The suspect in this personal tragedy is the iris plant adjacent to our front entrance.  I was weeding around the front garden when I ran my hand along its stalk to experience its verdant life and came away with a splinter both microscopically invisible and intensely painful.  A dilemma arose, namely:  how to extract something one cannot see from a location as sensitive as the soft pad of one’s index finger?

Initially, one tries a clean sewing needle.  That succeeds in drawing blood and making me ponder what it is like in the bowels of the gulag or similar torture chambers.  I actually learn something – not to minimize the suffering of torture victims but, after several minutes of excruciating rooting around in my soft tissue with the end of a needle, I become somewhat inured to the intensity of the pain.

Having created an impressive puddle of blood on my own finger, it was not clear that the offending splinter was gone.  I could only hope that the area would heal unencumbered by the original cause of its swelling and soreness.

During the clotting and healing phase, I learn something else – the index finger on one’s dominant hand is really important!  Almost every surface I touch involves the right index finger.  Brushing teeth and, especially, flossing is index finger –intensive; likewise, gripping the steering wheel, inserting keys, opening cans, etc.  And don’t even think about playing tennis!

Among the frustrations of suffering this injury, so small yet so dynamic, is how avoidable it is.  I regularly remind myself not to engage in garden-related activities with bare hands.  Besides the possibility of splinters, there are a slew of hazards, including insects, poison ivy and thorns that are easily avoided by the mere use of gloves.  Yet, at least once a season, laziness, inattention or vanity conspires to remind me of this obvious fact.  Among the reasons I have stupidly failed to wear gloves include, but are not limited to, the following:


  1. I’m just weeding for a few minutes so why should I go to the garage for gloves;
  2. I may not find the gloves easily in the garage because I’m not so good at putting them back in the same place each time;
  3. The area I am gardening does not appear to have any hazards;
  4. Though I am notoriously unable to recognize poison ivy, my cursory glance at the area in question does not reveal any;
  5. An activity as benign as straightening a small area of a garden cannot possibly result in pain and suffering; and
  6. The only gloves I can locate appear really dorky and/or are pink, and even though I am secure in my manhood, they do not help my image in the neighborhood.

After my bloodletting, I apply a band-aid and hope for the best.  The next day, my finger is throbbing around the mound that now surrounds the excavation site.  I ask myself:  is it throbbing because there is still a splinter or because I dug into my finger with a needle?

My wife warns:  “You have to be sure the splinter is out.  Otherwise, it will never heal.”

I want to say something unpleasant, like “Thank you, Captain Obvious,” but I can’t, because she is right.  She offers to wield the needle again.

“There must be another way,” I say.

“Let’s look it up,” she says.

Sure enough, the computer search reveals reams of articles in the realm of splinter-extraction.  Among the inventive ideas are to wrap the area in a compress of baking soda.

“That’s better than a needle,” I note, though I am skeptical.  “How is that supposed to work?”

“Baking soda swells the surface, then you cover the area with sticky tape, and pull it off fast.  If the splinter has risen to the top, it will come out with the tape.”

“Sounds slightly plausible,” I admit.

After a day of wearing baking soda I examine the area and the mound of soreness persists.  We apply tape and rip it off several times.  No splinter is apparent.

“Let’s try a tweezers,” says my wife.

This sets off a round of searching in the bathroom, since tweezers are in the category of Phillips screwdrivers and non-dairy creamers; things you know you acquired at some point but cannot actually locate when needed.  As the search lengthens, I ask:

“What else can we try?”

“It says here that immersion in a potato helps to extract a splinter.”

“Are you serious?” I ask.

“Yes, something about the starch softening the skin.  A tweezers works more easily after that.”

“Anything else?”

“Yes,” she says.  “The next idea is a razor blade.”

“Whoa, that’s not good.  Let’s try harder to find the tweezers.”

Finally, we locate tweezers and a magnifying glass and squeeze around the area with them.  This is more pleasant than root canal without anasthesia, I imagine, but less pleasant than almost anything else.  With no pried-loose pricker apparent, and my wound turning an angry red again, I try optimism as a default position:

“I bet we got it out with the needle on the first try.  The soreness is just from the extraction.  Let’s give it a couple of days.”

My hopes are eventually vindicated, though it takes closer to a week for all the soreness to disappear.  Will I ever weed or garden without gloves again?  Certainly not in the immediate future, particularly with the specter of a razor blade participating in the “cure.”  However, human nature being what it is….