Sunday, August 9, 2009

In Defense of Talking to Strangers

My mom broke her pinkie while she and I were visiting Martha's Vineyard this week. She slipped getting off a bus and, in her frantic effort to right herself, she torqued the pinkie on her left hand out of joint and broke it at the base.

We were in West Tisbury, en route to a connecting bus that would take us to Aquinnah and Gay Head, the most remote area of the island. We had no car. And my mom broke her finger. Sigh. Rather than getting back on the bus to a more populated part of the island (and an ER) we pushed forward and continued our journey. Our bus driver, alerted to the problem, flagged down a bike cop as we approached the stop at Gay Head and he met us with an ice pack for my mom's finger. We secured the pack to her hand using a white linen shirt I was wearing. We walked to the highest point at Gay Head, mom's hand looking rather claw-like, took a half-dozen pictures of Gay Head cliffs and Gay Head Light, and then parked ourselves at a picnic table to wait 45 minutes for the next bus out of there. (The picture at the top of the post is AFTER we had iced it for 30 minutes.)

The break was bad. Her pinkie was sticking out at a right angle from its base. Always a good bruiser, my mom takes blood thinners and the hematoma evolving in her palm was spectacular. It was 3:00 in the afternoon and we were three bus rides away from the ferry terminal and at least another 90 minutes from the mainland from there. And the ice pack was melting.

I left my mom at a picnic table and headed to a food vendor to get some more ice for her finger. Ahead of me was a woman in bike gear looking to buy a Gatorade. As we waited I asked about the biking conditions on the island and we chatted about road versus off-road biking. As the biker was being served she mentioned she also wanted a cup of ice. I chimed in that I wanted one too, for my mother's broken finger. The counter girl ruefully informed us she'd have to charge us $0.50 for the ice. I started to trot off to grab two quarters from my purse when the biker with whom I'd been chatting pressed a quarter into my hand. "For your mother," she said. When I returned to the counter with a second quarter to pay for my ice the biker was still there. As we continued to wait she said to me politely, "Is your mom going to be all right?" "She's being brave," I replied. "But the break looks pretty bad. We need to get off the island and get her to an emergency room."

Then the biker said something extraordinary. And this is why it is important to talk to strangers. She said, "My husband is an ER doctor. I'm sure he wouldn't mind looking at it." In wonderment, I fetched my mom and we met the ER doctor, fully outfitted in HIS bike gear. He affirmed the finger was broken, yanked it back into place and asked me to go ask a shop keeper for some tape, even cellophane tape, so he could affix the broken digit to its neighbor. My mother, go-getter she is, was already ahead of me, in the entrance of the nearest shack selling Wampanoag handicrafts. The artisan, upon hearing of the situation, pulled a first aid kit off a shelf, rifled through its contents and offered gauze for the cause. He also has a roll of masking tape, which was deemed a suitable substitute for the first aid tape missing from his kit. The ER doctor, using supplies in the first aid kit of the Native American crafts person, stabilized my mom's broker finger.

After my mom made it back to her home town she visited urgent care and learned her pinkie is indeed badly broken. And the ER doctor pulled it perfectly into place; no additional work was needed on it. She does need to have her hand guy take a look at it to follow up (she's had extensive hand surgery over the course of her young life), but for now she just needs to wait until it heals.


Jen said...

WOW. That is an amazing story. How awesome that the ER doctor was there! The question remains on my mind, though: how was your mom able to walk around and take pictures with the distracting pain of her broken finger? Does she have a high tolerance for pain?

btrandolph said...

lovely story. all that's missing is a pithy soundbite I can promote when I link from my posterous blog. I suspect some of the things I like most about Jeff are attributable to you...

Ann said...

Ow ow ow ow ow. Your poor mother. Poor you. And thank god you talk to strangers. Don't stop being you, Gretchen Clutzo.
Not to veer wildly off topic, but what do you think are the odds that you and Jeff will tie the knot? Once your poor mother's fingers have healed?