I recommend learning the word for “emergency” in any foreign country you find yourself in. At 10 pm, we — Jessica driving for the first time in Basel and me bleeding — were guessing at signs for the emergency room.
“Is that it?” Drip, drip, drip.
“No.” Drip, drip.
“There’s the hospital.”
“Wrong hospital. That’s the children’s hospital. And it’s not open yet.” Drip.
We finally located the ER. Jessica parked, I walked in and waved my bleeding finger at the receptionist.
Forty-five minutes earlier, I had been finishing loading the dishwasher when a ceramic bowl slid from my hand, smashed against the counter top and in jagged pieces somehow ricocheted across my ring finger, drawing a three inch slice that not only went deep but also created a disconcertingly large flap of skin hanging off. It revealed to me more of the inner workings of my finger than I ever cared to see.
Almost passing out at the sink, I applied pressure and cold water to the wound. Jessica doused my head in a cold washcloth to try to lower my nausea and dizziness. We were fortunate that one of our friends and neighbors not only came over to help dress the wound (she is trained in this) but also sat with the cats (who had sterilization surgery that day) while Jack and Adam slept.
The ER was very clean and very quiet. The first non-nurse to look at my finger was a male medical student, who took a look and felt I would need just two stitches and be off. I verified that an MD would be having a look. She finally arrived, a woman considerably younger than me, did a thorough exam and thought I had cut through some muscle. She called in the hand surgeon.
It was now 1:30 am and the surgeon, roused from her home, walked in. Another female doctor considerably younger than myself. She was from Lausanne and spoke French, German and English. She carefully examined the finger and then moved me over to the procedure room.
Though my finger was completely numb from anesthesia, I could definitely feel the deep probing and pulling as the doctor examined the slash with the aid of shinny metal instruments and a powerful magnifying glass. I had been given an anti-emetic and so was no longer feeling waves of vomit, but I was sweating profusely and stressed. There is something deeply existentially crisis-forming when you are fully aware of your insides being probed. Jessica had a quick look at the surgical field and didn’t feel so well herself. She recovered, and her hand in my good hand and her steady talk about inequality for women in the workplace both comforted me and distracted me enough to get through the procedure.
When all was said and done, I had damaged a main tendon and nerve. The surgeon stitched both, said they would heal, and put five stitches in the skin, lots of gauze, a splint, and more gauze.
By 3 am, Jessica and I were walking through the dead quiet cobblestone streets of Basel. The air was cool and it was nice being alone together. It was actually quite romantic.
(Public service message: “Emergency” is notfall (German), d’urgence (French), and de emergencia (Spanish).)