One Nub Down, 9.8 to Go, and Life Goes On

Friday, June 6, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria

Life giveth thou the finger, and life taketh it away. (Detail of x-ray taken after the accident.)
On Monday, the first anniversary of my move to Algiers, I woke to howling wind and rain, unusual here this time of year. I scarfed breakfast, quickly showered and shaved, and dressed to head to the office.

Ducking the rain and juggling an umbrella and several bags, I left my apartment and dashed across the terrace to the building's stairwell. As I reached back to close the metal terrace door behind me, a fierce gust of wind suddenly heaved the door shut. I jerked my hand back and almost escaped it, but for the end of my middle finger, which the door neatly severed, just at the base of the nail.

In a fit of curses and coursing blood, I ran downstairs to my colleague's kitchen and plunged the throbbing finger under the faucet, wrapped it, and made for the clinic next door.

No doctor present. "But she'll be here soon if you'd like to wait."

No thanks. We drove to a well reputed clinic just outside town: "Nothing much we can do except bandage it up."

Soon I was home in bed, downing weak painkillers and antibiotics, trying not to think about the pain as I came to terms with the fact that I would now have a permanently shortened left middle finger.

* * *

A few hours later, a thought occurred to me: where was the end of my finger?

I lurched out of bed, my hand throbbing, and stepped out into the rain to scour the terrace. Sure enough, on the tiles just outside the fated metal door, there lay the end of my finger, blanched but otherwise immediately familiar, the nail still uneven from where I had gnawed at it while reading the night before. I quickly put it on ice, called my friend Kamel for a ride, and headed out for more adventures in the Algerian medical system.

* * *

"Can you reattach it?" earned me three different answers at the three clinics and hospitals we visited that evening. The first doctor scoffed, then sent us to "the only hospital nearby that might be able to help". It turned out to be worse than the few hospitals I have visited in sub-Saharan Africa. As we wove around a crowd of screaming patients and relatives and stepped over a smear of blood in the reception, Kamel, dejected and more than a little embarrassed, lamented, "It's amazing that with all the oil money in the world we still can't do better than this."

Abandoning that option, we finally arrived at my fifth medical establishment of the day, a public hospital in the Algiers suburb of Ben Aknoun. My severed finger nub now floated, hopeless, in a soggy paper towel and ziploc bag.

While the nurses cracked less-than-amusing jokes ("How much would you like us to amputate, sir? The whole hand?") the first competent doctors I had seen that day reviewed x-rays and determined that surgery was needed to smoothe protruding bone and properly close the wound. After all the time lost earlier in the day, it was too late to reattach the end of my finger, but they could at least make sure that what remained healed cleanly.

* * *

A few hours later and I was back home in bed, full with food brought by gracious friends and colleagues—who have generously continued to keep me well fed and entertained for the past few days.

The time at home has also given me a chance to reflect on and come to terms with my situation. In the short term, this accident has obliged me to temporarily learn to type with an impaired left hand, and to miss a work trip to Cyprus that I'd been looking forward to for several months. Longer term, when it emerges from the bandages in a few weeks my finger will be about a centimeter shorter than before, and that's just how it is.

Although it's certainly frustrating, I have tried not to focus on the fact that if this accident had happened in a different country, today I may still have a complete (if not completely functional) finger. As Kamel mused at one point during Monday's long circuit of hospital visits, "You never know: if you hadn't gotten your finger caught in that door, you might have driven away just fine but ended up in a car accident five minutes later."

He's right, I believe; this is just one of those random events that happens in life, and there's no use fighting it. And it could always be much worse: a fingertip isn't a major loss relative to what others suffer all the time. It was an unexpected part of the journey, but those happen everyday. This one will just leave a scar.


Unknown said...

Wishing I was there to feed you your pain pills :)
Hope it starts to feel better soon!

Susanne said...

Sorry to hear about the ordeal, Andrew, but at least you now know exactly where to go right away if and when something more life threatening happens....maybe a life saver after all.

Andrew G. Farrand said...

Thanks Susanne! Yes it's definitely been a learning experience, and I do feel more prepared for any future accidents here. Hopefully I won't need to put that knowledge to use!

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