The Severed Toe

One summer day in the early 1990’s, I was driving down Coldwater Road on my way to one of our favorite stores, Meijer’s, on Pierson Road.

At the northwest corner of the intersection of Coldwater and Webster Roads, I noticed a motorcycle on its side next to a very large boulder in the side yard of an old farm house. There were also a small number of people surrounding a man lying on the ground about 10 yards away.

I was in the middle of completing the pre-requisite classes for my registered nursing degree and I had just successfully completed a first-aid/first responder class a month previously. So I stopped to see if I could give any assistance.

As I walked up to the small crowd I noticed that the motorcyclist was about my age, in his mid-thirties, and he was trying to sit up and pull off his bloody boot. He looked gray and in spite of the heat, he was shivering a bit, and I thought it was quite possible he was going into shock.

I asked if anybody could tell me what had happened and one man, who lived directly across the street, told me he had been in his front yard mowing the lawn when he noticed the motorcycle speeding down Coldwater Road in the same direction I had come from.

The motorcyclist lost control of his bike and it drove across the road, hit the opposite shoulder of the road, went flying and then hit the boulder. The motorcycle tipped over and the man went flying and landed where he was right now.

I went up to the motorcyclist and knelt down and he kept muttering how much his foot hurt. He was finally able to remove his bloody boot and I saw that his big toe on his right foot had been completely severed.

He saw it too and he loudly groaned as he lay back down. I asked one of the bystanders to please go across Webster to the bar, Dave’s Den, to get many bags of ice.

I then asked the man who lived right across the road to please call for an ambulance and to bring back some blankets, clean towels, duct tape and a couple of large Ziploc bags if he had any.

I examined his foot and I saw that it had stopped bleeding. The motorcyclist was still shivering though and I softly told him that an ambulance was on its way and that he would be just fine in no time.

The ice, blankets and towels arrived at the same time and the other bystanders helped me cover up the motorcyclist with the blankets in case he was in shock and I rolled up an extra one for a pillow for him as well.

Then I asked the man who had brought the blankets if he would be okay if he helped me wrap the motorcyclist’s foot in the bags of ice and duct tape them to stay on. He said he could help me.

So we wrapped the foot up in one of the clean towels and then stuck it inside one the bags of ice and taped that on securely. Then we taped on other bags of ice as well but I reserved one bag for the toe I hoped to find.

Then I asked the other bystanders if they could help me try to find the severed toe. Several of them shook their heads but about four of them said they would help me. So we began at the boulder and then fanned out.

Very quickly one of the bystanders yelled out that he had found it. I ran over with the remaining bag of ice, picked up the toe, and put it inside the bag with the ice. The bystander watched me, gruesomely fascinated, but he turned and vomited when he saw me pick up the severed toe.

I didn’t think about it, it was just something that needed to be done. I then taped the bag of ice with the toe in it to the motorcyclist’s leg and then covered him up again with the blanket. I was hoping that if the ambulance quickly got the man and his severed toe to the hospital, that the toe could possibly be successfully reattached, especially since both the foot and the toe had been quickly put in ice.

The ambulance and a police car soon arrived at the same time. As the EMTs were assessing the motorcyclist’s injuries, I made sure to tell the police officer that the severed toe was in a bag of ice taped to the man’s leg and that his foot was also in a bag of ice taped down and could he please pass that important information on to the EMTs when they had a spare moment?

He gave me a puzzled look and asked me to please stick around because he needed to interview everybody who had either witnessed the accident or who had tried to help.

He then interviewed the very few people who had actually witnessed the accident and then interviewed the people who had stopped and tried to help shortly after the accident had occurred.

Then as the EMTs were placing the motorcyclist on a gurney and were putting him into the ambulance, the police officer went up to the EMTs and told them about the severed toe in a bag of ice that was taped to the man’s leg and that his right foot was also encased in a bag of ice as well.

One of the EMTs said that they had noticed those things and that whoever had done that had made it a very likely possibility that the toe could be successfully reattached.

As the ambulance pulled away, its sirens wailing in urgency, the police officer walked over to the side of the road where I was sitting in my Chevelle, waiting for him.

He asked me for my name, telephone number and address and he wrote that information down. Then he asked me if I was a doctor or a nurse or some kind of healthcare worker and I replied, “No, but I am in the middle of obtaining a registered nurse’s degree and I had just recently successfully completed a first aid/first responder college class.”

He nodded as he said, “So that’s how you knew exactly what to do! The EMTs and I were very impressed that somebody had known that the motorcyclist was in shock and had known how important it was to wrap up the injured foot and the severed toe in bags of ice.”

Then the police officer asked me why had I not applied a tourniquet and I told him that since the bleeding had already stopped by the time the motorcyclist had removed his boot, it would have been very dangerous to have applied an unnecessary tourniquet because that would have greatly reduced the blood flow to the other parts of that man’s leg.

The police officer nodded in approval and told me, “Good! I’m glad you knew better than to do that because one of the bystanders was critical of you not applying a tourniquet but I told that person that what you had done was the best thing in this instance.”

Then he told me that he was going to go to the hospital in a little bit to check on the motorcyclist’s condition to include in his report. The officer asked me if I wanted to know if the toe was successfully reattached and I thought about that for a minute.

I told him, “No, I don’t want to know because if it was unsuccessful, I would feel really, really bad but by choosing to remain ignorant, then I can always hope and believe that it was successful.”

The police officer smiled at me and said, “Well, if the motorcyclist wants to know your name, would it be okay to tell him?” And I thought about that too but I told the officer, no, please don’t, just tell him if you get the chance that all of us who stopped to help him are sending him all sorts of wonderful and happy good thoughts that he will be up and riding his bike again very soon.

“And that he should ease off the throttle too, right?” replied the police officer. I smiled at him as I told him, “I’ll let you tell him that, it might sink in better coming from you!”

He told me goodbye and I waited until he got into his cruiser and drove away before I left on my interrupted trip to the store.

I only drove about another half-mile before I started shaking so bad that I had to pull over again. The realization of what I had just done, that I had held a severed toe in my hand, had actually picked it up like it was just a mushroom or something, finally sunk in.

I went over the whole scenario in my head and I was surprised at how calm and cool I had been throughout everything. I had made a list in my head, checking off what needed to be done and then I had made sure that those goals were accomplished by the other people helping the motorcyclist.

I had just walked into that group of people and had taken over helping the motorcyclist but there was nobody really doing much before I got there except to stand around and look at him.

But when I remembered the feel of that severed toe, that it had felt so squishy and also that it felt like it would easily squirt right out of its outer skin casing almost made me throw up right then and there.

But I calmed myself down and remembered that at least I didn’t get squeamish until after everything was taken care of and I thought that that was the most important thing.

But I think that is when I started to question whether becoming a nurse was really my calling. I knew that being able to remain cool, calm and collected during an emergency was a good trait to possess but falling apart afterwards made me wonder if that was a not-so-good trait.

I never learned if the motorcyclist’s toe was successfully attached so all these years, I have chosen to believe that it was, but if not, I had tried my best to help him and maybe that was just as good.

And I eventually did decide that nursing was just not for me. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the intellectual challenge of the college classes, I really wanted and needed a career that was 9-5, with weekends and holidays off.

And unless a nurse can eventually work herself up into an administrative position, nursing was not going to give me that kind of work schedule. So I switched to Accounting and I was even more happier that I had changed my major.


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