The consultant examines Ray’s fingernail.
“I’m going to have to take it off,” he says. “I’m unhappy doing it, because it looks like a good nail, a young nail, but it’s split right down the middle here, and if I don’t get it out the infection will get worse.”
“Do it,” I say as Ray gulps and shuts his eyes.
This is what happened. Two days ago, Ray got home from school. “My finger hurts.”
“Did you have lunch?”
“Ow, it really hurts.”
“What happened?” I asked grudgingly.
“Don’t remember,” he said. “Maybe I banged it on the locker.”
I gave the finger a cursory look, and handed him some ibuprofen.
By eight that evening, the kid was in agony. I was still inclined to “let it sort itself out”, a medical philosophy that has failed me on a number of times – but husband, being the more proactive one, said “you had better get to A and E.”
And so commenced the night of the short nails.
As usual, A and E was packed with people who appeared radiant and in rude health. There was this one guy who kept looking at us and it turned out he was the dad of Ray’s school friend. It’s rude to ask “what are you doing here?” but I did so anyway, and he too appeared to be suffering a problem that was neither accident nor emergency, but hey.
After about two hours, I called Ray’s dad. I was thinking, he has a right to know. If this was happening on a night Ray was with him, then I’d want to know. I was also thinking, I’m bored. I wonder, if he comes, will I be able to go home?
If he was not entirely delighted at my nine o’clock call, then he did not bother to conceal it. Not at all.
“At the hospital? For a finger nail?”
“My thoughts entirely,” I smirked. “But it looks quite painful.” I added. By now, Ray was writhing around, squirming in his seat, and asking for milkshake.
“Well, it might be broken,” I exaggerated to up the ante. “We need an x-ray!”
At half past ten, Ray’s Dad came along with a flask of tea and some rice-cakes. The tea was great but the rice-cakes were disappointing. Ray got x-rayed, his finger was not broken, however, it was a ball of diabolical green puss. A Doctor drained it, that is, she stuck a pin in it, and loads of stuff oozed out, and we made an appointment for the consultant the following day.
“Thanks for coming,” I said to Ray’s dad.
“No worries,” he said and disappeared into the night.
First, they freeze Ray’s finger, then when its swollen up, they get out the instruments of torture. I become like a performing chimp in front of a Doctor, any Doctor. I can’t help myself. “Ooh, do you think you’ll be able to play the piano now?”
The nail is leveraged off. Its as violent as it sounds and there is blood everywhere.
“Will it grow back?”
The consultant shrugs. “50-50?”
Ray is in shock. After the ‘amputation’, I text his dad and he replies. “Poor thing. Give him lots of love from me and S.”
Once upon a time, Ray’s Dad and I were split down the middle, and in pain. The marriage had to end and new, hopefully strong, relationships have grown in its place. As we walk to the hospital car-park, I put my arm around my beautiful, if nail-less son and feel lucky for our ‘broken family’.