Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

April 13, 2014

Opinion: A pointed lesson

Nicole Dominique
Effingham Daily News

EFFINGHAM — Kids, gather around. I want to tell you a story about why you’re not being careful enough with knives.

One year ago yesterday, one of my high-quality sharp knives slipped while I was cutting a turkey breast — stupidly, on my hand and not on a cutting board. I can finally reflect upon the ensuing seconds without shuddering or my vision spotting over.

I tell you about my stupidity for several reasons. No. 1, most people close to me pulled the story out of me months ago, so I’m not (that) embarrassed about it anymore. No. 2, it really serves as a lesson that even adults can still think they’re invincible — and be proven disastrously wrong. There’s also the obvious lesson: To use a cutting board and pay more attention while using sharp objects.

In an odd way, though, the biggest thing I took away from the experience was how one of the weakest moments of my life would lead to some of the strongest.

I had to make decisions quickly, forgoing my off-base instinct that the 1-inch slice in the webbing of my left thumb would heal without medical assistance. A week after the incident, when I found out the eight stitches alone weren’t going to heal the wound, I had to say “yes” to surgery one day and get it the next — all while still reeling from the shock. There was time to be terrified (there always is), but there wasn’t time to be frozen by it.

I had not only severed a nerve, but an artery too, Dr. Nash Naam told me after surgery. And the small two-week window to potentially restore the nerve to its full faculties didn’t apply to the artery; after about a day had passed from the initial injury, the artery died and couldn’t be restored. Luckily, each finger has two, but only needs one.

Through the process, I learned to act like an adult when it comes to medical situations. My parents are six hours away, and couldn’t make it for the surgery. They couldn’t even really help me make decisions over the phone. They’re not doctors, and it’s difficult to give advice on a malady you haven’t seen first-hand. While Naam made the decision easy by saying it was either surgery now or chronic nerve pain later, I went from being a scared kid in the doctor’s office to a rational adult agreeing that surgery was the only option.

The community pulled through for me as well. I’ve said before how much I love Effingham and the people who live here. They sincerely seem to care about everyone they meet, and this was no exception. Women at work checked in with me to see what was happening and if I was getting the feeling back in my thumb during the first week, and when my consistent answer was no, they indicated their concern. A few members of the Helen Matthes Library board — a meeting I covered at the time — agreed that something seemed wrong, and convinced me to see a specialist. I’ve since thanked everyone who showed concern and made treats for them too, but I’m still grateful for their advice and insistence, especially today.

The last thing I’ve learned I wasn’t aware of until it was pointed out to me by my boyfriend.

He’s said frequently that I took the experience well, and he was impressed by the way I handled the situation. I’m an emotional person, so yes, there were tears, but I was mostly calm, collected and ready to fix the problem. I may have been a little sad, especially right after the news about surgery, but I wasn’t angry at anyone. I didn’t see any other way to respond to it — I had been an overconfident idiot, and I alone had to face the consequences of my actions. I’m still paying for them; I have an appointment next week to make sure the nerve is healing like it should, but it could take another year to completely restore it, and it might not ever be quite the same.

It’s an odd numbness still today. My thumb reacts more quickly to heat, textures and pain than the right thumb. But I’m honestly grateful to feel these things; it seems to me these must be good signs while the nerve continues to repair itself. I’ll find out next week if I’m right.

While I could look back at the whole ordeal as a mistake I made, I don’t. No, I’m not going to intentionally cut myself, and I’m taking precautions in the kitchen to avoid another incident. But the lessons I’ve learned — and there are more — have helped me accept my error. I grew up a little too. I now fully understand the importance of health care and I have exponentially more patience than before this time last year.

So please learn from my mistake as well and be careful with those knives. Both can cut surprisingly deep — if you let them.

Nicole Dominique can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 136, at nicole.dominique@effinghamdailynews.com or on Twitter @EDNNDominique.