Surprisingly quick visit to John Muir’s ER after my thumb got in the way of a potato peeler

At about 8 p.m. Sunday my husband said I would probably need to go to the emergency room. The bleeding had not stopped from the gash on my left thumb. A steady trickle of blood kept filling up the gauze bandages I kept wrapping around my it. This was about three hours after the skin of my thumb got in the way of my peeling potatoes for dinner.

“Do I really have to?”

so much did not want to go to the ER.  Not for something stupid like this! I wanted to just get into my pajamas, curl up in bed with some peanut M&Ms and–I don’t know–read a Walnut Creek city staff report. (Aren’t I fun?)

My thumb didn’t hurt, and I figured that, after triage, a cut thumb would wind up pretty low on John Muir Medical Center’s emergency room priority list–even if the emergency room wasn’t busy. I could be there for hours, sitting up in the waiting room, with that artificial waiting room air and something obnoxious–like Fox News–playing on the TV. Would they even have  trashy magazines to read?
But my husband, the son of a nurse, said the cut looked deep, and it looked like it would keep bleeding, unless I got stitches. He offered to drive me, but I said I could drive myself, and by 8:15, I was in the car on my way to John Muir.
Things didn’t look promising when I arrived. Half the waiting room seats were filled, and I was third in line to register. At least, Fox News wasn’t playing on the TV. Rather, it was re-run of House. Yes, the TV medical drama–yes, the irony of this show being broadcast in a hospital waiting room. Given that I’m rather fond of House, I decided I could pass the survive this waiting room for a little while.
But it turned out I wouldn’t be left out in the waiting room. As soon as I signed in, a triage nurse came to get me and take me back to an exam room, where I was invited to sit on a hospital bed. I thought, well, if I’m here for a while, I can at least lie back and try to zone out.
But right away, a nurse came to check my vitals (blood pressure 121 over 73) and look over my bloody thumb. A few minutes later, the doctor herself appeared, and she looked it over, too. We all had a little laugh over my injury, with both reassuring me that potato peelers are involved in a lot more finger gashes than you would ever realize.
A technician irrigated my thumb, and the doctor saw that stitching it up wouldn’t be possible. There was no flap of skin. There was no skin at all, just a deep little hole that the doctor said looked like it reach pretty close the bone. She recommended placing this synthetic material over it, which would act like skin. She would then wrap it up, and she recommended that I wear a splint for a few days, so that I wouldn’t be tempted to bend my thumb and re-open the wound. 
And that’s what the ER staff did. The nurse also gave me a tetanus shot, because I couldn’t remember the date of my last shot. “I’ve been giving out a lot of these today,” she said, adding that a lot of people had come in Sunday with cuts and other injuries that would warrant tetanus shots.

It all went pretty quickly and efficiently, despite the fact that, as he technician mentioned, a trauma case had just come in, and “a lot of people are dealing with that.”
An added benefit: in between the visits of the nurse, doctor, and nurse technician, a staff member came and took my insurance information and co-pay.
So, I was out of the emergency room, armed with my discharge papers, in about an hour, despite my presumably low-priority injury. I’ll have to go see my primary care doctor in a couple days, to make sure my thumb is heeling and to probably get some antibiotics.

And, now I’m back home, writing this. To my surprise and delight, I’m not having any trouble typing. I’m also OK with the splint. It looks rather dramatic–more dramatic than my so-called crisis was, of course. But as the nurse and I joked, if you’re gonna go to the emergency room, you should at least leave with some visible reminder of the “emergency” you went through.

I will soon curl up in bed with my M&Ms and my Walnut Creek city staff report.

But I need to close with some words of advice. You know how your mother tells you to always wear clean underwear in case you get into an accident and have to go to the emergency room? Well, it’s probably good to keep up with your manicures, in case you slice a digit with a potato peeler or a bagel knife. Alas, I had to expose my ragged, need-to-be-cut-and-filed-fingernails to strangers.

Oh well, I’m sure they’ve seen worse.

15 thoughts on “Surprisingly quick visit to John Muir’s ER after my thumb got in the way of a potato peeler

  1. Curious about that city staff report. Who writes it? How often does one appear? Is it on a specific subject? Good luck with the thumb, it could take a while to heal.


  2. The staff reports that will be presented to City Council or commission meetings are available by looking at the agenda on the City's website. For example, the City Council's agenda is posted at 2pm on the Friday before Tuesday's meeting.

    Here's how to reach the City's website:

    Then click City Government… City Council… Public Meetings, Agendas, Minutes


  3. Glad you are ok SM! I wonder how much they charge you for a tetanus shot in the ER versus a regular doctor visit…


  4. My co-pay was $100. I'll have to see if I get any kind of itemized bill. Thanks for the good wishes. More annoying than anything else, but the splint looks serious.

    I know that John Muir has expanded, but I don't know if the good service I received was because of an expanded emergency room, or because of the way they managed to flow of patients. It's been a few years since I've been in an emergency room. I remember accompanying my husband when he had kidney stones, or my mother when she had a fall, and I'm p retty sure that even the patient had to sit out in the waiting room and wait to go in.

    Maybe swine flu concerns made hospitals change that practice, to get the sick or injured people out of the waiting room.

    If anyone with emergency room management experience, especially at John Muir or Kaiser, wants to elaborate, please do.


  5. Actually, they didn't ask for my insurance information, until later, once I was receiving treatment. During the initial registration, they just asked for my name, birthdate, and reason for coming in.


  6. We had a similarly good experience at John Muir with a minor emergency a few months ago — my son slammed his finger in the car door on a Sunday afternoon. We were in and out in less than an hour.


  7. Well wishes Soccer Mom. I feel your pain on this one. I actually peeled my thumb the other day too, but not as severely as you. Ouch!

    Guess we are spending too much time in the kitchen. Walking in the sunshine and snapping photos of daffodils is much safer! Happy thoughts.


  8. we had a similar experience recently when my husband cut his thumb with a carpet knife. we had great, friendly, speedy service at John Muir ER even though it was a seemingly low priority injury. I think they have a kind of express lane for weekend warriors with non life threatening injuries. We are SO lucky to have such great quality healthcare in out town.


  9. SM,
    make sure you call your insurance carrier (especially if you have BShield) to ensure they 'approve' what your did.

    Just because you got treatment doesn't mean your insurance will pay for it. And if they don't, you will!


  10. Thank you for your posting. It turned out to be quite timely – as my left hand ring finger just suffered an unpleasant encounter with the blade of my table saw. Before I drove myself to John Muir, I checked my tetanus record and saved myself a shot in the … arm. As others have noted, the service for these kind of bloody, but non-life threatening injuries was friendly and efficient. Now if I can just survive the trauma of the bill…


  11. Hey Obiwan,
    Hope your finger is okay.

    Maybe it's daylight savings and the prospect of spring that's causing us to get distracted and get our fingers caught in the way of sharp objects.

    Yes, good thing you checked your tetanus. And, it's interesting to hear that you had a similar quick experience. I would be interesting to hear if John Muir is up to anything new or different with regard to managing patients in ER. Actually, I haven't been to that ER since, maybe 2001… And I can't remember much about how long my husband (who was the patient) and I waited.


  12. I remember bringing my 84 year old mother-in-law in to JM emergency in Nov. 2000. She was put in a wheel chair and was so weak she had to rest her head on my shoulder. We waited to be seen for over an hour. She died there 2 days later, her organs shut down rapidly from a rare condition.

    A lot can change in 10 years.


  13. I was seen in the JM ER a few months back for a tear on my pinkie that happened when playing with my puppy and her sharp puppy teeth grabbed my finger when going for a toy. My internist urged me to go for stitches ( I did not want to go!) and b/c I thought I should follow her professional advice I went. Turns out “dog bites” are never stitched so i could have saved myself the trouble! They irrigated the wound, put one steri strip on , wrapped it in a ton of guaze , gave me a script for antibiotics and sent me on my way. I am a nurse and had to re-do the dressing b/c the wound was not closed in a way that it ever would have healed. It also was not splinted so when my finger bent the wound opened. The bill was $1400!! I was appalled and am still fighting it. They said it was the usual charge for a Level 3 visit. If this minor issue is a Level Three ,what constitutes a Level 1 or 2 visit? Talk about padding the bill ! Not happy!!


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