Across each time zone, hidden from the light of day, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people lie awake, unable to fall asleep. Some suffer from insomnia. Others are light sleepers and have their sleep interrupted by the loud TV or stereo downstairs. Some made the mistake of drinking an extra-large latté after dinner. A handful might even be on the run, whether from the police, a rival gang, or assassins sent by a mysterious power broker. And then there’s me, lying in bed with a throbbing, swollen thumb, cursing my own tired stupidity.
Just a few hours earlier as I was getting settled to sleep, I quickly reemerged from my comfortable bed and the warmth of my girlfriend’s company to close more doors in my suite and muffle the loud, rumbling bass of my neighbor’s music. As I slammed the door with disapproval, contempt, and weariness, I didn’t notice that I had placed my thumb between the door and the frame. It’s often said that paper cuts, however small, are so much more painful than large gashes and scrapes on much less sensitive parts of the body, like one’s shins or arms. If paper cuts expose the nerve endings in the fingers to the harsh air, imagine what it is like to have those nerves crushed and dozens more compressed by rapid, internal hemorrhaging.
Despite the pain, I decided not to go to the off-hours, college Urgent Care facility. The last time I went there, I had been punched in the face during an intramural soccer match, leaving a wide enough gash on my eyebrow to require stitches. However, I had to wait four hours before I received any care, even though I was one of two patients in the facility. I was not pleased. I ended up disinfecting the wound myself in the men’s room and using paper towels to stanch the bleeding while the nurses chatted the hours away. This time, I decided that it would be better to wait for the normal outpatient service to return in the morning.
Yet, here I was, lying on my back, restless, frustrated, and angry at just about everything that popped into my head. Angry that the urgent care facility was a joke (e.g. I wouldn’t be surprised if the first question they asked was, “Were you drinking?”, closely followed by “Are you pregnant?”). Angry that it was too ridiculously cold outside to venture out in the middle of the night to seek substandard care. Angry that despite my excruciating pain in my hand that felt like it was throbbing as loudly as the bass next door, my girlfriend was sound asleep beside me, oblivious to my state of misery. I started feeling sweaty and feverish and had difficulty deciding whether to keep the covers on to stave off winter’s bite or shrug them off to cool the delirium.
By the next morning, my nail bed of my thumb was, in full, the darkest shade of violet. My anger had subsided, but my feeling of stupidity was reinforced by my girlfriend’s concern and question, “Sweetie, why didn’t you wake me?” Somehow, biting my tongue about a jammed thumb didn’t seem so manly as it might have at 3 in the morning. We immediately went to the student health center as soon as the evening shift was over, and I was promptly seen by a doctor who came up with a quick solution: a cauterizer. He explained that the trauma to my thumb broke blood vessels that were pouring their contents under my nail. He was going to relieve the pressure on the nerves in my thumb by burning a small hole into the nail to drain the blood. If there was no damage to the nail matrix, it would simply grow out and my thumb would be back to normal in a couple of months. My girlfriend, in a more keen and cheerful mental state than myself, asked the doctor, “What is the Matrix?” I smiled in appreciation of the joke, but sadly the doctor didn’t recognize it and instead answered with a quick medical explanation. Well, at least I was in a stable enough mental state to appreciate jokes now. The procedure went without a hitch, and the pain was relieved instantly. For the next several weeks, I occasionally stared at the hole in my nail with the comforting observation that it was progressing forward to the edge and would soon be gone. And also, I would think to myself, “Well, that was easier than expected.”