Monday, November 15, 2010

What I learned from accidentally stabbing myself in the leg.

Okay, I’m an idiot, I’ll admit. I grew up around knives, I am cautious in the extreme, and yet I failed to pay attention for a couple of seconds and managed to stab myself. You may all laugh; in fact, I’ll be leading the laugh-in, because I showed up at the ER Sunday morning having changed my shirt for the occasion. I wore the T-shirt I made for Halloween as part of my three-dollar costume. That’s right, I showed up to the ER with a stabbed leg and over a thousand pages of reading material (I hate being bored in waiting rooms, so I brought American Gods and Dune), wearing a T-shirt that said (NINJA). With the parentheses. The ER docs said it showed a healthy sense of humor about the whole thing, so at least that part of me is healthy.

So, to answer the immediate questions first:

1. My life was not in any particular danger. The stab in question was more of a poke with the tip of the knife blade, about as long as my pinky fingernail is wide and about that deep. It went into the meat of my lower thigh, not very close to the knee and not close to any major blood vessels. I managed to soak about a quarter of a balled-up Kleenex with the blood before I got the thing properly dressed. After that, it took about five hours for a dime-sized area on the top of the gauze pad to turn pink. I only went to the ER at all because my dad took a look at it and said, “Hmm, I think you’ll need stitches.” (The ER doc later told me it would have been one stitch, tops, and not even that because I didn’t bother to come in until the morning after.)

2. I am not going to be crippled. I am limping slightly, mostly because I wear a lot of boot-cut jeans that are narrow in the lower thigh and knee, and therefore tend to rub the bandaged area. According to the nice ER docs, I did an excellent job of cleaning and bandaging the poke myself, and about the only thing they had to offer was a tetanus shot in case the knife wasn’t as clean as I thought it was. (It was my best knife, and I use it for food prep sometimes, so I clean it regularly with soap and water.) I got a flu shot while I was at it, because I hate getting shots and I figured there was no point in ruining two mornings when I could combine all the poking and stabbing into one pointy occasion.

3. I’m an idiot. We are in agreement on that. But I like to think I’m a classy sort of idiot, because once I figured out I was going to be limping all day, I began doing Martin Freeman impressions to amuse the friend who drove me to the ER. (The bandages I applied to stop the bleeding were tight enough to restrict the motion of my knee, which would have made driving … interesting.) Martin Freeman, for those of you not in the know, is the actor who plays the limping Dr. John Watson in the BBC’s excellent series Sherlock, and he spends most of each episode hobbling around after Sherlock Holmes, yelling at him to slow down and stop being a git.

And now, because one of my stupid human tricks would not be complete without a) a blog entry and b) an application to my writing, I’ll tell you what I learned from the experience.

First, I learned that I still remembered high-school health class and my time hanging around with EMTs well enough to cleanly and correctly dress a wound. (I was happy to relay this experience to my tutoring students today, ending the lecture with, “So pay attention in science class, kids, because you never know when you’ll get stabbed in the leg and have to quickly figure out whether you nicked an artery.”) I make a point of researching the real-world science behind my writing, so when Trevor sews up his own arm in Chapter 7 of Masks, you can be assured that the suture kit he uses actually exists and he’s doing it more or less right. It’s always gratifying when that research and background knowledge tests out well in the real world, although of course I’d prefer not to get stabbed in the process if I can help it.

Second, I learned that my freakish crisis reflex is still in place. I have no better way to explain it than this—I can dress a knife wound, but I cannot dress for a party. If I am invited to a friend’s party, I will stress out like crazy over what I’m supposed to wear and how I’m supposed to act lest it reflect badly on my friend. (I never care much about it reflecting badly on me—if people think I’m weird, it just means they’re perceptive.) But as soon as there’s blood, or screaming, or some kind of actual crisis involved, I get very calm and can usually handle things okay. I used to think that everyone was like this—and indeed, many people are—but it was fascinating to see the range of reactions from other people upon being told that I’d stabbed myself. A good half of them freaked right out, even after I told them that the injury was small and I’d taken care of it effectively. A client who had a meeting postponed due to the ER run seemed to think I was going to lose my leg. I, meanwhile, went all out cleaning and bandaging the thing because I’m not THAT stupid and infections are no fun, but I also took mental notes on what the inside of my leg looked like just in case I needed to know someday, and then kicked back and read comic books for a couple of hours while keeping the area elevated. Even putting on a funny T-shirt, however, didn’t seem to dent the general anxiety. (Interestingly, my brother calmed right down when I told him the bleeding had stopped, and the ER doc who looked at the injury wondered aloud why I’d even come in—until I told her I worked with kids and wanted to set a good example by going to the doctor when I was hurt instead of trying to tough it out.)

And third, leg wounds are absolutely hilarious. Really. It’s all a matter of perspective. So I feel quite justified in including a slightly morbid line of dialogue in the scene where Rae watches Trevor stitching up his gashed arm. When Rae looks uneasy at Trevor’s comfort with blood and surgical tools, he tries to lighten the mood by saying, “Hey, it could be worse. I could be amputating it.”

Rae laughs.

What can I say? They’re made for each other …


  1. Just today (3/31/11) I gut my foot open with a quilting blade. I thought back to when I read the blog about stabbing yourself in the leg with a knife, and I realized I had to go get stiches now instead of waiting. Thank you, O Masked One, for teaching me this.

  2. Hey!
    Yesterday similar thing happened to me.. I stabbed myself in the leg, but a bit deeper - an inch! Now i can't go to school or gym... But the dumbest thing is that i can't go to my military training camp, where i could have gained lots of experience i need, but this is some sort of experience aswell, right?
    Thanks for the post, made me smile!

    1. Glad I could help! Smiling is important. Btw, my injury healed up fine--I just have a small scar there now, which only hurts when I whack it really hard with something rigid. And I really shouldn't be whacking my own leg anyway.