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The Finger Reveals

Mark Bair 2018

Last Friday at the doctor’s office, I nearly fainted.  On the advice of the urgent care people three weeks earlier, I showed up with my pinky finger in a splint, atrophied from unemployment.

The nurse inspected my crooked and wrinkled digit, trying to figure out what had happened. “Does this hurt?”

“Some,” I said.

“Does that hurt?”

“A little.”

I was starting to sweat and feel light-headed. I thought I better speak up before I collapse, so I hesitantly said, “I feel like I might faint. Sometimes I faint when they take blood.”

“Lay down, put your feet up,” she said, and grabbed some other medical people.

One of them said, “He’s having a vasovagal reaction.”

A vasovagal reaction occurs when you faint because your body overreacts to certain triggers, such as the sight of blood or fear of bodily injury. Your heart rate and blood pressure drop suddenly. That leads to reduced blood flow to your brain, causing you to briefly lose consciousness.

I almost fainted–not because of actual pain, but due to imagined pain.  I have been this way since I was a child. I was, and am, faint-hearted, as exaggerated mental images of pain or danger hover in my mind. My mom always helped calm me before an encounter with potential pain, whether physical or emotional. If I worried about going to the doctor, she would say. “It will hurt a little, then it will be over. You’ll be OK.”  And she was right. She did not lie. It did hurt a little. I was OK.

Sometimes I would be faint-hearted about a social situation, like going to school or moving to a new neighborhood. I was worried that the other kids would not like me. When an adult spoke to me, I would look down at the ground, intimidated I guess.

Mom gave her timid and faint-hearted son wind for his sails. Many things did hurt a little, some a lot, but never like I imagined. I should have remembered her words Friday when I had the doctor look at my finger.  It turned out I was OK. And the small amount of pain I endured got the finger moving again. My fear of imagined pain would have kept the finger in the splint. 

A week later, the pampered and immobile finger, while bent, is involved in my labors, holding my wife’s hand, and touching life again. The finger has become a revelator.

Sometimes I wrap my heart in a splint, shielded from disappointment, disapproval, and divine disturbance. Why does my imagination paint only dark scenes of vulnerability? Why do I not also project the colors of undefended delight I have known along the way?  I have the pledge of one whose words are weightier than my mother’s, whose very language breathed the mountains and the seas. Yet, I remain on guard, threatened.