The Problems with Horses

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My counselor snaps her book shut and announces that it is break time. Twenty stir-crazy kids leap out of their seats in unison. We’re all exhausted from sitting inside dreary Reid Castle on a sparkling summer day. We all have one thing in common. Our friends are off at high-priced sports camps -- lacrosse, ultimate Frisbee, tennis -- or just hanging out at their shore clubs eating junk food and getting tanned. We, on the other hand, have parents who think it’s a good idea to use our summers “productively.” We spend the day thinking, talking, and writing and will soon be asked to put all this writing onto a computer downstairs in a dingy concrete basement. So feeling sorry for ourselves, we push and shove to get to the front of the line of escape. As soon as the door opens, we bolt. The hallways of Manhattanville College are like an intricate maze, a twisting labyrinth with sudden dead-ends. In fact, if it were a rainy day or even a winter weekend, these hallways would be a hide-and-seek paradise. Suddenly, a random door slams shut. The boys we had been chasing are on the inside, and have just locked us out. While I and the rest of the girls are plotting a way to get inside, I rest my hand near the hinge of the door, still laughing. The boys momentarily open the door again to taunt us and my hand slips off the slick metal hinge farther inside. Just as this happens, the boys slam the door shut again, unaware that my hand was resting inside.


I hear a sickening crunch and scream, as I look down at my bloody hand. I look to my left and see the horrified faces of my friends and know how badly damaged my finger really is. One of the girls, Josephine, sprints down the hallway to the bathroom with a panicked look on her plump face. In just a split second, four of my friends race downstairs to where my counselor is waiting, all wanting to be the one to break the news. “There’s been an accident, come see the carnage!” Half a second later, I hear the “click, click, click” of my counselor’s red, four-inch heels smacking the tiled floor as she dashes towards me and my butchered finger. The next ten minutes flash by as I drift in and out of consciousness and being half-carried and half-dragged by my petite counselor, who has, as some sort of heroic gesture, ditched her heels and now goes barefoot. As soon as we arrived at the main building, a crowd of college paramedics are waiting for me. They present their gauze and medical tape and I present my mangled mitt. Two heavy set, bald men, kneel down to examine what's left of my pinky.  As I examine what's left of their hair, one yells out, and “Call the ambulance!"


While I wait for the ambulance to come, the camp director notifies my mom about the “incident” and she shows up within minutes, accompanied with the obvious question I had been too scared to ask anyone; “Does anyone know where the rest of her finger is?!” The camp director, my counselor, and all the paramedics all exchange a shameful look as they mumble no. My counselor tries to explain in her ditzy voice that the finger was too gnarled and mushed up that even if they did know where it is, it wouldn’t be to any use, her voice slowly trailed off as she realized how disgusting that must have sounded. I just sat there next to them in an itchy red chair, answering the halo of stray campers that hover above me; the boys desperate for all the gory details, the girls asking how bad it hurts. Their faces slowly begin to fade into a blur of noses, eyes and lips as I slip out of consciousness again.


When I open my eyes again, I am lying down on a hospital bed, every time I shift, the flimsy paper covering underneath me crinkles. Bright lights are shining down at me from every angle. The stench of antibiotic and sterile utensils fills my nose and I flinch, I had always hated the antiseptic smell of doctor’s offices and hospitals. I crane my neck to look over at my mom who is sitting in a green, plastic chair in the corner of my room, who probably hasn’t noticed yet that I have woken up, despite the crinkling of the thin paper. Olga; a massive Russian nurse strides in and without any time wasted on “hellos,” immediately asks me on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the most painful) how badly it hurts; I hesitate and finally decide on 7.


Olga purses her bright red lips and digs through a few drawers before finding what she’s looking for, a small blue bottle of pills and hands me one to swallow. She doesn’t offer water, and I don’t ask for any; instead I just swallow it plain. The distinctive chill I get every time I swallow something without chewing crawls its way up my spine and I shiver. “Where did this happen?” Her words are heavy with a fearsome-sounding accent. Is it my imagination or does she dart an accusatory glance at my mother while she waits for me to formulate an answer? “At a Manhattanville College writing camp,” I answer quietly.  A knowing glance crosses her face. “Well yes that’s the problem with horses! In fact, young lady, this is the problem with children going to camps. My mother never would have sent me off to play with a great, hairy beast that weighs a thousand pounds. When I was a girl, I stayed home and worked. I learned to cook, to sew, to wash the floors!  None of this running off to camp to play with horses! You could have lost your whole hand or a foot or even, God forbid your life!  I try to speak up, “WRITING camp!” But she is back in some tiny Russian town, hearing nothing I have to say.   In the background, I see my mother’s face begin to crumple in something that looks like either shock or rage or maybe both.  It may be time to hear my mother go off on the nurse. Instead, my mother replies, with a firm, but annoyed tone, “WRITING CAMP. WRITING. LIKE WITH PENCILS AND PAPER!”


Recovering quickly from her mistake, Olga remarks: “OH! Well isn’t that ironic… the one place you need your fingers the most, is the one place you get yours chopped off!” Then, to my surprise, she begins to cackle non-stop at her own joke.  Chortling, shoulders shaking, she rather indelicately removes the bandage and examines my finger.  As we all take in the porcelain white, shard sticking out of the center if my nail, my mother asks if that's my fingernail or my bone.  I wince and start to feel light headed again, but snap back quickly when the nurse roars, "Bone, of course. No more nail!"   But now she'll be able to make a good point!"  Again, she cackles at her clever mastery of American humor. Now I see my mother edge menacingly forward toward Olga. The medicine starts working. I hear myself say, "Am I dying?" My mother pauses in her plan to eliminate the nurse and responds: “Of course not, sweetie.” I looked down at my finger and shudder thinking that the twisted, pointy thing sticking out of my finger was actually my bone. I can’t help repeating, “Am I going to die?”


A deep monotone voice behind me answers “Yes, of course you are going to die.” I jerk my head backwards towards a scrawny, middle-aged man with glasses and jet-black, curly hair. As my heart thuds, this man walks dismissively by me to go wash his hands in the sink. He continues: “But not from this.”  Looking pleased at this chance to add to Nurse Olga’s comedy show, he announces: “I am Doctor Greenburg. I am a hand surgeon, and I will be operating on you this afternoon.” After this, I notice he does not ask my name at all.  I don’t matter to him; I am a distorted finger and a paycheck. 


The doctor begins a silent routine of preparing all sorts of needles, nylon thread, bone clippers, iodine and gauze. Olga has left the stage for now, waiting in the sidelines with a joke, when she might be needed. The doctor sits on a spinning chair and wheels himself towards me. Without preamble, he jabs a series of shots into my finger, starting at the bottom, making his way to the tip, where it was more sensitive. Now I understand why Olga asked about my pain number. A seven must mean seven shots. Why didn’t I say 1? The doctor covers my hand with a piece of blue cloth so I am unable to watch the surgery. However, I can see everything in the dark window. I try to look away but find myself drawn like a magnet to the shiny metal tool he grasps -- a cross between cuticle clippers and scissors -- as he moves closer to my gnarled bone. Without a single word he makes a rapid cutting motion. I hear a loud snap, exactly like the sound of stepping on a twig. He has cut my already shortened bone even shorter! What’s he thinking? Apparently my mother has the same thought. With a sound of horror in her voice, she asks: “Did you just cut her bone down?” Not even looking up, he says in an extremely bored tone: “Yes.  The bone must be shorter than the remaining skin. It needs to actually be cut below the surface line of her finger. That’s the only chance we have of making a new nail bed.” With that, he falls silent again, along with the rest of the audience. Wearing large magnifying glasses, he begins the long process of sewing up the skin that hanging loosely over the bone tip. As he finishes, the doctor looks up at my mother and asks: “Where did this happen?” Wearily, my mother responds: Writing Camp.” The doctor shakes his head in exasperation as he exits the room, muttering something about how horses were going to keep him in business for a long time, as long as parents kept sending their kids to riding camp. As the pain from finger eases away, it crosses my mind that next summer I might actually get to go to riding camp, now that we all understand the true dangers of writing camp.






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