One Thanksgiving Day a few years ago I was brushing off our old porcelain enamel turkey pot and I got a splinter of porcelain (black glass) stuck in the end of the middle finger on my right hand. So I grabbed my trusty tweezers and yanked it out. To my dismay, the tip of the splinter seemed to have broken off deep inside. I tried and tried to dig it out with a straight pin and tweezers but I just couldn’t get to it. It hurt like crazy and there was a lot of blood so I couldn’t even see it. I needed to seek professional help.
“This…will be interesting.” I thought.
Dr. Milto, my doctor for the past 20 years, would have ordinarily dug it out in a couple minutes during a simple office visit, but he doesn’t perform any type of minor surgery in his office anymore - he said his insurance is too “cost prohibitive”.
So, a week later I was talking to a surgeon about removing a little thing on the back of my neck I asked him to dig out the splinter. It still stung a little but it wasn’t infected or swollen. He said “I’ll never find it - you have no idea how difficult it is to find splinters in fingers. It’ll work its way out - just give it about a month.”
So I gave it about a month and the splinter did not squiggle out of my finger. It stung once in a while but it was no medical emergency. I saw the surgeon again the 2 weeks after he took the thing out of my neck and I told him the splinter was still in my finger and I asked if he could please dig it out now.
The surgeon said, “You need to see a hand-guy. You need the help of a surgeon who specializes in hands. I’ll send you to a guy who has worked on my hands a couple of times, how about that?”
“OK, wow, thanks!” He handed me the name and number of the “hand-guy”. A doctor’s doctor!
So like a week later I found myself talking to the well-qualified orthopedic surgeon at this huge sports-medicine complex on the outskirts of Baltimore about my splinter. The facility was huge and very impressive and he was very serious. I told him my surgeon referred me to him and he acknowledged that he knew him.
“Oh yeah – Doctor so-and-so. He’s a good guy…I need x-rays of your finger.”
So he escorted me over to the x-ray department and a fiesty x-ray technician lady took a few big x-rays of my finger. “Make a bird! Perfect! You’ve done that before haven’t you? (Giggle, giggle, giggle!) OK hold it just like that!” Bzzzzzzz went the machine.
“Yes, I see it, there it is.” The surgeon proudly showed me the big film of my skeletal middle finger and there it was - the splinter, just shining away deeply embedded within. “OK we’ll set you up for surgery. Do want to be in a twilight state of consciousness or fully anesthetized asleep for this?”
I said it’s just a splinter and asked for a shot to numb the finger. “Are you sure?” he pressed me. I nodded yes. “Well, OK - now go see the surgical coordinator”.
So the big date was set up at the surgical center upstairs.
A week later I arrived at the surgical center and after filling out the form on the clipboard I was led inside to the prep-room. A young nurse was there and she said, “I know it’s just a splinter, but you have to take off all your clothes except your skivvies and put on this gown, footies, and surgical hat.”
So I rolled my eyes as she expected me to and followed her instructions (skivvies?). Then she put an IV fitting into my left hand for a shot of medicine I was to receive during the surgery. Then she made me write “yes” in permanent ink on the hand where my splinter was and then she took the marker and drew an arrow pointing towards the “target area” on my middle finger where the splinter was.
The surgeon came out and I showed him exactly where the splinter went in and at what angle. He whipped out another magic marker and drew a circle around the “target area” on the end of my finger.
“A nurse will bring you in shortly”.
Eventually a nurse came out and asked me more of the same questions just to make sure they knew exactly what was to occur and she then lead me into this huge, fully outfitted operating room. Now I’m not trained in the medical sciences but I think there was enough equipment there to facilitate a brain transplant.
Besides the surgeon, there were 3 other green-clad professionals there - nurses I suppose, forming the ‘surgical team’. I had to lie down on the operating table and a nurse strapped me down so I wouldn’t fall off. While an assistant held my hand and finger still, the surgeon gave me two shots to numb the finger. While the medicine was numbing me, another nurse sterilized my hand and arm up to my elbow with soap and water and that orange-red liquid that’s not iodine. After about 5 minutes, the surgeon sat back down, clamped the finger, made a tiny 1/2” incision, and yanked out the offending splinter.
“Do you want to see it?”
“Yes!” I said, and he showed it to me - it was indeed just a splinter.
One nurse said “Is anyone here with you today?”
I said no.
“Where are you going after this?”
I told them I would be going back to work.
They all nodded approval and thought I was very brave indeed.
I nodded and smiled and thought - come on you guys, it’s just a splinter…
The doc carefully stitched it up and his assistant dressed it in an cartoon-like over-sized bandage and then they helped me off the table (“Do you feel dizzy?”) and into a wheel chair. Another nurse wheel-chaired me over to the recovery room. I spent 20 pleasant minutes there drinking water and totally "recovering" I guess, and then the recovery room nurse gave me a prescription and sternly read my discharge instructions aloud. She brought out my clothes so I could get dressed. Then she called another nurse who walked me down to the front door and said “Good luck!” smiling.
Such a pleasant experience - only in America.
In the following weeks I learned that the doctor and sports-medicine complex submitted charges to my healthcare insurance company for $2917.00 for removing that splinter from my middle finger.