There's little things you don't know you care about until they're gone; things like the Fourth of July. It's not my favorite holiday. It's probably not even in my top three. But as it rolled up on me here in the UK, I realized there would be no fireworks. No Mom's macaroni salad. No Dad on the barbecue. It would be just another day to everyone else. And it would have to be just another day for me, too.
I guess the good news is that it wasn't just another day, in the end. In fact, it was one of the best days I've had here. And I spent a decent portion of it terrified and in the emergency room.
At some point this week, I decided I was going to take charge of my Fourth rather than let it blow by. Why be sad about it when I could make it an opportunity to introduce my new friends to my silly traditions? I talked to a couple of coworkers who had lived in the US for parts of their lives and they volunteered to help throw a mini-barbecue. I was really excited about it.
Tuesday night, I went to Waitrose after work. That's the ritzy grocery store-- an upgrade from Sainsbury's that I thought might have more American ingredients. I got everything from a portable barbecue to US flag cups (can you believe they even had that?). I went home and made red velvet cupcakes with blue frosting and little white stars on them. I planned to make macaroni salad, but I was feeling tired, so I decided to go to bed and do it in the morning.
Fast forward to the next morning- the Fourth. I woke up early. Then, accidentally went back to sleep without a second alarm set. Ugh. I jumped out of bed in a mad rush. I hurried into the kitchen and grabbed all the ingredients for the macaroni salad. I went for a knife for the onion, but then thought, "Hey I could probably get this done faster on that cutter I bought." The cutter is a mandolin slicer and proooobably not meant for onions.
As I put it in a Facebook post this evening, "There was a survival instinct voice somewhere in there saying 'Hey, we both know you are Grade A clumsy AND a crap chef. Put that down, Bobby Flay.' Buuuuut I ignored the voice. "
About three slices in, my hand slipped off the onion and went through the slicer, itself.
I put the onion down.
I looked at my thumb.
It was not together in one piece.
I grabbed my thumb in a panic, squeezing it as tightly as I could. The blood started seeping around the edges. I couldn't feel anything. I stood there, terrified, with no idea of what to do next. These are not moments you want to have when you're a million miles from home.
Do I call an ambulance? Do I have to pay for that? What's the number for 911-- 999, I think. I don't know. Oh God, I can't get dressed. I can't let go of my thumb. Who do I call? Who do I call? Who do I call?
Out of sheer instinct, I called the coworker I knew would be most likely to answer AND know exactly what to do without panicking. I'm a panicker. I couldn't have a second panicker in the echo chamber of my brain in that moment. Thankfully, he very calmly gave me instructions.
For what it's worth, if you ever slice part of your thumb half off, hold it really tightly and tell Siri to call 1-1-1. Then, sit back and enjoy what will feel like the world's longest series of touchtone questions you could be asked in an emergency. A nurse will eventually answer and triage you appropriately.
The instructions were relatively simple: take a cab to the A&E (emergency room) and don't let go of the wound unless you bandage it tightly. However, I found myself idling, unable to process anything rationally. All I could think about was how embarrassing it would be to go out in my stupid night dress, braless, hair in a rat's nest, no fresh deodorant, and with morning breath. Nightmare, right? Might as well just lay down and bleed out.
My brain shut down, but not before wandering to its final thought: you can't call home.
I became a puddle of self-pity. I was useless. Do you ever get old enough to not want your mom when life goes to hell in a handbasket?
Thankfully, another coworker messaged me which disrupted my meltdown. She asked if I wanted her and the other coworker to come get me.
As an aside, I was reading up on astrological signs the other day. I'm reminded of a line from it:
I HATE asking for help. Here I had two coworkers ready to drive a half hour to come get me, take me to the hospital, and make sure I wasn't alone- basically, solving all the things I needed solved. And yet, I seriously mentally Rubik's Cubed every way possible I could somehow get dressed, brush my teeth, put away the ingredients so the cat didn't get into them, lock the house, get a cab, and go to the hospital without the use of my hands.
I peeked at my thumb. More blood burped into the grooves of my skin. Pride and selflessness were no longer options. I said yes to the help.
It was the longest half hour of my life, alone with my thoughts about all the terrifying ways the doctors might fix my thumb. Stitches without anesthesia. Cut the rest of the bit off and have a lopsided thumb. Injections. Maybe I'd pass out at the hospital. Maybe I'd pass out at home before my coworkers arrived.
You don't want to be in my head. It's way too scary in there.
My coworkers were very sweet in helping me get ready and get out the door. We weren't really sure how to dress the wound efficiently. We used the entire gauze. And tape. It was bleeding through. I had to hold it again.
The A&E was a clone of any other Emergency Room you'd find in the US. Ugly, old, full of desaturated peach tones, and rows of seats peppered with people who had warily resigned to the idea that they might spend the rest of their lives waiting for their name to be called. They sat me at a window to collect my details. I felt insanely vulnerable in the stupid little chair, filled with nervous anticipation while answering mundane questions like there wasn't an open wound squeezed between my fingers.
One question penetrated my defenses. It seemed simple enough, but the implications were an arrow through the heart of an already sensitive place in my soul.
"Who can I put down as your next of kin?"
She wanted me to name someone from the UK. I didn't know what to say. Everyone who loved me was a million miles away. Not here. Tears welled in my eyes as I realized the answer to her question. The answer was "no one". I didn't have anyone here.
I snatched a tissue off the desk and tucked it under my eye. My warbly voice sputtered out some words. I don't know what I said. I handed her my phone with my boss's information loaded up on the screen. Hot tears trickled down my cheeks. I felt like a child, humiliated that I was crying about something so innocuous. I wanted to disappear. My coworker rubbed my back as we got up and walked into the treatment area.
For the record, I'm not trying to be super ungrateful or sterile by saying "coworker", I just don't think it's appropriate to use names on a blog anyone can read.
All the nurses did in the treatment room was look at the wound and re-gauze it. Badly. It bled through nearly all the layers. I was told to hold it above my heart and wait in the main area until I could be seen by a practitioner. That wait took two hours.
My coworkers were very sweet in trying to cheer me up and distract me. We talked about Drag Race, played 20 Questions, and made up names and life stories for all the people in the stock image posters on the walls. My practitioner ended up looking a lot like "Alex, the plastic surgeon who doesn't have pets, doesn't believe in love and relationships, and has a tenuous amount of respect for women."
When I was finally seen, all my nerves boiled back to the surface. I'd never been to the ER for an injury before. I really didn't know what to expect other than pain. I knew they'd have to clean it, bare minimum.
Hector- since I've decided it's okay to say the name of the doctor, at least- was incredibly patient. He explained everything very slowly for me. He offered me painkillers. I refused them. So he offered me laughing gas. I said yes to that. The laughing gas worked wonders. Within two minutes I found myself getting the giggles thinking about silly things that had happened at work, instead of worrying about pain.
I saw the wound for the first time since I had injured it. The skin was still attached on one side. It was kind of a J-shaped wound. It reminded me of an almond slice. Blood congealed around the glue as he sealed the skin. He layered three thin strips of bandages over the top. It was over.
Bandaged up and ready to reenter the real world, we went back to my flat. I bought my coworkers lunch at the Green Bird cafe, which is down that alley near my house that the lasagna place is. Eating without your right thumb, by the way, is not easy.
Other coworkers texted me throughout the day to check on me. Two offered to come up and make me dinner and keep me company. They did. It was awesome.
Today could have been awful. I expected to fall on my face. Instead, a sea of arms caught me and bounced me back up. Nearly everyone I spoke to offered to be my next of kin. I had company all day. I couldn't have been sad if I wanted to.
I realized today that I'm not alone, here. So many people came to my housewarming. So many people came to the rescue when I needed help. They may not be my family, but they're definitely my friends. Something to go to bed smiling about.