David Shapiro
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By David Shapiro

Saturday, April 10, 1999

I may need my
head examined, too

After I wrote a column making fun of hospital emergency rooms a few years ago, it seems I spend a lot more of my time visiting them.

Since then I've been treated in the ER for 1) nearly cutting my thumb off with a chain saw; 2) breaking an ankle in a senseless fall; 3) breaking a foot chasing my dog over rocky terrain; 4) mashing a shoulder chasing the same dog over the same terrain; and 5) burning a hole in my stomach by taking too many flu tablets on an empty stomach.

A charitable doctor called me "accident-prone," but after my latest trip to the ER last weekend I think "total moron" is a better description.

This time, I slammed my finger in a car door (ouch). Actually, I had slammed my finger in the car door 10 days earlier but wasn't motivated to show it to a doctor until Sunday.

It happened in the parking lot when I arrived for work.I smashed the tip of my middle finger so tightly in the door that I couldn't pull it out. I lost my balance tugging and the finger finally ripped out of the door as I tumbled to the ground (double ouch).

It was bloody and swollen. But instead of proceeding directly to the doctor, I proceeded into the office to work and made it through the day.

After not going to the doctor the first day, it became easier to go on without treatment even though the tip of my finger grew to the size and color of a ripe Bing cherry and the nail turned ominously black.

My wife and daughter nagged me to go to the doctor, trying to scare me with tales of people who had died of bacterial infections. My boss noticed the finger and joined the chorus. But it was just a stupid fingertip and my macho urge was to gut it out.

I soaked the finger in warm salt water and it finally started to drain last Sunday as we were driving to a family dinner.

A single drop of the black ooze that came out was so foul that people in the far back of the van complained about the odor. I was thus shamed into stopping at the ER.

I wanted them to accept my self-diagnosis of a minor infection, give me penicillin and send me on my way. But they insisted on actually examining me.

"This looks really bad," the doctor said. She wanted x-rays, blood work and cultures of the gunk.

"Really, it doesn't hurt that much," I said. "I can function."

"Well," she said, "how well will you be able to function if the infection gets in the bone and we have to cut the finger off?"

They bombarded me with intravenous antibiotics and gave me huge pills to take home. They soaked my hand in iodine and blasted the muck out from under my nail.

I thought I was out of the woods, but the pain got worse and a few days later one of the doctors called.

"We got the results of your culture back. You've got some very nasty organisms growing in there," he said, mentioning words like "staph" and "E.coli." He put me on a stronger antibiotic.

I sit here wondering why I'm sharing this disgusting stuff with strangers. Maybe I feel a public service obligation to set straight other idiots out there who don't know enough to get serious injuries treated immediately.

Nah. Remember how little boys in grade school delight in grossing out the squeamish with gory details of their bloodiest playground wounds?

I guess we never outgrow it.

David Shapiro is managing editor of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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