My first reaction to most minor medical crisies is to look online for information and, ideally, remedies that do not involve me talking to strangers. If the number of people referred to thingsihate by searches for “nude+superheroes” (after I used that phrase in one article) is any indication, search engines work. We’re the number one resource for Petey comics on the Web, we might as well do another damn public service and teach people how to fix their bruised fingernails before they turn purple.
I was at my flint knapping class at the craft center last Thursday evening, learning how to make arrowheads. That is, I was learning to whack vaguely arrowhead-shaped chips of obsidian off of a larger rock; I’m taking it on faith that I’ll eventually be able to make arrowheads.
We spent the first class learning how to knock off chips properly. This second class, we were learning how to shape substandard chips. They’re supposed to be as flat as possible. You can either start out with flat chips, which I was pretty good at making, or you can flatten regular chips. Which I was not good at at all.
But I didn’t worry. I figured that if I was okay at making flat chips, I didn’t need to worry about correcting bumpy ones. I could just do it right from the get-go! So I was just happily banging my hammer rock on my increasingly smaller chunk of obsidian, making flat shards.
My second class went better than my first class, partially because I had a better idea what to hit and partially because I had remembered to bring gloves and was no longer leaking vital fluids every few minutes. That is, until halfway through the class.
I had run out of plains that had the right angle to be hit. Actually, it was an acute angle I was looking for. The surface needed to be cleared, and I was having no luck. I banged and banged on the rock with every ounce of strength and in every possible direction, growing more and more frustrated.
As you might imagine, I’m not the most coordinated person in the world. It was only a matter of time before I hit myself with my hammer stone. I’d done it before and skinned my knuckles, but this time the angle was bad and the gloves reduced the stone’s friction. I ended up slamming the hammer stone directly into my left thumb’s nail bed.
Then I just sat there for a few seconds, not moving a muscle, hoping subconsciously that if I stayed really still the pain would not find me. No such luck. It was an overwhelming, dull pain that made my hand and arm feel weak and numb. I really didn’t want to take my glove off, but the teacher noticed my pained expression and lack of movement.
“I hit my thumb. I don’t recommend it,” I stated by way of explanation. Being a curious bunch, the class all wanted to look. Carefully, I slid the glove off of my hand, trying to gauge through misfiring nerves if my thumb was slick with blood or torn or broken. It looked normal, except for the huge red spot under the nail.
“Ooh. You’re probably going to lose that,” the teacher said.
“Dark nail polish,” said the guy next to me.
Crud. I don’t especially enjoy being injured, but disfigurement is even worse. During the rest of the class my hand still felt numb and detached, and I worried about losing the nail. My nails are thin and weak already and I’m trying to grow them out after years of compulsively trimming them much too short. The last thing I wanted to do was to have to work on regrowing a thumbnail completely. With my level of manicuring skill, it’d end up looking like a mutant toenail.
I went back to my room and stared at my thumb. It still hurt and wouldn’t bend right, and when I touched it it seemed hard and overinflated. The red spot was bigger, covering about half of the nail. I searched for information on fingernail bruises online, finding absolutely nothing except for a beauticians’ website that advised manicurists to just paint over them like normal.
As I tried to decide whether this would get me laughed out of Urgent Care or not, and whether the student health center was closed, I remembered that my father had also had this happen a few months ago. He’d had an ugly black spot under his thumbnail, but he might have some tips. Pop was sympathetic, and I got to describe the circumstances surrounding my injury for what would not be the last time:
“I hit my thumbnail as hard as I could with a GREAT BIG ROCK!”
Pop said I should just drill through the nail and let the blood come a-spurtin’ out. He told me an inspirational story about how his thumb had showered him with black blood when he tried this technique, even long after his injury. I thought of drills and shuddered. Even typing or touching the end of the nail made my thumb intensely painful; a drill’s vibration would be excruciating, and I’d be lucky not to drill through into the finger proper.
Then Pop laughed and explained that I didn’t have to do anything that extreme. I could just heat a paperclip red hot and plunge that through my nail! Easy as pie! Ha ha! He also said that there wasn’t any chance of hitting the quick; the blood was making a bubble between the nail and the flesh. Pop encouraged me to do it right away, lest I end up with an unsightly bruise for weeks and months. Then he suggested I use the great big awl on my knife.
I hung up the phone and steeled my nerve. The pressure was unpleasant, and it was a nice thought that I could remedy that. If I stuck the wire too far in or didn’t stop bleeding, I’d have an excuse to go to the hospital. If I was going to lose the nail anyway, I might as well have a damn STORY to go with it!
I unbent my smallest safety pin and held it in my right hand over a lighter in my left. It heated up quickly, and like a G. Gordon Liddy or a T.E. Lawrence I plunged it into the largest spot of trapped blood. The nail melted like plastic. I barely felt the heat.
The blood spurted out and splattered my chin, then just oozed out of the hole in my nail. It immediately felt better. After a while, the oozing stopped. My nail still felt like it was wobbly and badly attached and there were still a couple of blood spots beneath it, but it looked and felt much more normal. I went to bed convinced that the world was a good place after all.
The next day the pain was down to a dull ache but the pressure was getting more uncomfortable again, so I decided to tackle the other two blood spots. Having conquered the most desperate part, I lost the nerve to deal with the moderate, not terribly painful bruises. I made a small indentation over each of them but didn’t break through the nail, pulling the pin away when I started to feel the heat.
I’m such a sissy. It was probably also due to the fact that these blood cushions under the nail were smaller, so I felt the heat more and panicked.
The day after that, I was watching TV and getting annoyed at the blood pools. The first spot I’d attacked was completely gone now, leaving only a little pinhole. The other two were getting a little purplish. Since the nail wasn’t as sensitive to pressure, I snapped out my Swiss Army knife’s awl and absentmindedly and gently twisted it against the partial holes. I didn’t notice that I’d broken through the first one until my fingers felt wet. There was less blood and that mixed with water, and the bruise beneath the nail still showed a little, but it also felt much better without the pressure. The third spot was exactly like the second.
My nail looks normal from a distance now, and only a little funky up close. I have two small off-pink spots and three tiny pinholes, which I’m thinking of sealing with glue.
N.B. Annna has no medical training beyond advanced CPR courses and is also dangerously insane. Do not plunge red hot needles into your bruised fingernails on her advice alone. Even though it feels really nice to take the pressure off and your finger will likely be much less deformed afterwards. Doll does not walk.
My mother, an actual RN, tells me that most emergency rooms have a device that will do this automatically. She slammed her finger in the car door once and was resolved to just bear with it. A few days later a doc happened to see it, shook his head and came back with the finger-pokin’ implement. It was over before she knew what was happening.
So I guess you can go to the ER, if you’re a big baby or something.
Mom also says to try putting some ice on it.