Thursday, March 31, 2011

Friday Flash: Looking Down

The rings snapped on the steel rod as the curtain was whisked closed. "So," the nurse said, "it's your hand, is it, dear?"

"My finger, actually." The man on the gurney held up his right hand, an indistinguishable lump wrapped in several towels, now slightly reddish. "My middle finger. The tip."

"Well, let's just see what we're dealing with, shall we?" She reached for his hand, but he pulled it away. He made a half-gesture, as though he were going to clutch it to himself, but then thought better of it and left it by his side. The nurse said, "Now, then, Mister . . ."

"Sendril. Ravi Sendril."

"Thank you. Mr. Sendril, I can't do you much good unless I can get a look at it. Are you in a lot of pain? On a scale of one to ten, with one being 'not bad' and ten being 'the worst thing I've ever felt', how would you rate what you're feeling?"

"I guess . . . a seven. No, a six. I . . . I took some aspirin before coming over here. I . . . I thought it would help. I don't know if it did or not. I'm not sure." He took a deep breath. "A seven. It's a seven."

The nurse again reached for his hand, and he again pulled away. She said, "Mr. Sendril, once we get these wrappings off, I can see about giving you something to dull the pain, a local anaesthetic or even something more general." Her voice was warm and caring, her motherly smile lending it a compassionate timbre. "You'd be amazed how much better it'll feel once we inject some novocaine in there. However, we can't do anything until we know what we're dealing with."

"It's my finger. My middle finger. The tip." He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "I said that already, didn't I? I'm afraid I'm feeling a little disoriented." He laughed, a weak and pathetic sound. "I guess it's good I'm lying down already."

"Why don't you tell me what happened while I unwrap this, and then we—"

"It was my table saw," he said, keeping his hand down. "I got it last Christmas, but haven't really had a chance to use it. So I decided to build a bookcase this weekend. I got some wood and . . . and . . . it just got away from me. I watched the safety video, I swear. I watched it twice. But the blade was just . . . I didn't realize that it would . . ." He trailed off, a glassy look of sick memory clouding his face.

"Was it just the one fingertip?"

"What? Yes, of course just the one. Just the middle finger. I mean, I think so." He looked down and winced, having obviously tried to wiggle the fingers of his right hand within the mass of wrapped cloth. "Oh my God. Oh my God."

"Sir, you really need to let me look at it, and I can't do that until you let me unwrap it." She reached again for the injury hand, and lifted the corner of the towel.


She stopped. "Does it hurt when I do that?" she asked.

"N-no. I mean, yes, but not . . . what I mean is . . . I need to tell you something."

The room was quiet for a time as the nurse sat, waiting with an expression that combined encouragement with expectancy.

"I . . ." He swallowed and began again, "I . . . don't want . . ." His voice dropped to a whisper, cracked and raw. "I'm afraid. I'm afraid of what is in there. Of what I've done to myself. To my hand." He began to weep, sobs that were all the more painful for his desperate effort to hold them in. "I don't want to see. I don't want to know how bad it is. I'm afraid."

"I understand, Mr. Sendril. From what you've described, this," she indicated his swathed hand, "could be pretty bad, or it might not be as bad as you think. We've got some very good doctors here who really know what they're doing with a needle and thread." She smiled as a barked laugh mixed with his sobbing, resulting in a wet snort that made him laugh again at the absurdity of it. She continued, "However, the sooner they get to work, the better off you'll be. At this stage, every minute counts. I can promise you that no matter what the situation is, I'll be right here to help you deal with it, OK?"

On the bed, he drew a deep breath, a ragged, shuddering breath and exhaled it all. He awkwardly used his left hand to wipe the tears from his face and looked up at the nurse. He nodded.

"Good. You're going to be all right, Mr. Sendril. Now, do you want to look away as I unwrap this?" He nodded. "All right, then, here we go," she said, "and I'll just start with this cloth."

"Nurse? Nurse . . ."

"Sandy. You can call me Sandy."

"Thank you, Sandy. I'm . . . I'm sorry I was weak."

She paused in her unwrapping and patted him on the arm. "You're not weak, dear. You've just had a hard day." With a touch light and gentle, she lifted away the first of the blood-soaked towels.
!drawkcab . . . hsalFyadirF s'tI
That was called "Looking Down" by Tony Noland.

April Fools! The story you just read appears here on my blog as part of the Great April Fool's Day FridayFlash Blog Swap, organized by Tony Noland. After some unexpected shuffling, I ended up swapping stories with the man himself. My story, Ugly Painting, Expensive Frame, is posted over on his blog.

You can also read the dozens of stories being swapped around as a part of the GAFDFFBS at Tony's blog Landless. For hundreds of thousands of words of fantastic flash fiction stories, check out the #FridayFlash hashtag on Twitter. It happens every Friday!

My thanks to Tony not only for coming up with the idea (the easy part) but for seeing it through to the end. Not so many thanks for writing a story that made me squirm; I can't stand the sight of blood, so I definitely felt the tension and squeamishness in this story.