Let Yourself Fall Ill

A year ago, I cut my middle finger open on a can of beans. Squeamish and dizzy at the sight of blood, all I could manage was to pat it with a clean rag for a few minutes, wrap it in eight layers of paper towels, and tuck my hand behind me, out of sight, as I returned to reading in bed.

An hour or so later (I was reading Black Against Empire, an excellent book whose authors I should sue for making it engrossing enough to let me forget I was bleeding out), I apprehensively looked back at my finger. I was still bleeding, and fast.

Marking my page, I threw the book in my bag, replaced the paper towels, and carefully put on a jacket, slightly curling my finger inward to keep it from catching on my coat.

I was determined to avoid a third ER trip in less than a year, so I set out for a clinic, listed on Yelp as located near Copley Square. When I got to the address, the ninth floor of a building next to the church where I’d attended so many organizing meetings over the years, I found the apartment number and knocked.

A man answered, beckoning me inside. The place looked like was a dirty apartment. But always polite, I couldn’t flee now: I was already filling out the requisite paperwork.

When he invited me to sit on the examination chair, I did. Unwrapping my mummified finger, he told me I needed stitches. I nodded, watching him turn around and begin rummaging through drawers in a nearby cabinet.

“I ran out of stitches,” he remarked. It was hard to tell if he was talking to me or himself.

I sat, silent.

“Do you think CVS sells stitches?” he asked, turning back toward me.

There was no way this guy was a licensed doctor.

As he phoned the CVS on the corner, I sprang out of the chair, muttering about “never mind” and “no it’s okay.” It may have been my most assertive moment in months. Apologizing my way out the door, I ran to the elevator. I’d go to Mass General’s walk-in clinic, the second Yelp listing.

…and when I did, after waiting hours to be seen, the nurse unwrapped my finger and gasped. By this point, I’d been bleeding for hours.

“Honey, you need stitches!”

“I know,” I said, trying to avoid registering her unmistakable nausea.

“We don’t do stitches here. You’ll have to go to the next building over. That’s the emergency room, they can take care of this.”

I ended up getting eight stitches. Eight, and on my wispy piano fingers no less.


I considered making this story into some overwrought metaphor about 2015 being a tough year but one that we’ll heal and grow stronger from, but nobody needs to hear that.

No, the truth is that my finger is still scarred and sometimes it feels like it’s about to rip back in half along the stitch line. And, the doctor forgot to take one of the stitches out when I got them removed, so I had to convince a friend who was in nursing school to dig into my finger and pull it out with tweezers over his kitchen table one morning.

Which seems a fitting start now, twelve months later.

2015 was an intense and occasionally devastating year for a lot of us politically, even as we (or at least myself) grew immensely and had some victories, politically and personally.

So in the spirit of honesty, all I’ll say is: may we devote our scarred selves to building a better 2016, because dear God, we need it.

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