No more finger pointing

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Thirteen years ago I had a small house painting business that I ran mostly by myself. My wife would help me tape windows and sand window sills occasionally, but I mostly spent long days working by myself inhaling paint fumes and spraying some variant of bland eggshell paint on the walls of new homes.

Not having a lot of income from this particular job, I tried to get a few more coats out of an old spray tip that malfunctioned often, which caused a large drip of paint to partially block the spray pattern. I’d swipe my index finger across nozzle to clean this excess paint and go on with my business.

My left index finger as it appears 13-years after surgery.

On this particular day, I think it might have been a Tuesday morning, I found myself cleaning the nozzle more often than I had in the past, and in one angry moment, I caught my finger in the nozzle guard, and when I went to pull back to release the stuck finger, I inadvertently pulled the trigger lever, which my other hand held in a pistol grip.

Thirteen cc’s of bland eggshell paint blew my finger up like a huge, pale balloon. Surprisingly, it was rather painless at first, and I dropped the spray gun and grabbed the finger trying to push the paint back out the punctured opening. Nothing happened.

I called my father and asked his opinion of the matter. He suggested the emergency room, and so I drove myself there.

Ordinarily you’d have to line up with everyone else in the waiting room, and since I wasn’t bleeding, and I was breathing just fine, I figured to be there for a few hours before hearing my name called. But during triage, the nurse looked at my finger and said, “My, my, that is a bad bee sting.”

“Umm, Ma’am, that’s not a bee sting, I shot my finger full of paint.”

The nurse Betty smile faded from her face, and she turned my arm over to reveal a bright red line heading up the normally blue veins on my forearm.

It was all action from that moment on. I was hoisted onto a gurney and stripped of my clothes and dignity, while a team of people pontificated on the seriousness of my injury.

At one point, I managed to gain the attention of the surgeon.

“Excuse me, doctor, can someone get a hold of my wife for me?”

“Sure, how should I reach her?”

“She’s on a job site, so can you leave her a message on our answering machine?”

Had I not just had a large does of some drug injected into an IV I didn’t even know they’d put in, I would’ve realized that my method of contacting my wife was not that smart.

The answering message went as follows:

“Hello, my name is Dr. Leonard, and I’m a plastic surgeon at the Salem Hospital. I’m the attending emergency room physician on call today, and I just finished a surgery on Tim Akimoff. He’s in recovery and resting well. You can have the hospital page me if you have any questions.”

Had my wife heard that message, she might have just figured that my face had been removed by a rough patch of asphalt, or that my limbs had gone missing in some crazy wood chipper accident.

The top of my left middle finger is now the bottom of my index finger.

Luckily, my dad managed to find her at the job site, and he told her I’d taken myself to the hospital for some kind of finger injury.

Four surgeries later I had a shortened, yet usable index finger on my left hand. Dr. Leonard had used a relatively new technique called a deep tissue skin graft to grow a new section of meat and skin to my index finger, which was missing a quarter or more due to tissue destruction by the injection of all that paint.

I was sick for days because of the paint in my system, but the effects eventually wore off enough for coherency and the realization that I would not be able to work much during the six-month process of fixing my finger.

Indeed, I lost my business and had to sell off all my equipment, while the bills piled up in the corner of the kitchen counter.

The ensuing months are lost in a fog of pain killers, depression at having no direction in life, much less a career and punctuated periodically by big news events like the death of Princes Diana in a French tunnel.

Much of the next five years were spent wandering around the globe in pursuit of something permanent and fulfilling. But that time constituted the first real unemployment period of my life, and the differences between those helpless days and these are that I have purpose and direction now that sustain me, even if I don’t have a paycheck to qualify them.

And while I don’t use my short finger to type, I’m still glad I got to keep it. Thank you Dr. Leonard.


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