Pain Level: Five

I have many endearing qualities, and one of them is that I get very excited about things most people wouldn’t get excited at all about. Last Friday, for example, I was excited because I had bought a new twelve-foot-long cable for my Python cable lock — just the ticket for locking a couple of bikes to a hitch rack.

But before I could use it, I would need to cut the zipties that kept the cable bound into a tight coil.

Luckily for me, I am never without my Leatherman Micra — I figured that the fold-out scissors would do the job nicely.

“Wow. That is one tough ziptie,” I said to myself as I held onto the coiled cable with my left hand and applied increasing pressure to the scissors blade with my right hand. “The stupid…thing…just…won’t…cut!”

And then, as I put my weight into it, the ziptie cut. Hooray!

After which, suddenly deprived of the resistance from the ziptie, my scissors zoomed forward, the blade coming to rest once it was effectively buried in the flesh of my hand between my forefinger and thumb.

There was a lot of blood.

The One Thing I Remember from Boy Scouts
Here’s a surprising fact you probably don’t know about me: I am an Eagle Scout. Here’s another fact you probably won’t find surprising: I remember hardly anything at all from my two years as a scout (I got my eagle as quickly as was allowed by the program, so my mom would stop pestering me about it).

As blood gushed everywhere, though, I did remember: apply pressure.

And — whaddaya know — it worked. I brought the bleeding under control. The only problem is, this meant that both my hands were now fully occupied — one hand with being a bloody gushing mess, and the other hand with being a makeshift cork.

I was outside (I have a bloody sidewalk that shows exactly where) when this happened, so now had the problem of getting inside to get my wife to drive me to the hospital — I was absolutely certain I’d need stitches for this.

It’s not easy to knock on the door when your hands are occupied as mine were. But if you’re willing — as a 40-year-old man and mortgage owner — to kick your own door, it is totally possible to convey some urgency to your door knocking.

Friday Night Date
My wife, sadly enough, has seen me bloodied up quite a few times. The good thing about this is that she’s now got enough experience with my clumsiness-induced injuries that she effectively (and resignedly) just gets to work.

First things first: she ran across the street to see if our neighbor the EMT was home.


So she then went next door to see if our other neighbor the fireman / paramedic was home.


While she was checking to see if there was anyone who could lend a hand (no, not literally), I lifted my right hand in order to sneak a peek at the damage on my left hand.

Renewed gushing of blood, and the startling realization that I have never seen the inside of me so clearly before.

You know, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this, but: the sight of my blood makes me very queasy. Which is to say, I nearly passed out.

As my wife drove me to the emergency room, I apologized over and over. “Sorry about this,” I said, still lightheaded about being able to see so much of my blood all over the place, but also recognizing that this was the first day I’d been home in two weeks, and the dinner and movie my wife had planned for the evening had turned into no dinner and a trip to the hospital.

Because I — a 40-year-old man — evidently do not know how to properly handle a pair of scissors.

An Interesting Question
There’s something satisfying — in a twisted sort of way — about being a bloody mess when you walk into a hospital emergency room. You’ve got yourself a real emergency here. You’re applying pressure. You’re making a mess on the floor. You feel like it’s your right to blow right by the people who look like they came here because they were feeling slightly disconsolate.

“What seems to be the problem?” asked the person who’s job it must be to not pick up on obvious clues.

“I’ve been cut long and deep. My left hand. I’m bleeding a lot.”

So I’m escorted to what is labeled (oddly, I notice the label) the “Triage Room.” A nurse (or maybe just a helpful bystander — I never made sure) then applied a gauze bandage and wrapped it up tightly. While she did this, she asked me an interesting question:

“On a scale of 1 to 10, what would you say your pain level is?”

Hm. Well, that’s a poser of a question. I thought about it, and then said, “five, I guess.”

After which I immediately regretted not saying, “Eleven! Fourteen! Give me morphine!” because she said, “OK, go sit down.”

And there I sat, for 45 minutes or so, while a number of people who came in after I did — sporting what looked like nothing more painful than a modest case of ennui — got ushered in to see doctors ahead of me.

I’ll Stick With 5
During this 45 minutes, I had plenty of time to contemplate how embarassing it is to have the most serious cut of your life be from a self-inflicted scissors cut at the age of 40.

Eventually, though, they rummaged up a doctor for me. Before he unwrapped the (now quite bloody) bandage, he asked me the same question: from one to ten, how bad does it hurt?

I stuck with five.

He then unwrapped the bandage, and said, “Well. This looks like more than what I’d usually expect from a five.”

He then spent several minutes cleaning me out, sending the nurse to go get a tetanus shot (my shoulder still hurts, thanks), talking with me about mountain biking on the White Rim, testing my fingers to see if I could feel anything, testing my thumb to see if I could move it, expressing surprise that I could because it looked like I had gone deep enough to sever some working parts, and then sewing me up.

By the time I left, I was thinking it’d be fun to ride with this doctor.

Why 5?
On the way home, my wife asked me why I had said this ugly cut only hurt at level five. The answer is easy: I’ve got a pretty good basis of comparison. To wit:

  • Level 7: While riding the Brian Head Epic 100 one year, I crashed at mile 70, bruising my hip, separating my shoulder, and breaking off my saddle. I rode the next 25 miles of uphill without a saddle, during which time both my calves cramped up solid and my knee started bothering me.
  • Level 8: While riding the Leadville 100 one year, I crashed on a downhill section, completely dislocating my shoulder (I resocketed it on my own), getting a nice road rash, and then finished the race while dry heaving, completely exhausted and pretty dehydrated.
  • Level 9: At 0.1 miles per hour on a technical move on Porcupine Rim, I fell on my side once, catching all my weight on my right arm. This tore my rotator cuff and started my ever-growing SLAP lesion. This is what caused the “Elden Scream” my friends still talk about to this day.
  • Level 10: I watched my wife go through six months of chemo. That stuff sucks. Not as bad as what happens if you don’t do it, but still.

So on Saturday — the nicest day of the year so far, after I’ve been off the bike for two weeks, even — I didn’t go on a ride. Couldn’t put weight on the hand, and for sure couldn’t use the brakes. You know, that’s probably level 6 pain right there.

The Question
So, was level 5 just about right? Or should I have gone higher? Lower? What’s your personal yardstick of pain?

Oh, and here’s my hand, 48 hours later. Looking much better, I’d say, though still very puffy.

PS: Today’s weight: 163.6, still.

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