Friday, October 22, 2010

Never pick up a burning-hot burner

I wonder whether the Yale students I spoke to Monday noticed the blister protruding a quarter inch out of my thumb. It's hard to illustrate the depth into this pic (I didn't really get the angle right), but it was fully inflated when I arrived in New Haven Sunday night.

I moved to Manhattan July 12. So the good news is, I went just over three months without injuring myself switching to a gas stove.

The incident occurred early last weekend. I was rushing about on a quick breakfast break, and cleaning up the kitchen as I ate at the counter. I scrubbed a few things in the sink, poured a cup of reheated coffee with my right hand while I rinsed the last dish with my left, wiped quickly around the burners on the stove--it takes too long to pull them out and reseat them every time to clean the interior--and was about to squeeze the sponge dry and stow it when . . .

That little splotch beneath the burner irritated me. I decided not to let it go this time. I forgot I'd been multi-tasking there a few seconds earlier, bringing the day-old coffee back to a boil. I believe I have detected a design flaw in the iron black grates: they look wonderful, but they do not glow. They do not betray any indication of use.

Good thing I live alone. If I were married, I might have lost a husband to the flying burner. I had it several inches off the stovetop before the synapses in my brain erupted and instructed my thumb and forefinger to fling it across the room.

I was not aware of this thought forming. I heard it hit the wall, I saw my thumb inflating. I recall screaming something, but I'm fuzzy on what. Luckily I was at the sink, with the water running, so I had it in the stream fast. The freezer was right there, too, so I opened it with my free hand, whacked the ice cubes out and squeezed one against the bad thumb.

I've since learned ice is too much. You're to even supposed to run the water cold, just cool. The idea seemed sound: suck all the stoveheat back out of the thumb before the skin could die. It worked temporarily. The blister deflated almost instantly against the ice cube, though it was all stretched out already and I could feel a clump of skin hanging loose.

I really thought it was dangling free. It felt that way. I pictured that cocky doofus from an early Survivor who passed out in the campfire and stood up with hunks of skin hanging off his hands.

Ugh. That's really what I went to, instantly. I am shuddering just remembering that scene. I shuddered harder at the sink. That guy had to be medi-vaced--this was a much smaller surface area, but it's hard to operate without a thumb.

Before I had the nerve to look at it, I was trying to figure out what hospital I might live by and the best way to get there. Should I call someone? Who? I don't even know where a hospital is. I'm sure they've got some good ones on the upper west side.

I didn't want to risk pulling it away from the ice cube at first anyway. I gave it about thirty seconds, braced myself and pulled it free.

It was actually intact. And I couldn't feel anything over the sting of the freezing cube. I melted through an entire cube and part of another before I took a chance to check the pain.

Just numbness for ten or fifteen seconds, followed by a swift stabbing pain. Back against the icecube.

I alternated ice and running water for a good thirty minutes. Then I filled a pot with icewater to get mobile and look up treatment on the web. I watched a video that said go to the ER if it's on your hands or feet, but now that was feeling like overkill. I think. So I went to the Duane Reade pharmacy a block away.

The pharmacist winced at the sight of it, and said there was nothing to do but cool water, anti-inflamatories and then pain meds. (BTW, the home remedy of butter is a terrible idea. It seals in the heat and can make it much worse. You're supposed to keep it in running water all day.)

It was the worst possible spot on my hand--exactly the place I use to pick things up--but fortunately my left hand. I was working the sponge with my right.

Obviously, there is a matching burn on my forefinger, except that it doesn't match. It was trivial by comparison; the ice got it down to almost nothing. I always thought of my fingers working together in routine movements like that, equal partners and all, but clearly that's not the case. It's kind of cool to see such a graphic illustration of the lead role the thumb takes, and how much the slight difference in pressure changes everything.

The pharmacist advised me to get my doctor to phone in pain meds if I wanted to sleep that night. He said it would hurt like hell for days.

It was horrible that first day, still bad part of the second, and then mysteriously disappeared. It wasn't even lingering, no pain whatsoever.

It feels funny I keep thinking I have a band-aid on. That's almost the texture of the skin: outside part of the pad--and it's oddly about the size of a big one, and the same thickness of skin that doesn't move with the rest of it. I actually pull my hand back instinctively at the sink--don't get the band-aid wet--and then remember. That's how much it doesn't hurt.

It's looking kinda gross. (This is about ten minutes ago.) I'm afraid the unsightlyness has only begun. I can live with that.

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