PC 52 My Thumb

I always take for granted that I have good health and that, providing I keep myself reasonably fit and eat reasonably healthily, I shall continue to enjoy a long and fun life. But as I enter that age when the names in the obituary column of the newspaper become familiar, I am reminded that there is neither rhyme nor reason as to who lives for a long time and those whose lives are unreasonably short. What’s reasonable or unreasonable, you may well ask? Well…….

Although not ambidextrous, I take for granted my dextrous agility with two hands, the right one being dominant. I have 8 fingers and two thumbs, some might say10 fingers. The span of one hand is about 9 inches, the thumb an inch long and the width of a hand excluding the thumb approximately 4 inches. From the tip of my fingers, at arm’s length, to my nose is about a metre (39 inches). (Those of you with mathematical ability spotted the conversion error in my last PC about Foz, but I am assured that a metre is about 39 inches!). We even have a ‘rule of thumb’ in our language – a general or approximate rule, based on experience and practice. Until you lose the use of your thumb, you don’t realise just how useful it is, this digit that allows us to hold things, between thumb and forefinger, that allows us to twist a bottle top or unscrew a jar, for instance. And that pad at the base of the thumb, useful for determining whether meat is rare, medium done or well done! All in all, it’s a very useful part of the body.

The last 24 hours in Rio de Janeiro arrived last Wednesday; a couple of hours on the beach, lunch, the final bits of packing …….. then my life turned upside down! It went something like this. I am sure at some stage in your life you’ve watched a cooking demonstration or a demonstration of a ‘must have’ kitchen aid? The sort of thing that the British company Lakeland stocks; originally an online outlet, it’s been so successful that it’s opened some high street stores – selling all that ‘stuff’ you never thought you needed. Well, have you even bought a Mandoline? Not to be confused with a Mandolin, that stringed instrument of the ‘lute’ family, a Mandoline in the kitchen is a gadget for slicing fruit and vegetables thinly; adjustable, at its thinnest setting a slice of cucumber or pear can appear translucent. When you need one, it’s brilliant; when you don’t, it sits in the cupboard/on the shelf. Occasionally I cook something in Rio …… and thought that the kitchen needed a mandoline. Bought in February, it’s been unused for 6 months, so I was asked to demonstrate.

Set up, a courgette was duly sliced thinly, using the safety device that is actually an interface between your hand and the vegetable/fruit and blade. Anxious to show its versatility, I picked up a small potato, altered the setting so the slice would be thicker, then with typical stupidity masquerading as overconfidence, pushed the potato against the blade, without the interface! The first slice was perfect, the second was equally perfect, except that it came with the addition of a slice of my thumb. One of those “Oh! S**t!” moments in life when you wish, very sincerely, as if this would make a difference, for the ability to turn the clock back – even a second would have helped! I’m sure my subconscious registered what had happened before my brain went through that “Oh! S**t!” moment. I am reminded of that story from the Battle of Waterloo, of Wellington sitting astride his horse with his Chief of Staff, Lord Uxbridge, next to him, watching the progress of the battle. Suddenly Ubxbridge’s conscious kicks in – “By God Sir! I’ve lost my leg.” he exclaims! Wellington looks down the bridge of his long nose at his Chief of Staff’s uniform: “By God Sir! So you have.” At this point Uxbridge fell from his saddle in shock; he survived the amputation.

I stared at the thumb, altered in shape as it was by the removal of a thick slice of my skin and epidermis. I’m always rather relieved to see my own blood, good and fresh and very red, healthy you might say; except in this case, aided no doubt by my daily Asprin to reduce the likelihood of blood clots, there was a lot of it! And more seemed to be produced as I stared at it – these few seconds frozen in disbelief. Brief thoughts of ‘What if …..?’litter our lives like confetti after a wedding and they filled my little brain! I lifted my arm above my heart, hoping that the flow would slacken, going against gravity as it were. An icepack materialised. I think I’m pretty unflappable in a crisis, so watched and listened whilst everyone else discussed what to do. This was, after all, about 3 o’clock; only seven hours before our flight departed.

“You’ll need a stitch.” was the general perceived wisdom and that this should be performed as quickly as possible. In the UK you would either go to your GP practice and hope nursey was in, or go to the A&E department of your local hospital. Brazil’s public hospitals do not have a great reputation so the private sector flourishes. I learned that I would be taken to Clinica Dermatological de Ipanema. So, bundled into a car, through the tunnels under Os Dois Irmáos, skirting Gávea and along the south side of Lagoa, and eventually into Ipanema. The clinic has been warned of my needs, and within 10 minutes of arriving, Dr Andrea Sanchez ushered me into her room. She was too polite to say what surely was going on in her mind, just accepting that I was obviously a complete prat! I didn’t think she would pull the skin close enough together to be able to thread some stitches but I was wrong! Five were eventually expertly tied off. Funny how the smallest of cuts can be hugely painful!

A slow journey in the traffic back to Iposeria, time for a shower and then we were off; I held my bandaged thumb as if it was some prize pumpkin; what a prat! And all for the sake of a slice of potato! We never did find the piece of flesh ……! Funny life, innit!

Richard Yates – richardyates24@gmail.com

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