Distracted cooks get surprises. Anyone whose fingers have had unexpected contact with a sharp kitchen knife knows this. Are you cooking at home more than usual? Maybe you have a fierce pair of scissors and you cut something unintentionally (like, for instance, the webbing between your thumb and fingers). Perhaps you’ve clipped yourself with a vegetable-slicing mandolin. We’ve all been there. Everyone can agree that it’s excruciating when you injure your hands or fingers, whether it happened in the kitchen or in another locale.
Recently, a patient came in with a stitched-up hand and a story of kitchen-related injury. I assessed the wound and supported the ER’s work with a traditional Chinese medical treatment to speed healing and mitigate scar formation. All good, right?
Imagine my surprise when, just days later, I thwacked off half a fingernail while chopping vegetables as I fumed about the state of the world in 2020.
If you’ve had a mishap like this, I feel your pain. Oh, does it hurt! My finger would not stop bleeding, either. I won’t share horrifying details, but at the twenty-minute mark (which is when you should seek medical attention if a wound hasn’t stopped bleeding), it was still gushing. Finally, I asked myself what I would do if a patient came into my office just having slammed their finger in their car door. What would I do if I happened to be a bystander to a hand or finger injury? I took a breath and did for myself what I’d do for a patient, and the flood abated.
If you’ve injured yourself to the extent that I did, you probably do need allopathic medical attention. Meantime, there are a few things to do beforehand to ameliorate a free-fall and I’ll share some actions for you to take that can mitigate nerve damage and/or scar formation.
~~~Take inventory of your first aid kit today~~~
Do you have wound wash, triple antibiotic cream, and non-stick gauze pads at home? I have professional tools in my office but realized, to my dismay, that I had little of use in my home kit. Do you know why you need non-stick gauze pads? Read this blog post, titled “I cut off half my fingernail; here’s what not to do.” That poor soul did to her index finger exactly what I did to my middle finger. She explains clearly why not to use regular gauze pads. (Note to the squeamish: she shares pictures of her ordeal; you will thank me for not sharing mine). If you really want to plan ahead and add to the knowledge-and-skills element of your first aid kit, you can even take a free 90-minute course from Stop The Bleed on how to help yourself or someone else in an emergency situation.
~~~Take inventory of your headspace every day~~~
If you are overly-stressed right now (who isn’t?), keep that in mind while you are cutting vegetables or otherwise working with sharp instruments. Also, maybe promise yourself not to do things like shut car doors with one hand while texting with the other. Yes, they are called accidents for a reason but mindfulness is not just for meditators. Paying attention now can save you a lot of blood, sweat, and tears later (writes the woman who cut off half of her own fingernail and has vowed to not slice vegetables when upset or distracted ever again).
~~~Take inventory of your healthcare providers now~~~
Find an acupuncturist and have your first appointment before you have an emergency, especially if you genuinely need your hands for your work (as, for example, my professional musician patients do). If you truly hurt yourself, you will need to go to an MD; standard of care for injury that cuts through skin like this is a tetanus shot, for instance. But once that’s out of the way, don’t wait around. Not all acupuncturists do scar work (I do) and it’s easier to deal with injuries if you already have a practitioner you trust. One that works with hands, especially (I do this), can potentially resolve the damage quickly and in a way that mitigates future problems.
If you did look at the above link and see what the blogger did to her finger? I made myself an herbal paste and my nail bed at four days post-injury is healed as much as hers did at two weeks after she cut herself. Herbal pastes, when applied properly to scrupulously cleaned injuries, work miracles. Your acupuncturist can also give you an herbal formula to build your blood if you’ve lost a lot of it. An acupuncturist who does scar work can also help you so that you don’t end up with nerve damage and/or reduced range of motion due to scarring.
If you are in Austin, do set an appointment to come see me if this resonates. Are you outside of Texas? I also offer Telehealth wellness consultations to assess older scars and provide education and other resources for potential scar revision (for acute injury, you need an acupuncturist near you). There is always something that can be done about scars when you are willing to be creative, patient, and dedicated.
Fingers are full of nerves and you use them a lot. Do not just get your stitches and tetanus booster and then wait around while the wound heals. An expert in scar revision can help you months or years after the original injury, yes, but it takes longer and it’s more challenging to resolve leftover issues at that point. And you do not want to end up with a permanently misshapen nail, a scar that impedes movement of your finger, or nerve damage that never really resolves. It is truly worth it to get help from your acupuncturist, especially if they know about scars and do a lot with hands. Trust me on this.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but accidents are by definition unplanned. You’re not helpless though. Have a good home kit, be mindful and attentive, and make sure to have an acupuncturist you trust help you to speed your healing process.
Treat your hands right and they’ll return the favor. And please…don’t chop vegetables while fuming.
Paula Bruno, Ph.D., L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, an AOBTA-CP traditional Chinese bodywork therapist, and a wellness educator. She maintains an active and growing practice at her Austin, TX offices. Dr. Bruno is also available for distance appointments for wellness consultation or coaching.
In her first career, she was a Spanish professor.
Dr. Bruno’s specialties as a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner include: • Musculoskeletal health (acute or chronic pain relief; Ehlers Danlos syndrome & hypermobility support) • Digestive support, gut health, and weight loss • Aesthetic treatment, including scar revision • Men’s health • General preventative care and immune support for all persons.
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Note: Material on this web site site is not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any disease, illness, or ailment. A TCM practitioner in Texas identifies syndrome patterns but does not diagnose illness. Material on this web site does not purport to identify syndrome patterns.