The Hand

When a baby is born, we count. Ten fingers. Ten toes. All is well.

At this point, no one knows what will become the function and purpose of those fingers and toes. Will those hands become the hands of a plumber? a chef? a nurse? a father? It is the beginning of a story. Hands are storytellers with an active role in the story. They are not merely observers of our lives; they are our essential tools.

As I work daily with metal, building, forging, fabricating, I am consistently aware of the role of my hands in my process. Attuned body awareness is healthy, and I am particularly conscious of my hands. I often joke about my hammers because I am so very fond of them. “Bury me with my hammers,” I have said in jest. But if you took my hammers from me, I would make myself one with scrap steel and wood. I could do this. I would find a way. But my hands…. My hands are irreplaceable.

Perhaps it is the realization that without full use of my hands, I cannot earn my living in the way that I choose. Or, perhaps it is something much deeper than that … something more visceral and primal. Two years ago I experienced a raw gut reaction to a serious hand injury, and this reaction surprised me. A section of a jeweler’s saw blade became violently lodged in my right thumb. The teeth of a jeweler’s blade are directional, and the blade pierced my thumb freely, and then simply could not be retracted. Using magnification and my own precision tools, I tried in vain for an hour to remove the blade myself. At this point, I drove myself to see my doctor. He is a terrific physician, always ready for whatever I and my family may present to him. He used a biopsy punch to remove a deep cylindrical section of my thumb surrounding the blade. I was hopeful that all I had to do now was recover. It was early November. I should have been able to heal and return to the bench in just enough time to complete all my Christmas commissions.

But, in the days and weeks that followed, I developed a serious infection. The blade wasn’t clean, of course, and the resulting wound was very narrow and very deep – impossible to clean completely despite my diligent efforts. The situation that ensued was traumatic for me. Worst case scenario was losing my thumb. Vigilante antibiotics took care of the infection, and even after the wound healed it took months to regain sensation. By going to an orthopaedist specializing in the hand I learned after an x-ray that there was still a piece of metal lodged deep in my thumb. It was most likely a fragment of the sterling silver piece I was sawing when my blade broke. It was too deep and too small to be removed surgically.

And now, two years later, it’s still in there.

It’s only a thumb. It’s just a little thing. Right? No.

The convergence of keen dexterity and creativity is a force. It melds the heart, mind and hand in a powerful throng of production. My injury was analogous to a gash in my soul.

Every day at the bench I fight to overcome not only the strange presence of a silver fragment in my thumb but also the nagging pain of arthritis in some of the joints in my hands. It is a daily battle. Most days I triumph. But, in my ripe late thirties, I worry about the future. I worry about the condition of my hands after ten more years or twenty more years at the bench, asking so much more of my hands than the average person. In my mind, I know worry should not be mine. But in my heart, I worry.



~ by gingermeekallen on October 17, 2008.

One Response to “The Hand”

  1. Hi,
    I also have arthritis in both hands and my back. Working at the bench is a labor of love, a way to work past the pain. My work time is still classified as a ‘hobby’, but that doesn’t change how much it effects me in not being able to make what I love. Sometimes just holding the pliers is a test of willpower. I’ve found that half gloves help (these are ones with the finger tips cut off). try them.

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