Sunday, May 5, 2013

Thumbs Down

We can all agree a lovely garden is a beautiful thing. As spring blooms around us we drive about and notice. First it’s the tree blossoms, followed by flowering shrubs like azaleas, bougainvillea and spirea. Then come the flowers.

Most of us just appreciate. Then there are those who realize the beauty doesn’t happen all by itself. These folks are willing to dig around in the dirt a few times to throw in some bulbs and maybe a few pansies or snap dragons. That leaves the heavy lifting to the rest of us. The sick ones. Those of us who start planning our gardens in January, weeding the beds in February and laying out designs in March. From there we start watching the forecast, waiting for the first possible declaration that the last frost has passed. When it has, the calendar comes out and we schedule the plantings.

I personally have twelve beds, if you count the herbs and vegetables, thirteen if you count the water lilies in the pond. Ideally they will all be in the ground (or water) by the end of May. That gives me about a month and a half that starts with the realization it is time and ends with a sort of hysteria because it’s getting late and I still have several beds to go. Like I said, it’s a sickness.

This year, my gardening frenzy took on an unfortunate twist. It was a couple weeks into the season. By then, of course, I had my lists: these plants for this bed, laid out just so. I also had my calendar filled in. If I kept to schedule the entire grounds would be planted by the end of May.

So, you can imagine my angst when I woke up to rain last weekend. I opened my eyes around six on Sunday. When I heard the rain I woke Cecil up like the house was on fire. “It’s raining!” I screeched. “So?” he wanted to know. “My gardens. I have to plant the front flower bed today.” He wasn’t all that concerned…until he came downstairs a little later and found me zipping up the rain slicker I’d thrown over my gardening overalls.

“What are you doing?” he wondered as he staggered for the coffee pot. There was no use explaining. He would never understand. It barely made sense to me.

Once outside it wasn’t all that bad. People typically try to avoid the rain. We duck and run for cover. I was going to be out in it…I’d already accepted that. So I walked bravely from the carport into the downpour and didn’t even flinch. In a way, it was kind of exciting, like I was a pioneer or a mountain man, or one of those people who just moved around in weather like it wasn’t even there.

I admit that at first I acted sort of like a girl…trying to dig from a squatting position, taking my muddy gloves off to push my hair back. I hadn’t been out fifteen minutes before I was kneeling in the mud and sometimes stretching out on my stomach to reach a particular spot. The hair was shoved back with gloves that still held a clump of weeds. Sometimes I used the spade itself. My face looked like it was painted up for a war dance around the fire pit. After a while I hardly noticed.

Two hours later I was done, except for the piles of weeds, trimmings and other such debris. I grabbed our trash barrel…the one that goes to the curb each week. It’s got two wheels on the back edge so you have to tilt it back when you’re moving it. I opened the lid, which flipped back and hung between me and the barrel, and I began to roll from spot to spot, picking up my various piles. The rain pounded me and the yard and everything in sight. I was drenched but I was almost done. A hot bath sounded good.

Then it happened. I guess you’d call it a freak accident. The lid to the trash can caught on something as it hung between me and the barrel. Not realizing, I took another step, which landed on the lid. That snapped the whole barrel backward so it flipped off its wheels and came down on its back side, taking me with it. It’s difficult to describe how this whole thing went down. The relevant particulars are that my hands never left the handle, which was under the lid, which in turn was under the full weight of my body.

In the span of three seconds I was head first inside the trash can. Thankfully the dogs hadn’t killed anything yet that week so I wasn’t sharing space with any carcasses. But there was plenty of other nasty stuff in there. Worse though were my hands, especially my thumbs, both of which were still trapped under the lid on which the lower half of my body was lying as it stuck out of the trash can. I could already tell they were in trouble. At a minimum they’d been wrenched into some unnatural position to which no thumb should ever be subjected. There was the distinct possibility they were dangling or snapped in half. I was afraid to look. And before I could, I had to slide out of the trash can, putting more weight on the lid. I was torturing myself.

The thumbs were bad, especially the right one. Cecil wanted to examine them…like that was gonna happen! These thumbs could not be touched. They could not be moved. You couldn’t move anything next to them. I really didn’t even want him to look at them.

Within minutes they had swelled up. My son likened them to sausages. As the week wore on the bruising set in. I kept waiting for things to get better but they did not. Cecil said they were severely sprained, along with my left wrist. Both hands were somewhat strained as well but compared to the thumbs they didn’t deserve, nor did they get, any sympathy.

This brings me to the role of the thumb in life. I’d have to say I never really appreciated my thumbs before. I do now. As I tried to carry on without using them I quickly found there’s very little you can do. I figure I will do a service to others by noting a few key functions of the thumb so you all will be very careful with them from now on:

1. Turning the ignition key: Forget it. It’s easier to call a cab, or walk, or stick the sprained thumb out along the roadside to hitch a ride.
2. Turn a door knob: This is not going to happen. Better to just kick the door in and be done with it.
3. Open any kind of jar: Don’t even try.
4. Hold a pen: This becomes a two-handed bit of excruciating small muscle coordination that unfortunately cannot be entirely avoided. You should keep some pain killers at your desk.
5. Push the clicker to open your car door: You need to throw caution to the wind here and lay yourself open to thieves, rapists and murders. All of that will hurt less.
6. Close a zipper: Just leave it open. People will understand.
7. Brush your teeth: Buy a lot of breath mints and hope your teeth don’t rot before the thumbs get better.
8. Pull up your pants: I’ve been working my way through this one because it really is a must. Be prepared to suffer.
9. Use scissors: You’ll have to tear things with your teeth for a while, assuming they haven’t fallen out from the no brushing.
10. Catch-all: Lift anything, no matter how small or how light. No matter how much you want to pick that thing up and carry it to where you want it to be. You have to accept the fact that you might as well have paws or hooves because your hands are not going to be lifting or holding or moving anything until your darn thumbs have healed.  

As I head into week two I would raise a glass (if I could) in celebration of thumbs. They are an amazing piece of work. Without them I have learned to appreciate countless little things that I have always taken for granted. So, here’s to thumbs up…an icon that has taken on new meaning for me.


  1. I can so relate to pulling up your pants. I've had a pinched nerve in my lower back for months. Shedding said pants before a shower isn't so bad. Just step out of them and leave them on the bathroom floor. Of course, eventually you have to bend down and put them in the hamper. Or, master the two toe lift and swing. Sometimes it works. Sometimes the pants end up in the shower. Putting them on reminds me why we once called them step-ins. No balancing lightly on the edge of the toilet or bed. This is a barely bend over, hold the waist by your fingertips, and wiggle you feet into the leg holes. Or not.

  2. Too bad you don't use homeopathics. Think of them next time. Not to brag or make you feel worse from your suffering, but I spained my ankle yesterday, landing on it bent in a fall (enough pressure I'm surprised it wasn't fractured). Started on my Arnica right away. Today, no bruise, pain is gone. Have to walk with a slight limp because of the limited motion from the swelling, but you don't want to mess with the swelling since that is what draws in the healing factors. So I'll limp pain-free for a while. No problem. I have Arnica at my stall at Happy's where I'm selling all my earthly possessions. Come by sometime.