Breaking up with your fingers

Our hands are one of the primary ways we interact with the world. We touch, feel, grab, and grasp people and everyday objects — such as this magazine you’re holding.

Because of how often we use our hands, it’s pretty common to get them hurt in a lot of different ways. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control in Atlanta, about 30,000 people — both kids and adults — are rushed to U.S. emergency rooms each year because they’ve amputated a finger.

An injury can involve a sharp cut, a crushing injury, a tearing injury, or a combination of these injury types. An amputation can result from slamming your finger in a car door or catching your ring on a hook or nail. Your fingertips are rich with nerves and are extremely sensitive. Because of this, a fingertip injury can cause problems with hand function without prompt and proper treatment and may even result in permanent deformity or disability.

The two most common causes of accidental finger amputations are from things many of us come into contact with everyday: doors and power tools.

According to that same study, three out of four finger amputations in children under the age of 4 resulted from fingers that were caught, jammed, or crushed while closing a door.  In men aged 55 and older, more than half of all finger amputations were caused by power tools, mainly power saws.

Even with a high number of accidental amputations, are you aware of what to do with a body part once it’s been detached?  

what-to-doAccording to first aid advice from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the first thing you do when a body part becomes detached is to control the bleeding. Put direct pressure on the wound and elevate it higher than the heart.

Then rinse off the severed finger or toe (or part thereof) to decrease the bacteria without scrubbing it, as you could cause blunt force damage.

This is the most important part: Grab a clean cloth or piece of sterile gauze, dampen it with cold water, and wrap the finger or toe in it. Then put the wrapped appendage into a plastic bag and put the bag in cold (preferably iced) water.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, people must avoid putting the appendage in direct contact with ice since it could give it freezer burn, damaging it to the extent of making reattachment difficult.

And finally, make sure you have the appendage with you at all times. If you give the wrapped appendage for someone to hold as you make your way to the emergency room, you risk being further separated from your appendage.

Recovery from an accidental amputation may take several months. After your injury heals, mild to severe pain and sensitivity to cold may continue for up to a year or may even be permanent. Consult a doctor if you encounter any of these problems.