracture.”

In other words, my finger was broken inside the joint. The emergency clinic doc had not detected it.

I am now the proud owner of a compression bandage that reduces swelling. I alternate it with a small torture device that looks like the metal clamp on a canning jar. This device slowly straightens the finger. I was assigned exercises and advised that the healing process will take a year. I could produce a baby in less time.

Several lessons have emerged from this fiasco. The first is that the son-in-law is always right. I learned that local jewelers are gems (get it?), and that orthopedic injuries cannot be diagnosed without an X-ray. Even then, there are no guarantees.

My experience highlights the reality that emergency rooms and walk-in clinics are extremely expensive, much more than most people expect, which is why people without health insurance live in more pain than those who have insurance.

Finally, I learned that one should never skip while wearing flip flops.

Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.