"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Personal Story: Mama’s Finger

Let’s start with my mother being seventy-nine.  She’s a strong seventy-nine, but still she’s actually closer to her eightieth birthday than the one she just passed.  She has slowed down since her hip replacement from four years ago, but still she gardens and walks, and now that my brother has been away she’s living alone.  Living alone actually gives her less to do because when my brother and his wife are at her house, she cooks and cleans for them as if she was forty years old and they were teenagers.  She’s one of those tireless Italian ladies that just need to be doing something.

She lives about a half mile from my house.  I stop there every day on my way home from work, just for five or ten minutes to make sure everything is OK.  In the spring and summer she’s usually in the back gardening, and sometimes digging trenches and moving buckets of dirt.  Half the time I shake my head and ask her why.  She just does.  Sometimes after digging a trench where rain puddles up, she’ll redo it if she doesn’t feel like it came out right.  Some of our biggest arguments are over what I see as meaningless heavy labor.  She’s incorrigible.  She’ll tell me this will be the last time and I find out she did it again any way.  Or I just catch her at it.

I stopped there last Thursday and no one answered the door.  I knocked and rang the bell for ten minutes.  The side of the house was nicely raked with dirt turned over.  I used my cell phone to call.  I heard her phone ring.  Still there was no answer.  I keep her keys, and so decided to open the door.  I did and called inside.  No answer.  At her age I worry about her collapsing and either being unconscious or incapacitated.  I went through each room and she wasn’t anywhere to be found.  I sighed. 

The next possibility is she walked about a mile away to where the commercial street resides.  There she could have gone to several stores.  Under typical conditions she would have planned walking there and being home at the time I normally get home from work.  But there have been a few times where she didn’t plan that well and was out.  Those times I drove toward that commercial boulevard and found her walking along the way.  She would be grateful for the ride home.  So I drove and didn’t come across her.  I drove back and didn’t see her.  I stopped back in her house—nothing.  I drove back toward the boulevard again and this time I stopped at the little supermarket where she might be.  I walked through every aisle—nothing.  I gave up.  I called my wife (at this point I was late for home) and told her what had happened and that I was on my way home.  I got about a block when my cell phone rang. 

“Are you Maria _____’s son?” asked the voice.

“Yes.  Where is she?”

“The Emergency Room at Staten Island University Hospital.”

“What?  What happened? ”

“Don’t worry.  No need to get worried.  She fell.”

“How is she?”

“Don’t get alarmed.  It’s scratches and bruises and a dislocated finger.  When can you get here?”

“I’ll be right there.  Ten, fifteen minutes.”

I called my wife and told her I was headed straight there, raced over.   The Emergency Room was packed and they had beds in the aisles, and I found her in a bed in an aisle.  She looked rather comfortable laying there.  Her right hand was wrapped and she held it up.  The doctor was happy to see me.  My mother doesn’t speak enough English to really understand everything.  I guess they understood her since communication of pain is rather easy.  She had been there at least three hours.

So what happened?  She had been raking the backyard and needed to put down grass seed.  She had walked to that commercial boulevard to the hardware store and bought grass seed.  When she was just a few blocks from home she just fell.  She’s not sure why, but she fell forward catching herself with her hands and apparently also taking the blow with her chest.  A couple living nearby saw her fall, tried to help her up, but decided to call an ambulance.  They even checked up on her at the hospital. 

Her chest hurt all the way around.  They did an EKG and chest x-rays.  Her heart was fine and no ribs were broken.  She had scratches and bruises on her hands and legs.  The tips of several of her exposed fingers had band-aids.  She was grateful (with a weird sort of pride) that she did not scratch or hurt her face.  Her right hand had a splint with bloody bandages.  The doctor said she dislocated at the mid knuckle.  She came in with the finger bent in the middle literally at a right angle outward.  Yikes.  They had straightened it, and now they were going to stick it back into the knuckle.  When they unwrapped it I squirmed, especially my face.  The finger was swollen double the size, the color of the skin looked pale grey, and there was a slit down the inside that you could see into the finger.  The doctor shoved the front half of the finger into the back half.  It wasn’t going in right, so they needed to do it several times.  Finally they got it in, then x-rayed again, and then when they were happy, stitched the gaping wound. 

They finally let her out around eight o’clock with a follow up with a hand surgeon.  As I helped her with her coat, which had been lying on the hospital bed beside her, I noticed a plastic shopping bag that was underneath the coat.  I looked in the bag and it was a big bag of grass seed.  LOL!  She still had the bag all this time, ambulance ride and all.  The white plastic was smeared with blood. 

You would think that would be the end of the story, but no.  I checked in on her the next day, and there she was in the backyard, smeared with dirt, her right hand full of bandages and inside a plastic bag to prevent it from getting dirty.  “What the hell are you doing?” I screamed.  “I can’t believe you’re doing this.”  “I had to get the seed down,” she explained.  “It’s going to rain tomorrow.”  And then she asked me to help her with her ice pack.  We walked inside and she sat down.  I assumed she had an ice pack inside the bag around her hand.  But she lifted her pants leg up and had a wrap with ice around her calf. 

“Is it swollen?” she asked. 

It was slightly swollen.  “What happened here?”

“A dog bit me.”


“A little dog.  It bit me.”  She extended her arm and with her other hand showed the length of the dog to be from her fingertips to the mid forearm.  “A little dog.  No bigger than a rat.  It bit me?”

“Where was this?  In front of the house?”


So here’s what happened.  She walked back to the spot where she had fallen the day before.  For what reason, God knows.  To see if her blood was still there?  To see if there was something in the sidewalk that caused her to fall?  She really didn’t have an answer.  While she was looking at the concrete floor at the very spot she fell this little dog on a leash, possibly on one of those extendable leashes, squirted up around her leg and bit her calf.  At the very spot she fell…LOL. 

The dog’s owner was apologetic and what-not.  But here she was now with a swollen leg and two little fang piercings.  My first thought was, do I need to take her to the hospital?  I was pretty sure she had a tetanus shot in the last ten years, but could the dog possibly be rabid?  Given the dog was with the owner and on a leash, I figured it was fairly unlikely it was rabid.  I did not want to go to the hospital again.  I put an antiseptic on the bite marks, put a band-aid on that, and wrapped the ice pack again.  I looked at her.  “What is going on with you?”  I had my hands up, almost appealing to God.  She had an embarrassed smirk on her face.  “I don’t know.”

So in the last week we met with the hand surgeon and she will need an operation on the finger.  The front part of the finger won’t stay correctly.  He will have to put pins in and reconstruct (I think) the tendons.  The operation will be on the 17th.  But since then we’ve had pre-op testing, medical clearences from her general doctor and from a cardiologist.  Oy vey.

 Here's a picture of my mother in her garden from several years ago.  As you can see, she's into her gardening.






  1. Oh my goodness, Manny! When you said you had a rough week, you weren't kidding!

    My very first thought as I read this account (please don't be mad at me, lol) was, God bless her! Here she is, at almost 80, and she is LIVING. Not just existing. She is doing the things she loves. And apparently she is not afraid. It warms my heart to see that. So many elderly are so afraid of everything, that they hardly do anything at all.

    My own MIL is 85. She has a lot of different things wrong with her, and can't do a lot now, but she still lives alone, and fiercely hangs on to as much independence as she can. She lives only two blocks from us, so my husband and I take her to church, shopping, the doctor, etc. She is also Italian, but was born here, and speaks what I call South Philly Italian sometimes, lol. You may know what I mean by that. :) She actually has a disease that did affect her face, and is always asking the doctor if the medicine is going to make it go back. I thought. maybe it is an Italian thing, but more likely it is a woman thing. :)

    She still does stuff that we scold her for, so I completely understand where you are coming from. Things that put her in danger of a fall--but now we got her a lifeline button that she wears around her neck. She may have fought us on that, if she hadn't already fallen and broken her hip. It works really well, you may want to look in to it. we prefer Lifeline rather than the much advertised Life Alert.

    My husband and I had a great friend in the priest that did our wedding. He was not that old, but had suffered strokes that made his one side lame. He liked to travel all over, went to shows, and liked to go on cruises. He had a sister that would yell at him for doing too much, lol -- he referred to her as bossy. (I met her when he went into the hospital, he was right). He kept on going right up to the end. He was the happiest guy you ever met, despite all his infirmities. I always hope that I will be able to do that. Who wouldn't want to live rather than just exist?

    1. Well, she's living life her way, that's for sure. I guess she's earned it in her old age. Most of her life was just the opposite. Thanks Kelly, and prayers for your MIL.

  2. I'm so sorry she fell and had to go through all of this. I hope the surgery goes well. A co-worker had to have pins in her finger for tendon problems and then has to take physical therapy afterwards. The whole procedure was quite painful. It is a good thing she is active though, it could be quite the opposite.

    1. Thanks Kathy. I forgot about physical therapy. I don't know how i'm going to take her in, unless they have hours after normal work day. Yes, she says it herself on her being active. She's says she feels good when she's moving around. It's when she's sedatary when she feels lousy.

    2. My MIL was picked up and dropped off to he therapy by transport -- maybe they have that option for your mama.

    3. Yes, Kelly it should be offered here too, and I did think of that, but I'm not sure with my mother's lack of English proficiency whether she can handle it. But we'll have to give it a try.

  3. Hey Manny! You do have a life! (lol)

    Great story and you brought a lot of funny sad memories back to some of my brain cells although my mother, God Bless her soul, died in 2004 at the age of 87 and she was "French". Trust me when I say that French woman can be just as stuborn as Italian ladies NOW!

    Anyway I'll spare you and your readers and simply thank you for your wonderful story which took me down memory lane and we'll talk about "IT" in the next world but in the mean time just keep praying for all of U>S (usual sinners).


    1. God bless you Victor. You really bring joy with your comments. Your mother sounds like she was a wonderful lady. Prayers for her as well as U>S. ;)

  4. Manny I'm glad her injuries weren't worse and I will keep your mother in my prayers. My mother has suddenly gotten very stubborn and I guess it has to do with age. She's a little younger than your mom. I'm sure I'll be a pip too when my time comes so I can't complain. I have worked with quite a few hand surgeons in my career and it's amazing how quickly one little mishap can wreak havoc on a person's hand. Still, better her hand than her head! Hang in there.

    1. Yes, hand is better than head Joyce. Thanks for the prayers. Only thing, my mother has always been stubborn...lol.

  5. I'll pray for your mother's health, but I don't know if she should take it easy and stop her gardening or just be strong and keep doing it. People get old when they stop doing what they love!

  6. Thank you Antonella, and you're right. She needs to keep doing what she loves.