Just over a week ago today, Sassy and I were about to finish up our evening walk when I spotted a guy with a dog approaching. It was dark, but as they passed under a street lamp, I could see the dog pulling and jumping all over the sidewalk. It didn’t appear to be leash-trained.
As we walked by them, Sassy and I stepped onto the curb, between a sidewalk tree and a car, so we could avoid them. Normally I’d either walk in the street or cross the street to prevent any encounters since she’s absolutely petrified of other dogs. But we were a few doors down from home, I didn’t.
Somehow the dog got free and went directly for Sassy. She cowered and yelped and fell into the gutter and I put my arms around her to protect her. She’s less than 20 pounds and she’s 16 with dementia and this dog looked twice her size and young.
In the confusion and in what I can only assume was abject terror, Sassy accidentally bit my right hand.
The guy just stood there and watched all of this happen. He said: “She’s only 10 months old,” as if that was meant to explain anything.
When a dog misbehaves like this, you can’t blame the dog. This asshole blamed the dog. It was his damn fault for not controlling her and allowing her to attack Sassy.
“Well, you need to control her better,” I said as I stood up, surprising myself at my calm tone and lack of profanity.
We rushed inside and I got the first glimpse of my hand in the light. There was a puncture wound in the fleshy area under my thumb, and the first drops of dark red blood started to appear. The pain was sharp and stabbing and I screamed, I hopped around, I cried. I sat down on the couch and rocked and wailed and sobbed harder than I have in years.
Meanwhile, Sassy was pacing, which she spends a lot of time doing because of her dementia, but now she was running in circles. I noticed she’d peed on the kitchen floor, something she does out of anxiety sometimes. With my left hand, I stroked her whole body and didn’t see any signs of injury from the other dog. She was just completely freaked out.
I texted Mike at work and he called. He told me to wash it out but I couldn’t because it hurt too much.
After we got off the phone, I took a few deep breaths and ran some soapy water over it because he was right, it needed to be cleaned. Then I wrapped it in some paper towels, which were blood spotted before long.
After a bit, the pain was less acute, and Sassy and I were calmer and now exhausted. So I set out to do what anyone would do while I waited for Mike to come home: Sit on the couch, turn on the most recent episode of “The Bachelor” and drink a glass of wine.
So, I sat back down at my laptop and wasted time using my left hand (I’m right handed) until Mike got home.
He cleaned it out more with soapy water and alcohol and covered it in bandages. It didn’t look good — it was starting to swell and it hurt like a motherfucker. It was bearable, though. I thought a serious dog bite would be bigger, bloodier, much scarier.
But I later learned smaller bites like this are actually more dangerous. Cat bites are even worse, I was told, because their longer, sharper teeth can send bacteria deeper into tissue, even though the wound would appear to be tiny.
We thought we’d keep and eye on it and maybe we’d go to the hospital in the morning but I didn’t want to be viewed as an alarmist hypochrondriac. It would probably be fine. I planned to email my boss in the morning to request a half day to get it bandaged up properly. We had no idea how bad it was.
This delay in getting treatment was the cause of all the crap that would follow over the next few days.
I took a Tylenol before bed and the pain woke me up when it wore off, and I couldn’t get back to sleep. In the morning, Mike noticed it had become even more swollen, and it felt like a piece of raw meat at the end of my wrist. He firmly said we were going to the ER. We didn’t know it at the time, but if we had waited any longer I’d be in an even bigger mess.
We took an Uber to Thomas Jefferson University Medical Center last Thursday morning. There was nobody waiting in the ER so I got in immediately. I was put on IV antibiotics right away, and that IV stayed in my arm for more than two days. I got x-rays (nothing remarkable) and a hand surgeon was called.
The upshot was that in the hours since the bite, my hand had developed a severe bacterial infection from Sassy’s nasty hot garbage mouth. We should’ve come in right away because the infection just got worse overnight.
The other issue was that the wound was pretty small and the stuff coming out of it kept drying up, creating a roof on the wound when the nasty junk needed to get out.
The hand doctor squeezed the hell out of my wound trying to get some of the pus out.
I’ll spare you the other details but he did some stuff that hurt so much that I screamed fuck over and over while grasping Mike’s hand. (I also got a shot of lidocaine into my hand, but it hurt like hell and didn’t really numb me much at all.) Mercifully, I was given small doses of morphine every few hours in my IV line.
I couldn’t do much of anything with my right hand. I couldn’t even touch my pointer finger and thumb.
I was shocked when I was told I’d have to stay overnight. I had no supplies with me. I really thought Mike and I would be out of there within an hour or two and if we had time, we’d go to buy a new car, something we needed to do so Mike could get to his new job more easily, before I had to get back to work around lunchtime.
Later on I was moved upstairs for observation where I stayed until Friday night, then I was moved to a different part of the hospital until my discharge Saturday. I was on two different IV antibiotics and I’d get a new bag every couple of hours hours. Every few hours my vital signs — pulse, blood pressure and temperature — were taken.
So, I didn’t even try to sleep Thursday night, I just read news articles and blogs on my phone, texted and emailed people using my left thumb to type (very frustrating, but it killed time because it took me so long) and chatted with the nurses and techs who came in to do stuff to me. Mike had brought me my Kindle, but my mind was too foggy from pain pills to focus on a book. Because of all the activity and worry about my hand, I was barely even tired. At that point I was being given two Percocet every two hours so I was definitely woozy, though.
I was wearing my cherry and white Temple University shirt (until Mike brought me a new one) and just about everyone who came in asked me if I went to Temple, if I taught there, if I graduated from there. I was grateful for the conversation at first but after the third or fourth time I wanted to give everyone who brought it up the side eye. I also got tired of answering questions about how I got the dog bite. I just wanted to go home.
Things came to a head Friday afternoon. The day before, a nurse practitioner had drawn a line on my hand around the swollen part, which consisted of the area from my middle finger to my wrist to my thumb.
By mid-afternoon, the swelling had spread past the line. Now my paw was so swollen it appeared as if it belonged on someone else’s body. It looked like a meat balloon and my fingers looked like chubby hot dogs and it felt like it was going to explode. Even my wrist was huge and puffy.
From the start there was talk of possible surgery, which sounds scary but it just would involve cutting my hand open more to allow it to drain and combat the infection.
Friday afternoon, when it was clear that my hand was just getting worse, one of the hand surgeons performed a bedside incision and drainage procedure with local anesthesia as I held Mike’s hand. I was glad I didn’t have to go into the operating room, which would have cost so much more, even with insurance.
I hadn’t been permitted to eat for more than 10 hours in case they needed to put me under in the OR, so once my hand was bandaged up again, Mike and I feasted on veggie hoagies that his mom and stepdad brought for us.
I was able to sleep for a couple hours early Saturday, until I was awoken by another hand doctor before the sun came up. He cleaned out the incision and squeezed it and said it still didn’t look that great, but it did look better, so they were going to try to discharge me later that day. Woo hoo!
I was feeling better (maybe it was the Percocet) and they unhooked my IV and let me get up and walk around Saturday morning. After being in bed for so long it felt so good to stretch my legs. I wandered the halls, texted Mike — he was out buying a car with guidance from his stepdad — looked out the window, and just relished the freedom.
A little while later, another hand doctor came by and confirmed I would be discharged in a few hours! I had to keep my hand wrapped and they gave me an antibiotic that I have to take every eight hours for 10 days.
I was in the mood to celebrate with pizza as Mike picked me up in our beautiful, shiny just-like-new Honda Accord! But, they gave me one dose of the oral antibiotic before I left, and I hadn’t eaten. So I had Mike pull over and I got sick in some parking lot, then a little while later I got sick again at home as our victory pizza got cold. I fell asleep at 7 p.m. and didn’t wake until 15 hours later.
The current state of my hand
My follow-up at the Hand Center on Monday was a hot mess. I thought I was doing great and I assumed they’d take a look at it, pat me on the head and send me home. But there were worried looks and talk of a second fucking surgery to allow more of the gunk in there to drain. The infection is still there.
The doctor said they were going to put my hand in a splint. This is to immobilize my hand and keep the infection from spreading. I thought it would be some small thing, but I was fitted with a custom made removable plastic cast/brace with velcro straps that makes my arm look like a freaking robot arm. I couldn’t believe it.
I can’t work with that thing on. My right hand is busy! So I wear it when I’m done working. I also have to soak my hand for 30 minutes per day at least twice a day in a peroxide and water mixture. I go back next Monday so I’m hoping they’ll tell me it’s finally looking good.
The occupational therapist who made my robot arm asked me about Sassy and my injury, and I was surprised by the words that came out of my mouth: “I’m afraid of my dog now.” I felt tears coming to my eyes and I just wanted to sob, but I kept my shit together.
This is really long, so in my next post I’ll talk about the emotional side of what happened. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading.