The doorbell rang at three-thirty this morning. Coincidentally, I was lying half-awake in bed trying to motivate myself to get out of bed and clean up the cat yak that I was pretty sure I just heard Boo leave on the floor right next to me. Half of me wanted to leave it until morning; the other half didn’t want to step in it when I inevitably forgot it was there. The doorbell put a stop to this little internal argument.
B’s voice from the other side of the bed: “What the hell?” My thoughts exactly.
I tumbled out of bed and made my way to the bedroom door, somehow without stepping in any barf, where I could look out the the living room window and see Tim’s car in the driveway. Tim didn’t visit last night so there’s no reason he should have left his car there. After crossing the living room and peeking out the windows of the front door, I could see Tim standing on our front stoop. At three-thirty in the morning. He smiled and waved at me.
I opened the door. “Hi, Tim,” I said, as if there were nothing unusual at all about finding him at our door at three-thirty. “What’s up?”
He said something like this: “Sorry to wake you, but I wanted to know if you thought I was overreacting before I went to the emergency room.” He went on to tell us he woke up about midnight after a dream that involved punching the wall. His right hand was throbbing in pain and he wasn’t able to move his pinkie or ring finger much; he could move the other fingers, but it hurt when he did that, so he tried not to move any of them at all, holding his hand at waist level, away from his side.
After a bit more discussion about what might possibly be wrong with his hand, I threw on some clothes and drove him to the emergency room. The closest one is on the northeast side of town, almost all the way to Sun Prairie. It’s part of a huge complex of very hospitally-looking buildings we had to drive through on winding roads to get to the ER. The route was pretty clearly signed, by the way, an observation borne out by the fact that we found it thought it was dark and we were half-awake and it was four in the morning. I hope I never have to go there again but, if I do, I’m somewhat comforted by the knowledge it’s easy to find.
A receptionist and a bored-looking security guard were alone at a desk in the lobby. There were no other people around. The receptionist perked up when we walked in, but the security guard kept on surfing the internet without looking up at us. Tim gave the receptionist his medical card and after checking him in, she invited us to wait in the lobby. Our butts barely touched the seats before a nurse called Tim’s name and lead us both back to an examination room. Points for prompt service.
After asking Tim what was wrong, probably to make sure his injuries weren’t life-threatening, the nurse asked him a lot of questions like date of birth, phone number and so on, while another nurse took his vitals. Then she asked him to tell her how he hurt his hand. Tim repeated his story about dreaming he punched a wall, obviously feeling a little silly about it. After she got everything into the computer she said the doctor would be with us shortly and left the room.
We were on our own for maybe five minutes until a doctor showed up, made Tim repeat his story again, and briefly examined his hand. He wanted to x-ray it to make a proper diagnosis and also wanted to get some ice on it and some pain killers into Tim. A couple minutes after he left, the nurse came back with an icepack and a couple capsules for Tim to wash down with some bottled water. An odd thought struck me: that bottled water is going to be on the bill, and I’ll bet it’s going to cost something like three hundred dollars.
A tech came in after that with an x-ray cart. This is some pretty cool tech. They don’t use film any longer. Tim rested his hand on what looked like a computer tablet, except where the screen should have been, there was what looked like a blank grey slate. The tech aimed the x-ray emitter and stepped back, thumbing the fob to trip the emitter. Each time she did, Tim’s bony hand appeared on a screen on the x-ray cart. When she had all the pictures she needed, she bent over the cart to tap a couple of buttons, uploading the pictures to Tim’s record. From there, any radiologist in town could review them by logging into the network. Pretty awesome.
After ten or maybe fifteen minutes at the most, the doctor came back to let Tim know the fifth metacarpal, the bone in the hand under the pinkie, was fractured but not displaced, by which I guess he meant its jagged ends weren’t sticking out through his skin or something ghastly like that. He put a splint on it with some more pretty cool tech: a white slab of plasticky stuff he soaked in water, then formed around Tim’s hand and forearm and held in place with ace bandage until it set. It hardened after a few minutes, making a split that was molded in the shape of Tim’s hand. Cool! (Probable cost: Ten Thousand Dollars.)
I was texting B the whole time because I knew she was sitting up waiting for me to feed her updates. When I told her Tim had a fracture, she texted: “Is it the fifth metacarpal?” After freaking out just a tiny bit, I texted back, “How the hell did you know that?” She answered: “5th metacarpal is consistent w/punching injury. AKA ‘boxer’s fracture.’ Did I forget to tell you I went to med school? Or do I just google well?” And she included a link to the medical web site she reads when she wants to scare herself.
Tim’s got to call the hospital on Friday to schedule an appointment to get a cast put on; after that, then it’ll take six to eight weeks to heal properly, after which they’ll probably want to examine it again, just to run his bill up a bit more. Meanwhile he’ll have to learn to do everything not only one-handed, but with his non-dominant hand, not so easy for a guy whose work is done mostly on a computer.