By Christopher Cudworth
Following a 40-mile bike ride on a beautiful fall morning, it was a pleasure to get out in the back yard to do some late summer weeding and cleanup. The garden was cleared of extra weeds by my sister-in-law and daughter. Large piles of plant stalks were gathered in heaps. Others were stuck into buckets filled with rainwater.
For the first 20 minutes I wore gloves to stuff the plants into recycling bags. Then I took the gloves off to answer a call on my cell phone and went back to work. At that moment I felt the familiar prick of a sliver in the middle finger of my left hand. Pulling my hand back reflexively, I noticed the sliver and went inside to yank it out with some tweezers. My hands were wet from the dingy water at the bottom of the weeding bucket. I washed them up and put the gloves back on to go outside to work again.
That was a mistake. That spot where the sliver went in never healed up properly. It got red and I could not find the Neosporin right away. Turned out I had put it in the car for a Labor Day camping trip, but forgot about that.
By the time I did put Neosporin and a bandage on the sore finger things were feeling weird in there. A hard spot formed on the seam of the underside of the knuckle. The redness continued. It went on that way for two weeks.
It is interesting in a world where we work so hard to keep fit and be well that we can be neglectful when it really counts. After two weeks the finger started to swell and I regretted not cleaning it better that day. I could ride and run just fine for those two weeks, but was feeling a bit sluggish some days. It was apparent my body was fighting something. The infection probably.
Don't mess with nature
I’d seen firsthand that you couldn’t take even small infections for granted. Years ago during a camping trip something got under the skin of my forehead and the doctor had to cut an incision and clear it up. Whatever it was, he never told me. Might have been an infection, or a worm for all I knew.
You should not mess with nature. It’s full of all kinds of nasty bugs. If you let them get past your defenses, things can get wicked bad. A nurse that I knew went to Mexico three years ago. Wanting to treat herself to a pedicure on vacation, she went to a local shop and was pleased with the result. But by the time she got home she was so sick that her body went septic and she died. From a pedicure.
So I wasn’t about to piss around with a finger that was getting worse each day. That called for a visit to Convenient Care at a facility near my office. They x-rayed the finger to see if something was left inside, and then sent me to a hand specialist.
The hand specialist took a look and ranked the problem a “1 or a 2” in terms of problems he’d seen over the years. “But it’s good not to mess around. We’ll put you on antibiotics and see if it helps. If it’s a bacterial infection, that will take care of it. If it’s a fungal infection, we might have to try something else.”
A thorny problem
It turns out that fungal infections often come from rose thorns. Apparently something on those thorns can get into your system and mess you up bad. A friend down the block from my house works as a greens keeper for a country club. He got a thorn in the palm of his hand and it required surgery and heavy meds to clear it up. I saw him while walking the dog the other night and told him about my finger. He flipped his hand over to show me the scar on his upper palm, right where the pain and welling on my hand is most acute.
Injuries like this make me think back to other health challenges and injuries during my time on earth. The answers aren’t always simple and the cures aren’t always quick.
In college our entire cross country team developed Achilles tendon problems after a poorly planned workout on a cambered road. I went to the school nurse who prescribed anti-inflammatories. I wandered around campus in a drugged state for three days before our coach took us up to Mayo Clinic. The doctor took one look at the pills I’d been prescribed and told me. “This is how much they give horses.”
So it’s important to get checked, and get checked again.
I’ve got plans to run a 10K and start in mountain biking this fall. But if the hand requires surgery those plans could turn out to be impractical.
I’m no germophobe, but that's the tarsnake of combatting infectious disease in this world. You have to strike a balance between being too clean, which can lower your natural resistance to germs and other bugs, and assuming you'll be okay if you just wash it off with water and keep working. In that case, the bugs can and will get you. I'm learning that lesson the hard way.
It might pay to be a little smarter next time with the whole hand-washing thing, and a little medicine. The lesson here is that you don’t want infection to run away with you.