Tale of two pinkies

October 16, 2018
      When I was nine years old — which would have been about the time “You Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hound Dog” was a hit on the radio — I was playing wagon train in the basement with my brothers. A wooden chair toppled and caught my left hand between the table leg and the concrete floor cutting off the tip of my little finger.
       My mother snatched the sheet that decorated our “covered wagon” and wrapped my bleeding hand and dangling digit. It was a Sunday afternoon so Dad drove to the hospital emergency room. They called our family doctor at home and he told us to just return to the office and he would open it up for us.

Dr. Heibert’s office was more like a living room with stacks of old magazines and mismatched chairs. He sat me on the edge of the vinyl lounge in his exam room and placed my hand on one of those rolling tables. He pulled over a big lamp bright enough to give us a sunburn. Mom distracted me with a Little Golden Book she had found in the lobby, “Little Engine That Could” if I remember correctly. She held it up so neither she nor I could see the doctor’s needlework. Under that heat lamp Dr. Heibert reattached my finger tip, while talking to my dad about the difference between suture thread and fishing line.
       Fast forward more than 60 years.
       Last Saturday I tripped while walking down a neighborhood sidewalk and broke my fall by extending my right hand. I was thankful that I didn’t break my glasses or skin my knees, but by the next morning my hand had swollen into a black and blue catcher’s mitt. And I had no idea what to do. Daddy has been in heaven almost a decade and Mom is too many miles away to comfort me, so I called my son and daughter-in-law.
       “Just put urgent care into your cell phone,” Angela suggested.
        She was right. A list of options popped up complete with hours of operation, distance and directions. Within a few minutes I was standing in line at a MedExpress I never knew existed. And then I was getting irritated because they wanted me to sign a little black box not once but 4 times supposedly verifying I was being informed of this right or that. Wonder how legible a shaky signature from a swollen hand could possibly be?
        The friendly X-ray tech  posed the catchers mitt in positions that would have been acrobatic even in a less painful state, with a grid of fine red lines marking the positions like lasers on a target. The high tech x-rays were read by a well-equipped radiologist somewhere who spotted a break at the base of my right pinkie.
       “Too close to the joint,” the clinic doc said. He gave me a shiny slip-on sorta cast to protect my finger from bumps and a referral to an orthopedic hand specialist. I waited two days for the referral scheduler to call, and then the call was from an office in Holland instead of Grand Rapids. It would be three more days before a doctor could see me, or almost a week after the break.
       In the meantime my catchers mitt is healing and slowly returning to flesh color. I’m learning to brush my teeth and start the car with my left hand. And that shiny space age cast that is supposed to keep my pinkie from getting bumped sticks out so far that the little finger is constantly under assault.
       I know I should be thankful I didn’t break a hip when I fell. And I know I should be pleased there was an urgent care center nearby that’s open on a Sunday afternoon. And I should be happy that science has progressed to the point that there are physicians that specialize in treating hands.
      But when you are waiting a week for basic treatment it’s hard to call it progress. I miss Dr. Hiebert.