I kept my eyes averted and the nurse sat me in a wheel chair gently laying my hand, palm down on a large pad lying on a metal tray with wheels. I didn’t look. I didn’t even think about looking.
She told me she was going to inject something into my hand for pain. Tetanus too I guess, I don’t remember. I felt a needle or two or three in the top of my hand and then nothing. I had no feeling in my hand at all. Hooray! I had survived.
She gingerly folded the pad over the top of my completely numb hand and it almost made me laugh. Here she was scrubbing like crazy when it hurt and now that it didn’t she showed this great reverence. Whatever. I noted the irony and took this as a clear sign I was regaining my footing. I felt no pain at all and was ready to rebound now. She wheeled me into an exam room to see the doctor.
“Can you stand up?” she asked.
“Yes, of course,” I said.
My hand was heavy and felt like bliss. She explained the doctor would look at my hand and then he would dress it and talk to me. I listened with her words going in one ear and out the other. Nothing mattered to me anymore. I’d gotten what I wanted, I was out of pain.
I moved from the wheelchair with the angel nurse supporting my arm, one hand under my forearm, the other holding the blue pad up in a bunch leaving my hand suspended in a makeshift sling. I noted again how gentle she was. This was remarkable to me after that scrubbing. She was holding my hand as if breath could break it and I felt as if I were in a foreign land with weird rituals. Noting this, I went native per my nature and acted like it was normal.
I sat in a chair and couldn’t feel my hand under the drape at all. The nurse verified I was not in pain and told me the doctor would be right in. I thanked her and 30 seconds the doctor walked in. I liked him on sight. I’ll tell you something about me. I always know who my friends are. He told me he needed to look at my hand and asked if I wanted to see it. I didn’t.
I watched him as he lifted the pad up, blocking my line of sight in the process. He grabbed my arm and turned my hand over and I saw him blink. That was all. He didn’t say anything. He put my hand down and told me we were going to soak it. Disinfectant I guess. It was blue.
He had the stuff ready and he carried the pan over and very carefully lay my hand in it after verifying it’s numbness. I think he said there was alcohol in the stuff and it would sting like crazy, but I’m not sure. I was spent. He told me he did not want me to feel any more pain. He said, I’d had enough and I really liked this doctor.
With my pain free hand soaking in blue water, he started talking. He talked very slowly telling me that basically I had a worst case scenario on top a worst case scenario.
“What burn is worse than a welding burn?” he asked. “None I can think of,” he said, shaking his head.
I just stared. Huh? I really didn’t think it was that bad. I mean it was bad but it was okay now, right?
“The palm of your hand, Elsa. That’s the last place you want a burn, especially a burn like this.”
I wondered what he was saying. I wondered what he meant. Why? What is wrong with burning your hand?
He explained I had a very severe burn. If it were on my leg or arm or just about anywhere except my face or hands, I would have a bad scar and that would be that. But he said that the hand was put together in such a way that no matter what, there would be serious damage.
“We will not know the extent until your hand has healed,” he said. “The outcome is dependent on how the scars form.”
“Scars? I am going to have a scar?”
He just looked at me. I could see he was choosing his words carefully and I was grateful. I saw that he was an awesome doctor. This is very clear to me.
He said when the scars formed on my palm it would likely pull my fingers in and there was no way to tell the extent. He demonstrated with his hand, slowly curling his fingers up. He looked up and said that what happened was up to the Gods.
Basically the inside of my hand was fried. “Thousands of degrees,” he said. “Very hot.” Apparently the tendons, nerves, whatever, it was all shot. I kept quiet because there was nothing to say.
He said that my hand would take 8 or 10 days to heal enough to where we’d have some idea what came next. He promised me he would do everything he could to get me the best result possible and then his job would be done and I would need a new doctor. He wasn’t sure what kind of doctor I would need until he could see the healed hand.
“You may go straight to rehab to try to see what kind of use you can get out of your hand, or it’s possible that a plastic surgeon can do something with skin grafts, or some other kind of surgery that can help you some. I don’t know. I really don’t know Elsa. I have never seen anything like this so I will have to learn. I will be doing some checking on this.”
“You mean I’m not going to be able to use my hand?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what they will be able to do. I’m sure they will try to leave you with as much functionality as possible. The hand is very complex,” he said, opening and closing his own to make his point. “It’s just not possible to know this before it heals. From what I saw, and I am not an expert, you should be able to bring your thumb and forefinger together but no promises.”
I didn’t cry. I was done crying. I just didn’t believe this. Seemed like a heck of a price to pay for picking up a hand truck.
“I need my hand to do my job,” I said.
“Your route job? What do they call you? They call you the Frito girl, right? Is that what they call you?”
“Yeah, they do,” I said, wondering how he knew this.
“I think you’re going to need another job,” he said. “I’m sorry about that. I know what you do out there, I’ve seen you working. The Quick Stop? I stop there in the morning on my way to work. I’ve seen you in there working in the morning. I see you driving around on your truck. I see you going by all the time. You sing in that truck don’t you?” he asked.
“I do,” I said, happily. “Not very well but I’m loud,” I said with a smile. I thought he deserved one.
“That’s what I thought. I see you going down the road and I thought you were singing. It makes me happy that you do that. You have no idea. I always smile when I see you in that truck. That is one thing this town has going for it.”
I stared and he elaborated.
“My wife and I talk about this town and we sometimes talk about leaving. We talk about what we like about this town and what we don’t like about this town and one of the things in the column of things we like about this town, is that is has a Frito Girl. Yep. And that’s you. You are part of this town. I’ve seen you 50 times out there, I have always liked you and now I get to meet you and this has happened.” He shook his head. “It makes me very sad.”
I didn’t know what to say. I’d never seen him. I didn’t fathom my own notoriety.
I wanted to tell him not to worry. I wanted to tell him I would be okay, but apparently I would not be okay. It was too much to believe.
“I know how hard you work. I’ve never seen anyone work as hard as you do and I don’t think you’re going to be able to do that with one hand. I’m sorry, Elsa,” he said. “I know what kind of person you are. It’s obvious. I know you like your job. How many people sing at work?” he said with a crooked grin. “I don’t know any. Just you. You are the town’s singing Frito Girl; and you make my day every time I see you. You don’t see me do you? Have you ever seen me at the Quick Stop?”
He laughed. “Well that’s because I am just a doctor but you. You are the town Frito Girl and you light this town up and… you don’t deserve this,” he said, solemnly.
I thought he must be serious but I didn’t say anything. I just didn’t know what to say. I felt as if I were at a funeral, but I was not sure who died.
He took my hand and put it on a towel to drain and dry off. Gently. Very gently with the palm turned down. I couldn’t turn my hand over if I wanted to. It was completely void of all sensation up my forearm. He talked slowly the whole time and the effect was really nice. He started to dress my hand, telling me when it is covered so I could look.
He talked while he carefully wrapped my hand in gauze. His manner was supremely thoughtful; I knew he was thinking because I could see his wheels turn and I decided he was the best doctor I’d ever been to in my life. It was like my hand was the holy grail. I didn’t get it because I couldn’t feel anything but I did appreciate it. Slowly wrapping my hand, he outlined the program.
He said the dressing on my hand would have to be changed every 24 hours.
“I need to check for infection,” he said. “This is serious Elsa. Very serious. It’s so serious, I’ve considered putting you in the hospital. You have to promise me that you will show up every day to have your hand checked. You can’t miss a day for the next 8 to 10 days and we’ll have to see your hand each of those days. I have to check it. I’ll unwrap it, look at it, make sure there is no infection…and there won’t be. There better not be,” he said before pausing. The look on his face was pained. “Then we’ll soak it, re-wrap it, keep a close eye on it. Other than that we’ll hope.”
He looked at his watch for the time. “Today is Wednesday. It’s three o’clock. We need to do this exactly right. I want to see you here tomorrow at three o’clock and Friday at three o’clock. Our office is closed for the weekend, so I want you to come to the hospital on Saturday and Sunday.”
I was surprised. He was serious. The hospital? Because I picked up a hand truck? I thought it incredulous. He kept wrapping, slowly and carefully and he kept talking in the same slow manner.
“On Saturday I’ll be there, if you come before four o’clock and you will, right? Because three o’clock is your number. You got that. Right Elsa? Tell me you understand.”
“You know where the hospital is?”
He smiled. “Oh yeah. You drive around. You know where everything is. You’ve probably dropped off Fritos there.”
He was right. I had delivered Fritos to the hospital. I wondered if he might have driven a route before because he had all this awareness.
“Come through the emergency and ask them to page me. I want to see your hand myself. If they give you a hard time… well, never mind. They won’t give you a hard time because I’ll tell them you’re coming. They’ll be expecting you,” he said.
I nodded my thanks because I had no words. I thought it was moving too fast and crazy too.
“I’m sorry I can’t see you myself on Sunday. I have to be out of town with my wife’s family, but there will be someone there to take care of you. Someone I choose, and I will choose someone good. They’ll contact me if they have to. If something goes wrong, I will come back and take care of you myself.”
I stared him in confused disbelief.
“I’ll let you know who will take care of you as soon as I know. By Saturday. If I can’t find someone good, I’ll stay home and be there myself, work it out with my wife. I just can’t let anything happen to the Frito Girl if I can help it. You are the heart of this town and your care has been entrusted to me and I am not going to let you… or the people in this town, down.”
I didn’t say anything. What could I possibly say? I thought it was surreal so I just listened but I did listen closely thinking if it was this important to him, it must be important to me since it was my hand.
“I’ll set this up so you don’t have to worry. Just come to the hospital at three o’clock, okay? Tell them you are my patient and they will know how I expect you to be treated.”
“Okay, thank you,” I said, feeling slightly embarrassed. I really wasn’t used to be shown this kind of regard. It was like going from movie to movie to movie.
“Monday, you can come back here, same time and by the end of the week we should know something.”
My hand was wrapped in a huge mitt of gauze. HUGE. It made me laugh. “Got enough on there?” I asked him, grinning.
“Elsa, gauze is cheap. Do you know what will happen if you hand gets infected?”
“We would probably have to amputate it.”
I swallowed. What did he just say?
From the look on my face, I guess he thought he’d better explain. “It’s very easy for a burn like this to become infected. If it does, the infection will go straight to your heart and then all through your body. We would have to amputate your hand to save your life. It would be a race to save your life and that’s the remedy. Elsa, I don’t want to have to do that.”
I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t believe it. All I did was pick up a hand truck.
“But we aren’t going to let that happen.I’m going to make sure that not one germ gets in there and that is not going to happen. Got that? That is not what is going to happen.”
“Say it to me again.”
“You’re not going to take this off, right?” he asked, indicating the gauze.
“Well then no germ is going to get in there. I am not taking chances Elsa. We have lots of gauze. If we run out, we’ll get more.”
“If we run out, we’ll just go to Quick Stop and buy some more because your hand is what we care about.”
I laughed. He could see I was moved and grateful and he smiled.
“Okay. The shot in your hand is going to be good for about four hours. Maybe six. I have called in some prescriptions to Safeway. Is there someone who can pick them up for you?”
“Okay. You aren’t going to feel a thing. Just make sure you take the pills on time. I don’t want you to feel any more pain. Your body needs energy to heal.”
I think he also gave me an antibiotic just in case.
“You’ll be back tomorrow at three o’clock, right?”
“Okay, you can go. Can you call someone to come get you?”
“Okay, Elsa, you can use the phone at the desk. I’ll see you tomorrow. Don’t touch that dressing, okay. And Elsa? I’m sorry.”
“Okay. Thank you. Um…see you tomorrow.”
“At three o’clock.”
Skip to Part 8 – Taking Stock