When last I left you, dear reader, I was climbing down a rocky path in the mountains northeast of Tucson, Arizona. My wife and trusty side-kick, Krista, was a few paces behind me as we hiked the return trip along Blackett’s Ridge Trail. It felt good to be descending rather than ascending this fairly steep trail but going down was deceptively tricky and even a bit dangerous for my aging knees, ankles, back and brain. Attempting to take great care as I stepped down from an elevated perch to the sandy trail a couple of feet below, with my left hand I gripped what my peripheral vision registered as just one more nondescript ROCK (among billions of others). In reality, the ROCK was a CACTUS and the nerve endings in the fingers of my left hand communicated this troubling factoid to me in the proverbial blink of an eye.
I squealed in pain and cursed my fate, the crystal blue skies above and everything else I could think of for a solid 60 seconds, perhaps longer. I hurt physically and mentally. I shook my left hand vigorously (and my head in disgust) and continued to descend. As the throbbing receded gradually, I worried about infection and asked myself – out loud – “How could I be so stupid?!?” Krista wisely kept her own counsel in response to this rhetorical question.
After I removed a couple of protruding needles, Krista inspected the remaining damage. We could see that three small needles had found purchase under the skin of my ring finger and one in my index finger. “Calm down, Tim,” Krista gently chided me. “When we get back to the hotel I’ll take them out. It will be fine. You’ll see.” I wasn’t so sure but decided the best course of action was to let my eye doctor wife take a crack at this foreign body removal before resigning myself to a lengthy wait at an unfamiliar urgent care facility.
By the time I pulled into the parking spot at our hotel, some 30 minutes later, the acute throbbing had dulled. There seemed to be a glimmer of hope that I would pull through this trauma. We entered the inn and walked solemnly down the hallway to Room 122. My key-card granted access, and I washed my hands thoroughly in anticipation of Krista’s surgical ministrations. I sat at a desk where ambient sunlight shone brightly through the window. I exhaled deeply and wondered, like the 6-year-old boy I am but pretend earnestly not to be, “how much is this going to hurt?!?”
Krista went to the bathroom, fiddled with her toiletry bag a moment, and approached me with the necessary surgical implements. Reading my mind, as she does with alarming and annoying frequency, she said, “Don’t worry, you baby! This won’t take long and it won’t hurt. Much.” She grinned at her little joke.
“Haha,” I replied with sarcasm and fear. She sat down next to me and uttered five words which caused my anxiety to ratchet up a few notches: “Let me borrow your glasses.” Oh boy.
I handed them over and closed my eyes. She (I assume) put them on and gripped my index finger. “Oh, this one will be easy!” she chirped. She dug briefly, it stung briefly, and the offending needle was removed. “See? No problem!” she exclaimed with pride. I exhaled deeply and began to relax. Maybe this really WAS going to be no problem.
“OK,” she said with determination and confidence, “let’s see what we’ve got over here.” She took my ring finger in her hand and began to probe. “Hmmmmm,” she said. Uh oh. I didn’t like the tone of that “hmmmmmmm.”
“What’s the matter?” I whimpered.
“Oh. Nothing. It’s just that this one’s…umm…well….”
“Nothing! It’s fine. It’s just going to take me a minute. It’s kinda, you know, submerged.”
Submerged??? My heart started jackhammering in my chest cavity.
Dr. Swensen proceeded to dig and pry and claw with her metallic instrument of torture. I screeched and shrieked and bellowed. It’s amazing how long three minutes can seem when you’re undergoing a root canal, an ingrown toenail removal or a cactus needle extraction. Have you ever seen the movie “Marathon Man”? Krista was Szell and I was Babe. After 180 seconds of weeping and grunting, Krista/Laurence Olivier had completed her task. None of the hotel staff were sufficiently alarmed at my exclamations to contact the police – in this particular instance, a fortuitous circumstance. Krista then rapidly attended to the remaining two needles and dispatched with them with speed and skill.
When the ordeal was finally over she showed me the tiny slivers that had wrought so much agony. A drop of blood marked the spot of each needle’s ingress and egress.
“That’s it?” I asked, incredulous. “I mean, seriously? I thought I might need a tourniquet or stitches or something.”
She laughed. “That’s it,” she replied. “Your fingers are extremely sensitive and I had to really dig. It’s no wonder it hurt so much. But you were a big boy. Very brave. I’m proud of you!”
“Haha,” I lamely offered again as I inspected my wounds.
“Plus, you know what they say,” she added. “Size doesn’t matter.”