The scar on the back of my right hand has faded with time. At one point it was so prominent and dark, it garnered attention wherever I went. It’s easy to understand why; it’s two inches long and is straight over the bone that is connected to my ring finger. Nowadays people don’t notice it unless I point it out or they are spending a long time looking at my hands (and honestly that says more about them than anything else). Occasionally someone will ask me about it and I give them a shorter version of this story:
It was the summer before eighth grade. I was 14 and hanging out with my two best friends at the time, Hannah and Kristen. Kristen and I were spending the night at Hannah’s house that weekend and it was a glorious summer Friday, full of romping and fun.
We were driving back to the house; Hannah’s mom was driving, her grandmother was riding shotgun, Hannah was sitting behind her mom, I was sitting on the right and Kristen was sitting in the middle.
At some point we al got involved in a silly game that centered on trying to keep the back windows rolled down while Hannah’s mom tried to keep them all rolled up. There was laughter and horsing around as we would reach up front to turn the window child-lock off and Hannah’s mom would reach back to try to distract us from rolling the windows down.
(Honestly, looking back now the situation was kind of dangerous and silly for driving. I guess it’s a miracle more of us didn’t end up hurt.)
It happened when I was reaching forward to grab Hannah’s mom while she was reaching diagonally back to grab at me. Somehow her arm pinned my right hand down against Kristen’s leg. She moved her arm and my hand moved with a rolling motion and there was this NNNNGH feeling in my hand and OH MY GOD IT HURT SO MUCH.
It was such a fast and slight moment that I didn’t know what had happened. I held my hand to my chest and sort of curled up around it, shielding it from the rough housing that continued around me.
No one else noticed I had gotten hurt until we had firmly arrived back at Hannah’s house. I was crying softly and generally just trying not to make a big deal about it but Jeepers Crow it fucking hurt. I had never had anything hurt that bad before and I couldn’t figure out why.
We got inside and Hannah’s mom looked over my hand. It had already swelled up to nearly twice its size. She asked me if I could make a fist. I did and it huuuuuuurrrrrt like fiery daggers of death to move my ring finger. She was completely baffled by it. Something had obviously happened but it’s not like she had hit my hand with a hammer. Declaring it to be a pulled tendon, my hand got wrapped in an ace bandage and put under ice.
We left it that way all weekend.
My hand stayed swollen and hurt like a sonnova bitch anytime I tried to move my ring finger. There was an unfortunate moment when Hannah, Kristen and I went to the pool and were playing some sort of game that was like tag but less “tag” and more “grab.” Hannah was it and she grabbed me by my swollen and injured hand. I yelped and yank my hand away, tears springing in my eyes.
“Oh crap!” Hannah said when she realized what she had done, “Sorry! Sorry!”
When I got home on Sunday my mom honed in on my hand with suspicion. I told her what had happened and she seemed puzzled by the apparent lack of crazy action that would have caused such a serious injury. Also it turned out that she misunderstood my original story and thought the injury had happened that very day when it had happened on Friday.
So she told me that if on Monday morning my hand was still swollen we would go to the hospital. I got to endure one more night of trying to sleep with this jacked up hand (if I fell too deep asleep I would end up rolling onto it or moving it and waking up with a cry of pain) before getting to get some medical attention.
Sure as shit my hand was still swollen to over twice its size on Monday, so my mom loaded me up in the car and drove me to the hospital she worked at.
I told my story to the nurse (which made my mom realize she had misheard the date of the incident, causing her to apologize to me profusely) who said, “Well it certainly sounds like you broke your hand.”
I held my hand still on a board while they took the x-rays. It wasn’t even five minutes later when the chipper nurse came back in and said, “Yup! You broke it!” And sure enough, the bone underneath my ring finger (your fourth metacarpal for you medical geeks) was split in twain.
The nurse motioned at the break, “See this? You twist broke it. Most breaks are simple and flat.” She mimed with her hands a straight break; lifting them up as if she were holding something and then bringing both hands down.
“But this is a twist.” She held up her hands again and rolled one of them forward while moving it down. “It’s such a particular break that you really need to see a hand specialist about it. They might let it heal normally but it could require screws or a plate put in by surgery.”
I was so stoked. This whole thing struck me like some sort of bizarre adventure and I really thought it was the Coolest Thing Ever. I even called Hannah’s mom to tell her all about it.
“What?!” She shrieked upon finding out that she had inadvertently broken my hand.
“Yeah!” I said in a chipper tone of voice, “We have to take the x-rays to a specialist tomorrow and I might have to get surgery and everything!”
According to Hannah, her mom hung up the phone with me, went into her bedroom, laid down on her bed and started to sob inconsolably.
The next morning both of my parents and myself had to wake up bright and early so we could drive to the Big City (not actually that big but compared to everything around us, pretty huge) to see the specialists. I was still looking at the whole thing as a Grand Adventure and didn’t see any potential downsides to this outcome.
We gave my x-rays to the specialist and talked about my injury and what the nurse had said about the twist break. The woman made me make a fist with my right hand and I tried my best not to cry as I did so (seriously, unbearable pain). I looked over and saw my mom crying profusely.
That was the first moment I felt scared about this whole thing.
The specialist left us alone so they could look at my x-rays. When she came back in she had surprising news for us.
“You have a bone tumor,” she said as calmly as if I had asked for the time.
To say we were shocked would be an understatement. Anticipating our confusion the specialist put my x-ray (the very one taken by another member of the medical community! A professional!) onto one of those backlit whiteboards you always see on TV and pointed at the broken bone.
Huh. Now that we were looking at it again it did seem kind of… Bulgey. Actually, it was easily twice as wide as the other bones that were next to it. But unlike the other bones it didn’t have as much of a bright white look to it on the x-ray.
The specialist explained that the tumor was an enchondroma; a benign tumor that grows inside the bone, eating away at the marrow and the bone itself.
“See, if you look here the edges of your bone are as thin as a piece of paper right now. That’s why it broke so easily. You could have fallen, caught yourself on your hand and still broken this bone.”
Then came the question of treatment. It turned out that I would need surgery to drain the tumor but not until the bone had healed on its own. It was explained that they needed control when they drained the tumor to prevent stray bits of it escaping into my bloodstream to wreak havoc on my other bones.
I ended up getting my right hand cast, down my wrist, about halfway to my elbow with my middle finger and my ring finger cast together up to the second knuckle. The doctor explained that there was a good chance that my ring finger would “drift” a little forward since it was essentially untethered to the rest of my hand. She also explained that when they did get rid of the tumor they would have to scrape chunks of it off of the growth plate at the top of my finger which could cause that finger to “either grow slower or faster than the rest of your fingers.”
I got to spend the first six weeks of the new school year getting constantly asked if I had broken my wrist. Each time this happened I would reply as happily as I could, “Nope! Got a bone tumor!” And then I would scuttle off as quickly as I could so they couldn’t ask any follow up questions.
I had to do that whole showering with your limb encased in a plastic bag thing too. It was pretty freaking awful and the way my fingers were cast made it nearly impossible to write by hand. My school tried to compensate by giving me a little type pad thing to write assignments on but it was as archaic as a Speak & Spell. It had a small rectangular view screen that only showed the most recent 20 characters of text so it was impossible to look over what I had written before to make sure I hadn’t fucked up. It was honestly easier to just learn another way to hold my pencil and write it out that way.
But then the time finally came for my surgery. First I had to go and get the cast removed. Then x-rays to make sure the bone was fine and still full of tumor (spoiler alert: it was). Then I would have to come into surgery two days later; two days during which I had to be careful not to accidentally re-break my bone lest I be forced to endure another six weeks cast up.
(My mom was so paranoid that I was going to accidentally break my hand again that she actually made me sleep in the living room so she could keep an eye on me and make sure I didn’t roll onto my hand and shatter it or something.)
The morning of the surgery came and I felt hungry and scared. Hungry because I obviously hadn’t been allowed to eat or drink anything since midnight the night before and scared because… Well, it was surgery. I’d never broken a bone or had surgery before and now with one fell swoop I had had my first of both (I am a firm believer of killing two birds with one stone).
We got to the hospital and the staff let my mom come back with me to at least the changing room. I had to remove everything but my underwear and put on that humiliating open-back robe. The whole thing felt like a bad dream.
A nurse came back and looked at my right hand.
“It’s this bone, yes?” She asked me, pointing to the correct spot.
After I nodded my assent she pulled out a blue Sharpie and proceeded to write “THIS BONE” directly over it.
My faith in the doctor and the medical world in general took a strong nosedive in that moment.
Soon the time came for her to lead me back to the operating room (where my mom couldn’t follow). She was crying silently but trying to tell me I would be okay. I felt numb and cold as I padded barefoot down the hall, following the nurse, trying to remind myself that this was no big deal and that I Would Be Fine.
I had to lay down on a table and had my right hand placed on an extended arm rest angled away from my body. I shivered with cold and nerves until a nurse noticed and put a glorious heated blanket over me. Everything suddenly felt a lot less scary.
Because I have small, easily collapsible veins (my mother calmly explained to me that I have “crap veins” when she was looking at my arms one day) they ended up putting my IV in on the side of my left wrist. It stung horribly but I did the obedient thing and didn’t move until they taped it down.
“Good job!” One of the nurses said to me, “You’re the first person we’ve had today who didn’t struggle!”
I turned and watched the anesthesiologist administer my drugs into my IV line. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Okay, I’ve given you something to make you sleep through the operation. You’ll fall asleep before they start and you won’t wake up until long after they’re done.”
And that’s the last thing I remember until I woke up in my hospital bed, holding my covers up close to my face, having no memory of where I was or how I’d gotten there.
I silently panicked for a few seconds as I tried to look around at where I was (a fact made more difficult by the fact that I didn’t have my glasses). Finally I looked down and saw my right hand all wrapped up with an IV coming out of my left hand. I exhaled the breath I hadn’t realized I had been holding. I remembered where I was.
It wasn’t long before my parents were brought in and we all laughed happily together. Time flew as I was allowed to get dressed and leave with my parents to get an early lunch and go home. Not even a week later I went back in to get my stitches removed while the doctor tried to sling some scar reducing cream to make it invisible.
I staunchly refused and declared that I LOVED my scar and if anything, I wanted it to remain more visible for longer. She just looked at me as if I had started speaking gibberish and shook her head.
I didn’t learn until well after the fact that my bone had been filled with synthetic bone marrow. Even to this day it is about twice as thick as the other bones in my hand. My knuckle also did end up drifting a little bit and now my ring finger sits slightly off from where my other fingers sit.
I also learned that student surgeons had been in the room during my surgery. Apparently I got to be a learning experience for all of them, much like frogs were for other people during high school biology. It’s strange to think about myself lying unconscious, intubated, hand cut open, while my doctor explained to them all what they were seeing and how the surgery was supposed to go.
Just like I wanted, my scar was very visible and got lots of remarks the first few years I had it (the first time I went skiing after my surgery my whole hand turned light blue and my scar turned dark purple. My hand didn’t feel cold and it wasn’t frost bite so I have no idea what happened) but it wasn’t long before it started to fade.
It’s still here after all this time. A little physical reminder that even the most mundane of injuries may turn out to be something Completely Unexpected.