What do I do if I chop off my finger?
Hopefully you will never need this advice, but if you or someone you know does, it will be handy (pun intended) to have somewhere in the back of your mind. And after all, 'Tis the season for turkey carving, new toys, and power tools. It seems, the more free time we have around the holidays, the more mischief we tend to find ourselves in. With this in mind, what should you do if you fire up that new table saw Santa brought and zip off one or more of the old fingers?
Well, Step 1 is to apply immediate pressure to the injured hand to control any bleeding. Any clean material you have nearby can do the trick (your shirt, for example, is a popular option). A gauze bandage would be ideal if at all possible. Keep the hand wrapped up until you get to the hospital. Step 2, which can be accomplished simultaneously, is to scream a list of your favorite obscenities if you are into that sort of thing. Step 3 is to try to compose yourself. Around this time, you will be wondering if it’s possible to reattach those fingers. After all, you have probably grown fairly fond of them over the years.
The answer to your question is yes. In many circumstances it is possible for a hand surgeon to reattach an amputated finger or fingers. There are some situations, believe it or not, where it may be better NOT to reattach some or all of the digits, and your hand surgeon will help you navigate through this decision process. However, you must actually have the amputated fingers with you when you come to the hospital! If the digits are in your garage in a pile of sawdust, they are not going to do you much good.
This brings me to Step 4: Find the fingers. You may consider recruiting a family member to help out depending on your state of mind at the time. Be sure to count the number of missing fingers, and collect an equal number from the scene of the accident. Sometimes in the heat of the moment, this detail gets overlooked!
Now comes the all important Step 5: Packaging the fingers for transport. Keeping the amputated parts cold can help buy some time, and may improve the survival of the reattached digit. The sooner we can get you and your fingers to surgery, the better, but if you are several hours from the nearest hand surgeon, this can be the difference between a successful reattachment and a failure. However, the only thing worse than an amputated finger, is an amputated finger with frostbite! So before you put the finger on ice, wrap it in a damp paper towel and put it in a plastic bag. Then put the whole bag on ice. This will prevent the finger from getting damaged by the ice or ice water.
Step 6: Get yourself and the fingers-on-ice safely to the hospital. I would suggest calling an ambulance if you are alone. Otherwise, get a friend or family member to drive you to the nearest emergency room. The healthcare professionals will take it from there! A qualified hand surgeon should be consulted. If your local ER does not have a hand surgeon, you should be transferred immediately to a facility that does!
Well, hopefully this knowledge will never be needed, but if it does come up in life or in a game of trivia, you'll have the upper hand! (See what I did there?)
Dr. James H. Rubright, TOA Hand, Wrist, Elbow, and Shoulder Surgeon, sees patients at TOA's Centennial, Lebanon and Cookeville locations.