No , this is n’t a story about guns and triggers.It’s not about rootin’ tootin’  shootouts  or even about politics or warfare. It’s a true story ,though….

Mad …I know . Like many things in life , it is the absurdity that sticks to the story of your life like dark clay to your shins . It is the foolish decision that becomes the legend and from  which yarns are spun and tales are regaled . It is what our lives become reduced to . When whoever is left to  remember you at the end of your earthly span and is  sitting around your coffin drinking a cup of proffered tea and nibbling on an unthought of and unwanted biscuit…..the stories that will be told are the ones where you made a right eejit of yourself . Whoever  is sitting there remembering , he or she will not be talking about the great things you did in life .They’ll be chuckling  about the time you slipped on the ice and ended up in the hospital , or the lost weekend that ended with you going over on your ankle and spending the following morning getting X-Rayed , or the time you were hung up with the coats at that mad party because it was the safest place to put you in your soused and poteen-befuddled,  teenage grandeur…It’s the stuff that falls down the gaps of your life that everyone remembers.

Anyway , you may as well hear this one from this horse’s mouth , so to speak, before someone else tells it . It started when I was working  in one of the  many and varied jobs I’ve experienced throughout my life.In this case I was toiling   in a factory some years ago . It was a big American company . An engineering world- straddler  with all the usual inflated and pretentious   gubbins that that implies…”Mission Statement”…writ large  and the like . You’d think before you worked there that you were applying for a job at NASA or somesuch , such were the hoops that had to be jumped through and negotiated before being allowed through those hallowed doors. My stars , you even had to  go through a medical exam and two interviews to make sure you could walk and talk at the same time . In my case, I also had to do a month -long course on how trucks are built; how they broke down into their separate pieces….In fact a group of us had to deconstruct one and then re-build it over a period …just to prove , no doubt , that I was actually serious about getting this job. I’d never done any engineering before  but like most things in life , most jobs of any description  usually involve nothing more than  a bit of common sense and the ability to listen and learn…and then to work your arse off…. Well..of course I was serious…sort of…Crikey!! I had a young family to support by this stage and any job that would feed them was alright by me . I had spent about eight years as a salesman before this gig and I was really on the cusp of burnout anyway. I needed a stress-free change ..and this would do just fine ..until I was bored rigid or until something else came up.

Stress-free? ..Well, not really. Is anything stressfree when you have to do it. When you ‘ve got children , you have to do it, haven’t you? You have to rise at some ungodly hour and schlepp down the bleary-eyed motorway  or alternatively race back up it at an unholy time of night. Eyes half-closed, fighting off sleep and the possibility of crashing the car as the monotony, lack of sleep and plain exhaustion attacked ..There were times during the winter when daylight was barely  seen. Anyway  the job was as demanding as any job that had to be done well and there was always the pressure of time and motion .So many units  made properly in so little time . It was physically demanding .That’s how all jobs are structured when they’re done for money rather  than love. Anyway , one Friday , just as the fortnight’s summer holiday beckoned,  I was working hard and with some gusto when the bolt I was levering into place with an airgun and a large spanner fought back .The spanner caught my thumb and the action forced it back in a very painful way . There was much cursing but work went on.I finished my day by visiting the doctor who strapped it up .I spent the holiday driving down through Ireland with my bandaged thumb sticking aloft the steering wheel , giving everyone a  large ,white cotton  thumbs up. Something to joke about.

When the holiday ended, i was soon back to work but the thumb still held an upright aspect .It  wouldn’t bend properly,  so regular physiotherapy was recommended . I attended the local hospital after work for several months  but to no avail,  so then it was back to the doctor, thumb , still aloft for further advice .No matter how many rubber balls I grasped and squeezed, this digit was not for turning. The opposible thumb,  we humans take so much for granted , is a  prehensile device that because it rotates completely on its own axis, allows us to accomplish many  delicate  tasks that other creatures will never be able  to do. Some lemurs  and a few Old World monkeys are equally gifted but not  all. Not too many dolphins , no matter how intelligent they become,will write the great novel ….Writing …holding a pen…became a very awkward proposition , for example .To hold a pen properly requires a certain suppleness of grip. Every similar  right-handed task,  requiring any precision, had become a chore .. playing a guitar…..even holding a knife and fork.

A specialist was finally located . On appointment  he looked at the hand… in an  off-hand way {pardon the pun}  and immediately diagnosed ..”Trigger thumb”.

This was new territory for me . Apparently what happens is that the tendons and surrounding area ruptures and the inflammation and swelling causes re-growth to be irregular so the area becomes constricted.Sometimes , as in my case , a little nodule regrows which disallows any smooth movement through  the little supporting tube.  It’s at times like this you realise that we are basically mechanical skin and bone machines that may need repair now and then.Maybe a little plumbing… Just like any other vehicle really  .The appointment for surgery came around and my wife advised that I could probably do this under local anesthetic.That way I could pop in and out with a clear head..There was a choice indeed. You could opt for a knockout blow or stay awake as you might while getting a tooth pulled  at the dentist .

…Big Mistake! …..

There were several people that morning awaiting surgery for a variety of ailments . They all took everything in the anaesthetist’s arsenal and were soon in sonorous dreams  around me , as they each , by turn were loaded for surgery. I, of course , was wide awake with a mixture of foolish  machismo, adrenaline and  fearful dread creeping through me. Who’s the big fella now? , I thought as  I waited.I was brought into the surgery to be confronted by the surgeon and his merry crew , who light-heartedly asked what kind of music  I preferred to listen to as I awaited and while  my execution was performed. It’s a given that most people having an operation are generally oblivious to the shenanigans that actually occur while they visit dreamland . This was like something right out of “MASH”, the film or television series. Nurses swanned about doing this and that in preparation and some light classical piece filled the room with violas and violins.There was no wise-cracking Alan Alda here. It was more akin to one of those Denis Potter plays. I expected them all to start waltzing at any moment . I really shouldn’t have been conscious  for any of this entertainment. It was like watching your food being prepped in the back of the restaurant. It removes any of the mystery.I was swabbed with amber  iodine from shoulder to fingertips and injected in several places around my wrist  . What I can only describe as creeping frostbite  gradually colonised my hand and I had the unearthly feeling of said hand floating out in a space unrelated to the   remainder of my body. It was not a particularly pleasant sensation but it was not unlike the  almost forgotten memory of chilblains as a child ,after throwing too many snowballs. Come to think of  it , does anyone ever get chillblains anymore?

The surgeon took his little purple marker and deftly sketched the dotted line of his proposed incision.He began his  first cut……!

“Whoah!  You’d better stop there!” . I’ll describe it like this .The hand may have been out there somewhere in darkest space by this time but it was relaying signals back to earth. I felt the dry crunch of the scalpel breaking skin, like a boot  crackling on fresh snow.I was also only too aware of  some pain.  It was like sticking a Stanley craft knife into your hand. I wouldn’t really recommend it. Surely this was n’t quite right?,  I thought. “I think I need a little more of the old freeze there” ,I   croaked through a dry throat. Glances were exchanged and possibly mental notes taken too .The end result was that  I  was topped up with a little more of that good old freeze until oblivion took hold of any sense of feeling  that my hand still retained.

The surgeon deftly cut through the flesh and separated any nerves that might hinder him .He then began to split the coagulated tissue that was blocking my thumb’s orbital  progress. I looked away  but curiousity kept turning my eyes back. It was like watching a horror film. You always  have to look. He hooked what looked something like a string of  bone-white , floppy, over-cooked spaghetti and proceeded to gently tug this pasta out of my hand. Jeeziis, I thought, as it suddenly occurred to me that if there was a sudden bomb-scare , which were not uncommon at the time , I could quite easily be deserted here on this operating table with the makings of a pasta dinner hanging out of my hand ….forever! This was a part of my body that had no business ever being exposed to the light of day, but there it was hanging out in the room. The thought passed quickly as the surgeon took an instrument and began reaming ot the hole in the split flesh to widen the spaghetti’s entrance..He then tucked the pasta back in and asked me to bend my thumb . I used telepathy but could only manage a small movement. He proceeded to pull the spaghetti out once more , repeating the reaming operation …and tried again .This time the signal went through the ether and the thumb moved. Mind and body moved as one .It bent down slightly . He seemed pleased with that result and said that it would loosen fully with a little further effort and proceeded to deftly stitch up the cut flesh .

That was about it.I really wished I had thought this whole process through before diving into this nightmare. There was no way I was in the mood to drive home as I’d previously imagined .This wasn’t quite like a visit to the dentist , after all. The opposible  thumb was fully back in action within days and the wound was healing well. Nowadays  I can’t even find a trace of the scar.It’s because of the surgeon’s skill that  I  am still able to bash out reams of words like these with either  keyboard or pen or draw, paint , play the guitar, or build beehive boxes…

Without that extraordinary  thumb ,where would I be…..  where would the human race be?


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