The Little Details

One of the things an injury can do is cause you to look at the minor little details that you may not have taken time to notice in the past. With a hand injury one of these little details is the fingerprint. I still find it amazing that our fingerprints have such uniquely identifiable characteristics. The three basic designs of the fingerprint are the loop, whorl and arch.

If we stopped there I think you would have missed a very vital function of your fingerprint. All those tiny ridges and crevices create something called … grip. This may seem obvious to you, but I can tell you it is something that you have likely taken for granted your entire life. A burn victim or someone with severe hand scarring would be able to corroborate the fact that fingerprints are like fabulous little grippers on the ends of each of our little intricate tentacles called fingers.

A little research lead me to an interesting article proving the grip theory and also that the fingerprint aids in the sensation of touch. Some articles even refer to the ridges as friction ridges. Of course you have your detractors such as Dr. Jon Barnes and his team of scientists who “proudly” determined scientifically that grip is not increased by fingerprints. This research proves the theory that you can’t believe everything you read. Perhaps one of the tests they could’ve tried would be to sand off the fingerprints of his students to see if they could hold the container rather than the scientific friction meter they employed. After having fingerprints on my pointer finger for most of my life I can say that fingerprints provide much more grip than the relatively smooth scar tissue I have now.

My right hand is my dominant hand and even though it isn’t as high functioning as my perfectly normal left hand I often use it because I trained myself to do so for 41 years. When I first started grabbing things with my right hand I couldn’t believe how poor my grip was. Of course there was the issue of rehabilitation and gaining strength in my hand, but I was amazed at how significant the fingerprint was for grip. To accentuate my lack of grip even more the only finger that doesn’t have a fingerprint is my pointer finger which is about an inch shorter than it should be. I sort of joke that my hand no longer meets OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) specifications.

This wasn’t the first damage the pointer finger on my right hand endured. At the age of six I was attempting to duplicate a bar room fight that I’d seen on Gunsmoke. The robbers grabbed a bottle and smashed it on the table to use it as a weapon. The neck of the bottle appeared to work quite well to have something to hold on to while performing the stunt. My attempt wasn’t quite as smooth as the Hollywood approach. I took the bottle and smashed it on a piece of concrete. I didn’t account for the fact the neck of the bottle could break. As the neck broke my pointer finger was sliced nearly to the bone just above my top knuckle. The bleeding and throbbing began immediately as I realized this was far beyond what a band-aid could cover up. I ran home with my left hand grasping my right for fear I could lose the top of my finger.

The whole ordeal resulted in six stitches (one for each year of my short life to that point) and a new appreciation for Hollywood stuntmen. I was also left with a reminder of the injury with a ¾ inch scar across the tip of my finger.

Fast forwarding 35 years that finger tip lay beneath my table saw and it even got to come along with me to the hospital in a zip-loc bag. The top inch of my finger was literally blown off by the piece of wood. I was hopeful that they would reattach the finger, but remember it being in very rough shape and the Doctor reassuring me he would not be attaching the damaged digit. I’m not sure if I had 41 stitches, but there was a lot of repair work required.

Bringing the finger tip to the hospital was important since the Doctor was able to harvest the skin and some flesh from the original tip to the new, slightly shorter location. After the skin graft healed up you can still actually see some of the original fingerprint, but one thing that puzzled me for months was this additional scar that goes right through the middle of the grafted area. I was puzzled since I knew there was no stitching through the middle of my new fingertip then I realized this was the scar from the broken bottle when I was six years old.

Look at your fingerprints. Do they have a story to tell? One thing I can say with confidence is we are very wonderfully made even down to the detail of identification and the grip of our fingerprints.

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