At the doctor’s

I had to wait almost two hours to see the orthopedic surgeon this morning, but that included a quick trip to radiology for X-rays. I have what’s called “mallet finger“, in which the tearing of a tendon makes the fingertip droop. I had that on the middle finger of the same hand about 12 years ago, and got it the same way: stuffing clothes into a backpack in a hurry. Here’s my splinted finger; the splint is there to keep the last joint absolutely straight while the tendon heals. They custom mold heated plastic around the finger, with a guard on the top that prevents the joint from bending, and the whole apparatus is fastened with a Velcro strap:

And out of the splint. It looks inflamed but it’s not; the redness and chafing are from wearing that goddam piece of plastic that I’ve had on (with a one week break) since April 4, when I injured it in New Zealand. It’s actually healing pretty well.

Here I am waiting for the orthopedic surgeon; I am worried because I don’t want hand surgery. As my friend Ivan said, “nothing good can come of it”. No matter what happens, though, the finger will always be a bit crooked. And so our flesh degenerates, bit by bit, until we’re stuffed underground.

The nice resident and surgeon examined me, and said I have to stay in the splint another month, weaning myself off it gradually over that period. Then I get examined in early August. I’m hopeful that there will be no surgery (they didn’t mention it), but I tell you, typing with this albatross on my right ring finger is a pain. That’s why you’ve all seen typos in many of my posts. The most characteristic one is when you see “0” instead of “o” because the splint strikes above the “o” key. Bear with me.

When I got my post-visit instructions, I noticed that my “race” was listed erroneously. But of course race is a social construct, so I suppose I could use this to show that I’m either Indian or Muslim. I wonder if they wrote that down after looking at me? And what’s the difference between “race” and “ethnicity”?

Stay tuned for further medical adventures.


  1. John
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    I think we may have a surge of this kind of injury from the many face-palms in reaction to our current Commander in Chief. Get well soon!

  2. Posted June 29, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Wish you better, Jerry. I love the photo of you in the mirror; lovely composition 🙂

  3. DrBrydon
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    I wonder if the race thing was an accident or intentional. I am sure they track that stuff, and wouldn’t be surprised if high numbers of minorities are better.

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      Cultural appropriation (it just has to be) or perhaps it means it’s OK for Jerry to eat curry and not feel bad 😉

      UofC has a huge minority patient population, they probably don’t need to pad the numbers.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      The way it’s written, it looks like they were wondering since they have the “/”. Which is kind of a funny idea.

  4. Mario
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    You scared me for a moment…

  5. DaveP
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Good luck. I am recovering from the same injury, just on my left ring finger. My ortho doc said there wasn’t much point in surgery for me as mine would never be straight (pre-existing arthritis).

  6. GBJames
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    I saw that first photo and initially thought I was looking at something else entirely!

  7. Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Difference between race and ethnicity on such forms is this. A person can be hispanic or latino and also be white or black or native American or whatever. So these two categories (hispanic/latino vs. not, and race) were separated.

    There are a few cases where race can (for some people) be a clue to illness or drub reactions. The purpose on the forms, though, is doubtless to enable checking to see if the organization is discriminating against people of certain races, or against hispanics.

  8. Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad your finger is healing well, and sorry it isn’t healing faster.

  9. Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    In s0lidarity, I have long included typ0s into my own comments. Get well, Jerry.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      Oh me too – my typos were meant to be that way….or it’s autocorrect. Never me. 😀

  10. Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    I have two ‘crooked’ fingers, left index and right pinkie, both from playing basketball. Passed on surgery since they don’t affect my typing or shooting 🙂 Waiting on physicians – one of my pet peeves. I have thought of telling the office to call me when they are ready, or informing them that they will be getting a bill for my time – but still just thoughts without actions.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      Once a doctor made my elderly parents wait in the waiting room all day just to be told something they could have been told over the phone (which was, “you don’t have cancer”).

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 30, 2017 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

      After waiting over an hour for the physician to show up, my son & I were in the process of ordering a pizza when the doctor finally entered the room.

      • rickflick
        Posted July 1, 2017 at 6:40 am | Permalink

        Maybe you should have asked the doc if he wanted pizza too? Just to make a point.
        I’d just make it habit to pack a bag lunch. 😉

        • Diane G.
          Posted July 2, 2017 at 3:06 am | Permalink

          The whole idea was to make a point. Although once we thought about it we noticed we were actually pretty hungry, too. As it were, he entered just before we dialed (punched/pressed–what verb do we have now for phoning?) so we didn’t follow through.

      • Posted July 1, 2017 at 11:33 am | Permalink

        That’s great! I’ll have to remember this one.

        • Diane G.
          Posted July 2, 2017 at 3:06 am | Permalink


  11. Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    I highly recommend this story from Computer Scientist Les Earnest (who has a cameo in the movie American Flyers…) in which he describes the adventures of putting down ‘mongrel’ for his ‘race’.

    • Bob Barber
      Posted June 30, 2017 at 8:02 am | Permalink

      Thank you for the story. I have ordered Secret and Urgent from Amazon.

  12. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    The soft tissue in my fingers & especially my thumbs is all messed up. Basically I think it’s tendonitis from holding screens that are too heavy with my thumbs (pre-iPad) then texting. Such is the risk of using appendages specialized for brachiating through trees for modern uses like typing on keyboards & screens.

    My achilles on my right foot is giving me a hard time. I’ve read you can have a stint put in to stop pronation (which strains the plantar fascia, the achilles & ultimately the knees, hips & back) but the whole thing freaks me out.

    Soft tissue issues can be really tricky & really painful….people don’t realize until they get them!

    • Posted June 29, 2017 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      Orthotics have really helped my legs (along with lots of PT). So much so, I started making my own!

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 29, 2017 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

        That’s amazing that you make them yourself! I have orthotics already and they work quite well. I need to wear them even in the house as I get terrible pain if I don’t. Currently, I’ve been wearing these Keen shoes with the orthotics with every outfit (even skirts) for the last month because they give good support.

        • Posted June 29, 2017 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

          Hi Diana,

          I got my foot casts when I had my orthotics made (I paid for them after all!). I then cast negative forms in silicone rubber and then positive molds from the first casts, also in silicone rubber.

          After that laying up the fiberglass was tedious but easy. Trim and then cover top and bottom with 2mm neoprene. Magic!

          And now, I can have a pair of orthotics in every pair of shoes I normally use, which is really nice. And they cost me (maybe, at most) $20 a pair (vs. $400 from the PTs) and they are, seemingly, unbreakable, while the “official” ones last 1-2 years.

          I am an engineer and restless/busy, so I just had to try making my own. They work great, in fact better that the originals.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted June 30, 2017 at 8:13 am | Permalink

            I have several pairs of orthotics…..strangely I don’t break mine & I think that despite my painful foot problems, I’m oddly easy on my footwear. Luckily for me, I’ve always had coverage for the expensive things so I’ve been okay and I just get new, additional ones every so often. I really should get pack to the podiatrist but my guy is a 45 minute drive from my house as I went to him when I was working near his office & now I work elsewhere….this means I have to find a different person and I just find that a huge hassle.

        • Posted June 29, 2017 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

          Also: Sorry to hear about your continuing orthopedic issues! 😦

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted June 30, 2017 at 8:17 am | Permalink

            Humans can be brought down so easily. I went to Las Vegas for a conference and of course that means lots of walking. My colleagues were fine but my feet were a mess even in good shoes and orthotics. I know the location of every drug store on the strip and I must’ve spent $100 US on bandaids. There is a picture of me sitting on Las Vegas Boulevard with my shoes off, putting on bandaids. I even stopped & bought Sketchers. On the flight home, my ankles became swollen for the first time in my life. I was a foot wreck!

            Glad you have found a really good solution with your footwear!!

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted June 29, 2017 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

          It’s just evolution getting it’s own back at your ancestors for having the temerity to crawl out of the water.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted June 29, 2017 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

            Evolution: Hey, primate! Not so cocky with the grasping hands now are ya!

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted June 29, 2017 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

              Not so braggy with the prehensile thumbs, eh human!

  13. Kevin
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Physical therapy is key.

    Movement is good. Pick up an instrument (stringed) or piano. Light pushups with fingers outstretched can help. A punch bag or just punching a pillow. This will help wrist strength which can help finger strength.

    If it feels swollen: cold. If it is stiff: hot.

    Swimming definitely can make limbs feel better by warming them up and circulating blood. I notice as I get older, my limbs and toes and fingers get less blood.

    • Posted June 29, 2017 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      Agree totally on PT: Just do it; and never stop!

  14. Wayne Robinson
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    I feel for you. In August 2008 after visiting Novosibirsk for the total solar eclipse and the genetic research centre to see the tame silver foxes, i managed to dislocate the proximal imterphalangeal joints of the 3rd, 4th and 5th fingers of my left hand falling down a poorly lit set of dark coloured stairs at the railway station (the Russians don’t seem to have an idea concerning public liability).

    I picked myself up, looked at my grossly deformed hand and quickly pulled the joints into position (I had a train to catch – it was no bother, although my local guide didn’t look well…)

    My next stop was Irkutsk. I couldn’t talk my sleeping car companions to allow me to move from the upper sleeping berth. And somehow a Finnish tourist managed to inveigle me into carrying her 40 kg heavy suitcase in Irkutsk and at Lake Baikal (I didn’t get anything for my good deed besides conversation).

    When I finally got back to Australia (after the Gobi Desert and Ulan Bator, i couldn’t see any point in seeking medical treatment. The fingers have healed with mild deformity and slight stiffness, which I don’t think medical or surgical treatment would have improved.

    Often doing nothing is the best course of action.

  15. Posted June 29, 2017 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Looks a little like a piece of Havarti cheese.

    Hope it recovers soon.

  16. Allen Linville
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    I had the same injury a few years ago on my “communication finger” of my right hand.

    Please educate a poor Canadian. Why is it important that your race/ethnicity be listed on your medical records? is there a valid medical reason or is it an American thing?

    • Posted June 29, 2017 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      I think they are trying to gather data on race to differentiate/de-aggregate results in order to provide more effective care to certain racial groups.

      I was just at a neurologist and they told me about several risk factors that are higher for black people than for white people. I asked if they treat differently because of that; and the neurologist said they do.

      How would you know if you don’t collect the data?

      • Allen Linville
        Posted June 29, 2017 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

        I knew certain racial groups reacted differently to drugs but I was curious why that would be recorded for something not requiring medication.

        I learn something new everyday.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted June 30, 2017 at 8:19 am | Permalink

          I guess Jerry is going to get the Asian finger treatment – which, having written that, seems way worse than intended.

      • Wayne Robinson
        Posted June 29, 2017 at 2:28 pm | Permalink


        I don’t think that biologically there are human races – just regional geographic populations.

        Objectively, there are perhaps four human ‘races’, based on the inheritance of mitochondrial DNA patterns, four in Africa and the other race in the rest of the world – including Europeans, East Asians, Melanesians, and the rest. Some of this race also stayed in Africa, I think from memory (not necessarily reliable) including amongst others the Bantus.

        I also wonder how robust the statistics would be relying on selfreported identification of ‘race’.

        I suspect the data would be more useful for detecting social and economic disadvantage.

        • Posted June 29, 2017 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

          As noted, she called out African (American)s. This is a very good center; I assume they are making evidenced-based decisions.

          How robust are any statistics in human medicine that involves life styles, eating habits, etc.? Probably not very. But you have to start somewhere.

          I’m much less concerned about self-reporting on race than on eating habits, drinking habits, smoking habits, etc.

      • Posted June 29, 2017 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

        The CDC has graphs on skin cancer by race and they show that if race is a social construct, then apparently cancer cells believe in this construct.

        A US obstetrician whose blog I visit says that black women have more pregnancy & birth complications even if you take into account other factors such as poverty. I am not sure about this. It is notoriously difficult to account for the associated factors and trace the effect of the chosen factor in isolation.

  17. Posted June 29, 2017 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    In Canada this would be free, be interested to know the final bill?

    • Posted June 29, 2017 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      I’m covered by Blue Cross and Medicare on top of that, but I’ll probably see the bill, most of which I won’t have to pay. As I did with my sinus operation a few years ago, I’ll let people know the costs.

      • Posted June 29, 2017 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

        I, too, am covered by Blue Cross/Blue Shield (by the company I work for with some contribution from me).

        I recently had a series of health issues, including two hospitalizations (I seem fine now, thankfully).

        The total bill(I did seem almost all of them) was around $75K. My share was less than 5%. I feel very fortunate.

        But, and this rises immediately to mind every time I discuss this: What about all those millions in the USA who have neither a professional job nor employer subsidized health insurance? It’s instant bankruptcy!

        And that, per the GOP, is the new American Dream.

        GOP: Sod all those millions! Those poor, suffering few thousand households at the very top of the economic scale need more tax breaks!


        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted June 29, 2017 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

          I know someone in hospice for Stage IV breast cancer. Clearly she can’t work with all the medication she is on for pain, but she would have to go back to work if she lost her coverage. This, practically, would be impossible given her illness, her pain if she can’t have the medication & the fact that no one would hire her because she can’t really do the work. It’s really awful.

  18. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    What is the design on the ring. Or is it private?

    Several years ago, I made a “signet ring” as an N’th birthday present for Mum. A piece of “jet” (geologically equivalent to “Whitby Jet” , but not from Whitby. “Trust me, I’m a geologist!”) relief carved into an italic [Mum’s initial], and due to finger problems, I made it a pendant. Still got the ring finding somewhere.
    After 3 days work on the craving, smoothing, polishing and fitting the “piece” into the “finding”, I did a test seal with it into proper sealing wax. Red ribbon layered in the wax. Full pack-drill.
    I’d carved the piece into an italic letter. The seal imprint was therefore italic. Sloping bottom right to top left.
    Even without toolmarks etc, that cock up makes it unique. Which is fine for a signet.

  19. Blue
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Friend Ivan is precise, Dr Coyne:
    noooo scourgery ! Squat ! Stay ambulatory —
    upper limbwise — without it … … at all
    possible cost (said the former OR nurse and,
    later, veterinary scourgeon).

    “And so our flesh degenerates, bit by bit,
    until we’re stuffed underground” reminds me of
    the darlingest – ever line inside my second
    most favored film also ever, Captain Fantastic,
    the line at his Spouse’s FUNeral uttered there
    in that churchiness by Mr Ben Cash himself
    (Mr Viggo Mortensen): “First of all, Leslie
    practiced Buddhism, which to her was a
    philosophy and not an organized religion.
    In fact, Leslie abhorred all organized
    religions. To her, they were the most dangerous
    fairy tales ever invented, designed to elicit
    blind obedience, and strike fear into the
    hearts of the innocent and the uninformed.
    To her, the only thing worse than death would
    have been the knowledge that her rotting flesh
    was to be trapped for all eternity inside a big
    box, and buried in the middle of a fucking golf
    course. Although the absurdity of being
    eulogized by someone that didn’t even know her
    has exactly the kind of comedic flourish that
    Leslie would have cherished. If nothing else,
    she had a sense of humor. I want to read
    something to all of you, so you’ll know what
    I mean.”



  20. loren russell
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    “Hand surgery — nothing good can come from it” — About 35 years ago, I incurred a finger fracture while playing softball. Double fracture actually across a joint so that it required seemingly minor surgery to insert a couple of pins.

    When time came to take the pins out, I looked down halfway through the procedure and saw that the surgeon was cutting into the ring finger [fracture was obviously swollen middle finger. And he was working with the Xray in front of him!

    Two days later, I incurred high fever and rapidly swelling lower extremities — cellulitis from hospital staph. It took a month and three escalations of antibiotics to cure the infection. With bacteria out-evolving antibiotics, I reckon I’d be an amputee or dead in today’s world.

    About three years later I had another finger fracture, also in softball. I decided to decline surgical repair and stay with a non-invasive splint.

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 30, 2017 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

      “When time came to take the pins out, I looked down halfway through the procedure and saw that the surgeon was cutting into the ring finger [fracture was obviously swollen middle finger. And he was working with the Xray in front of him!”

      OMG! What did he say when you mentioned it?

  21. Posted June 29, 2017 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Ouch that red finger looks sore, and 2 hour wait on a surgeon???
    But it sounds like good news in hopefully you won’t need surgery and just another month in the splint right? I hope you don’t need surgery.
    Them naming your ethnicity…wow…How is that relevant to your finger

  22. Michael Scullin
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    I have the same problem on my “little finger” of my right hand. Fortunately it is not a problem. I do have a severe reaction to people who categorize people as Asian/Middle East. Middle Easterners and Indians from India are Caucasians, if the old and outmoded system would have it.

    People who write those forms asking for “Race” or “Ethnicity” or worst of all “Race/Ethnicity” are absolutely clueless and simply following the office version of political correctness. So we get “Asian” or “White” or some made up category of human. The Census Bureau (or did Trump do away with them?) has a bogus set of categories and when I wrote “sapiens” in the “Other” spot someone actually called. My daughter answered the phone and they quickly inquired, “Your father is “white” isn’t he? People like the administrators at the university at which I taught had absolutely no clue as to where the Caucasian region is on the globe form which come true Caucasians. My DNA identifies me as essentially northern European. Caucasians are not northern Europeans. Ethnicity has nothing to do with race and everything to do with geography. White people do not have an ethnicity I have been assured. Only people who are covered by “Ethnic Studies.” That simplifies things for that department, but leaves an anthropologist (me) quite dissatisfied.

  23. rickflick
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    I’ve notices that serious injuries take a very long time sometimes to heal fully. Especially after a certain age. Be patient Jerry.

    • Posted June 29, 2017 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

      I am a patient!

      • rickflick
        Posted June 29, 2017 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

        But are you a patient patient?

        • JohnnieCanuck
          Posted June 29, 2017 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

          Sounds like he is an outpatient patient and after tw0 hours, apparently an impatient outpatient patient.

          Get well soon, Professor ceiling cat.

      • Posted June 30, 2017 at 6:36 am | Permalink

        It is a sick world!

  24. Karin Lindhagen
    Posted June 30, 2017 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    The reason you have the splint is to keep the extensor tendon short until healed, otherwise it may lengthen and not enable you to stretch your finger fully. It happened to both my ring fingers on separate occasions quite a few years ago. I had the same treatment as you, and both fingers are fully functional although the tips are a few degrees from straight if you look closely. I’m confident that in a few months you will type without thinking at all about your injury.

  25. Gareth
    Posted June 30, 2017 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    I cut the top of my finger as a kid, nipping the tendon as I did it, like a typical dumb kid, I just wrapped it in toilet paper + tape and went on playing. It was a bout a week later that I eventually saw a doctor, and as such attempts at using a finger cast to get it to grow back properly didn’t get anywhere, so I’ve had a drooping finger tip for most of my life 🙂

    As for race/ethnicity, on the US census (I’m probably out of date as thus was for 2000/2001), White/Caucasian, Black/African, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, and Other are considered races, and is compulsory, where as Ethnicity is a kind of free for all and is voluntary. However, there is some requirement that a Latin/Hispanic check-box always be an option under ethnicity.

    A contrast to the UK, which mangles race and ethnicity together as one, and has about 6 different types of ‘other
    Makes you wonder why they don’t just leave a blank box where you can write what you want, most people are grown up enough to write somethign sensible, and the 0.1% of the population who write Jedi/Smurf/Furbie can be dumped under ‘Other’.

  26. Jeff Lewis
    Posted June 30, 2017 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    I incurred a similar injury back in high school playing basketball. I went to a doctor, and he showed me his finger that he had injured the same way and that was still crooked. He said there was nothing to do for it other than put the finger in a splint to get it to straighten out a little bit, though not fully straight. I’ve done just fine ever since. I didn’t even know surgery was an option. But for the practically non-existent effect the injury has had on me, I wouldn’t go through the risks and inconvenience of a surgery, anyway.

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