Putting a Finger on the ER Problem

Fingers are useful, more so than toes. While both are named and ranked, I would rather lose a little piggy than a finger, although if given a choice, I'd probably keep the big toe instead of a pinkie. But the other fingers are definitely keepers.

So when I mashed my index finger with a 300 lb. rock and saw blood pouring from a wide gash, I was concerned. I stuck the throbbing digit in my mouth and ran in the house. After washing it with cold water, the cut looked like it might need stitches. Since this was one of my main banjo picking, computer mouse clicking fingers and I'd heard that cuts should be stitched within one hour [Public Service Message: I have no idea where I read that nor what the current wisdom is about timeliness of stitches] and this was late Saturday when the doctors were lounging at the 19th hole, Carol rounded up the kids and we went to the emergency room at Poudre Valley Hospital.

I've been to several different emergency rooms throughout my life for gashes or broken bones. I know they're supposed to be for "real" emergencies, and not just if you're sick with the sniffles and can wait to see a doctor, but with the hantavirus scare, I'm liable to go on the weekend if I came down with a sudden, severe flu. And emergencies come in different levels which is why triage is performed. That's based on the root "tri" for three (triplet, trio, triangle), and was used initially in war situations where the wounded were split into three groups: those who could wait for care, those who needed immediate care, and those who were beyond care.

I've been triaged and done triage. Once I went in with a broken little finger (the unimportant one) and was dumped out of an examination room when an ambulance brought in several car accident victims. After a couple hours, a doctor looked at the x-ray, agreed that the finger cocked sideways and curled into a knot was broken, and told me to call the next morning. And when I broke a handbone while cross-country skiing, it was too swollen by the time we got down for anything to be done so I went to my own doctor the next day.

At the emergency room this last time, I filled out paperwork and got my vital signs measured, then sat in the waiting room and examined the cut. It had mostly closed. But we were there, and it could be broken. After an x-ray, I went to an examination room where a doctor saw the "main" cut, the part that had bled the most, was about a quarter-inch long. I could have covered it with a small shaving bandage. The bone was probably broken yet not displaced so all he could do was offer sympathy. I felt like a baby. "Can you kiss it and make it better?" Here I was with a sore finger when a boy came in with his head gashed by a boat propeller and someone else had flown in on a Flight for Life helicopter. I had just contributed to the nationwide problem of people abusing the place with non-emergencies. Granted, I didn't go in for a normal doctor visit because I was indigent, but I still wasted their time. However, when some part of you is damaged and covered with blood and you can't think straight because of the pain, an emergency room seems like heaven, especially if it's an important piece like a finger.