A Magician's Worst Nightmare
Heads up. This might be a little gruesome for some.
Something that could’ve been much worse than it wound up being, but nonetheless caused me panic and anxiety.
I cut my thumb.
Now a few of you might be sitting there thinking, “That’s it? All this build-up for a cut on his thumb? What kind of wimp is this guy?”
But the truth is, it was a relatively deep cut that required a trip to the ER. And while I had the option of stitches, I opted for a quick glue-job to hold it together. Why? Because in less than twenty-four hours, I had a show to do and I didn’t want stitches, bandages, or any other medical paraphernalia getting in my way. So, a quick dab of surgical glue and a doctor’s warning of “this will probably leave a scar” later, I was all sealed up and sent on my merry way.
How’d it happen? Well, I was digging through the garage looking for all the tools needed to swap over my winter tires to the summer treads in preparation for my upcoming summer Fringe schedule. I came across a broken mason jar which promptly fell on my thumb, slicing me good. Luckily it was a pretty clean (albeit deep) cut, so it was already starting to heal together on the way to the hospital. But there was a sense of urgency and fear the whole trip there.
Now some of you may know that my educational background and my current career don’t exactly line up. For those of you who are unaware, I have a university degree...in Kinesiology. Which I usually joke is a “degree for lifting heavy things for fun and fitness,” but the truth is, it provided me with an extensive knowledge of the why’s, how’s and what’s of the human body...including a pretty in-depth knowledge of human hand anatomy.
So once the first shock of panic and pain from the accidental slice occurred, the logical side of my brain automatically started doing an assessment of what could be wrong. With all the suspense of a Prime Time medical drama, I started to identify and landmark all the tendon, nerve, ligament, and muscle tissue locations that run through a thumb. Once the glass jar was removed and blood started to flood the area, the lack of visual accuracy and sudden increase of pain put a cease to the impromptu examination, but definitely didn’t put a cease to the panic that was going through my mind.
Why the panic? Because the thumb (and honestly, all your fingers and toes for that matter) are actually quite complex and delicate. We don’t usually put a whole lot of thought into it...mostly because we use our hands for everything. Cooking food. Reading books. Performing magic tricks. Changing tires. Building houses. Our hands get put through some pretty tough stuff, but in reality, it doesn’t take much to do some serious damage.
For example, most of the muscles that actually move your fingers are located in your forearms. (You can see this for yourself. Squeeze your forearm just below your elbow and wiggle your fingers.) Tendons from those muscles run up your forearm, through your hand, and attach to the bones in your fingers. When those muscles contract, they flex and extend your fingers by pulling on those tendons. But, if those tendons get severed, what was once a fabulous example of Nature’s engineering becomes a useless stick of meaty flesh. Not only that, if a nerve gets cut, you lose sensation in your finger. Your (or in this case, my) thumb is no different.
To do what I do, I need a functioning thumb. So, when I looked down and saw a deep cut staring back at me, my brain went into overdrive. If the broken glass jar had gone just a few millimetres more in a different direction, tendons and nerves could’ve been severed. Which means that there would’ve been no sensation in the tip of my thumb, and it may never bend or extend ever again. Now that being said, these injuries do happen quite often, and there are a lot of doctors out there who’ve become really good at re-attaching those tendons. But even then, recovery is months of physical therapy, and it’s likely the function in that finger or thumb will never be what it once was. For a magician, that’s a very frightening thought.
So, in the car on the way to the hospital, I started to check things out.
Could I bend my thumb? Yes. Yes I could.
Ok. What about extending it? Yep, that too.
Any pain while I do so? Other than the cut itself, nope.
What about with resistance? All good.
That meant the tendons are still intact. What about sensation? I slowly stroked the tip of my thumb. Yep, I can feel that. No nerve damage. Ok, this might not be so bad after all.
And it wasn’t. Now about a couple weeks after the incident, what was once a sizeable slice on my thumb is now the beginnings what will likely be a not-so-noticeable scar. In fact, because it was such a clean cut, it doesn’t even look that bad. Likely, over time the scar will be just another mark lost amongst the other lines, wrinkles, and specks on my hand.
But that scar will be a reminder of how close I came to a serious problem.
I love my job. I love going to events, theatres, festivals and parties to amaze people, wow crowds, and make new friends. And while it’s not always easy to do what I do, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. And I’d hate to lose it.
So not only is the scar on my thumb a reminder of how a simple accident could’ve been disastrous, it also serves as another reminder.
It reminds me of how lucky I truly am.
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