You’ve been there. We all have. When you’re a kid, it’s one of the most agonizing hells you can ever survive.
I’m speaking, of course, of those ill-fated times when a splinter got stuck in a finger, spurring the most extreme magnitude of excruciating pain imaginable. We’re talking the kind of pain that always inspired genuine pleas for mercy, knocking us to our knees as we held a poor, puffy-red finger up to God Himself, praying for a cure.
Then, when a cure came, usually in the form of a no-nonsense grown-up armed with wicked-lookin’ tweezers or fingernail clippers, we’d hightail it out of there, content with our misery for a little while longer.
Thoughts of my own encounters with these small-but-deadly monsters surfaced recently during a visit home, while I was out jogging and spotted one of my kin folks, TJ. Instinctively, I threw up a hand to wave. And that’s when I felt the strangest twinge in my ring finger.
It was trying to tell me something. Trying to remind me. Sure enough, I remembered.
Early elementary school. The playground. I was romping around with other kids on some old wood equipment, smiling and laughing, brimming with innocence, when it happened.
A massive splinter, one that had to have been the size of a full-fledged popsicle stick, got stuck in my finger.
Time stopped, as did my feet as I stared with growing alarm at the terrifying piece of wood that invaded my skin. Rapid thoughts swirled like laundry in a spin cycle:
Oh, Lord, why?
Of all the blasted kids on this playground — heck, in this school, or even in the whole wide world — why did it have to be me?
Looking back, I reckon it could have been chalked up as pure coincidence. Possibly, and yet I’m still haunted by a nagging feeling that it happened because I’d lied on a buddy in class, claiming it was he who snuck in a carton of chocolate milk to drink, then spilled it on some classroom puzzles while trying be all secretive.
In truth, we both concealed our cartons on the way back from the lunchroom. But my fellow smuggler abruptly decided he was going to take his home.
I, on the other hand, soon realized that karma — that boomerang-like thing my mother always warned about — never turns a blind eye to any misdeed, regardless of age. Everyone is fair game.
This realization dawned on me as a group of other kids surrounded me, our collective telepathy sounding the alarm that something was terribly wrong. All eyes were on my poor finger.
“Ooooo! That’s a biggun!”
“Can you still move your finger?”
I could, but it most definitely hurt.
Someone suggested the teacher be told. But this remark was instantly met with a few shushes, including my own. Telling the teacher meant the tweezers. There had to be another way. It needed to come quick.
This was life or death.
Suddenly, there was an abrupt parting in the small group, and a confident TJ emerged. He grabbed my hand, inspected the damage, then looked me in the eyes.
“Hey, man, I can get that out,” he assured me. “My daddy’s a doctor. I can get that out.”
Now, this was before I knew TJ and I were kin. Otherwise, I would have called phony-baloney, just like the girl next to me did:
“TJ, your daddy ain’t no doctor!”
“Yes he is! He showed me how to handle these sorts of things…”
TJ must have gotten an F-minus in splinter removal. He most certainly did that day. Because that doggone thing got much deeper.
“Awww man! I’m sorry!” TJ wheezed, his confidence now totally defunct. “I guess you are gonna die.”
There was zero doubt. It was either the dreaded tweezers or a slow, painful death. Neither of these options, arguably, was remotely better than the other.
The kids around me dispersed, off to enjoy the remaining time outside with their non-splintered fingers, leaving me to my grim fate. I kept to myself the rest of the day, at least until Mawmaw Sue picked me up after school and noticed my fixation on my finger.
“Oh, you’ve got a nasty splinter,” she said. “Looks pretty deep, too.”
My heart raced again. A grown-up knew my secret, meaning unbearable torture was guaranteed. I knew I was about to embark on a whole new emotional roller coaster, one with no height requirement.
Expecting the tweezers, I felt relieved when Mawmaw Sue emerged with her sewing kit. But my relief was short-lived, however, as she pulled out a small needle. The light hit it just right, and Mawmaw Sue seemed to admire its sinister glint.
“Give me your hand,” she said, then addressed my hesitancy, assuring, “It won’t hurt. I promise.”
Now, Mawmaw Sue has never lied to me. Never, ever. Except when it was absolutely necessary. Still, on that day, I’m proud to report her words didn’t manifest into any lie bumps on her tongue.
Applying years of expertise in mending ripped clothes and making cherished dolls, Mawmaw Sue kept a steady grip on her needle and labored like a bona fide surgeon, ever-so-gently slicing through layers of skin to make a lifesaving incision. In practically no time at all, the splinter was gone.
A doctor she was not. But Mawmaw Sue came through, and I reckon that’ll do.
Keith Huffman can be reached at email@example.com.