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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Do you know what you need your thumb for?


Today as I was showering I reached for the soap, which was next to the razor, and sliced the top of my thumb open. Honestly, I didn’t even notice it at first. At some point I wondered why my thumb was stinging, this vague thought that something was annoying but nothing that warranted attention. Then there was blood.

It took me a minute to figure out what had happened.

You know how you can fall down and slice your knee open, or step on a nail, or break a glass while you’re washing it and end up needing four stitches? Stuff like that hurts and then you get on with life.

But when you get a paper cut or you slice your thumb on a razor, the entire universe comes unhinged.

For one thing, it takes about an hour to stop bleeding and you’re pretty sure you’re going to need a transfusion by the time it’s done. Maybe you have a cookie to keep your sugar levels up.

For another, it smarts like a sonofagun.

But that isn’t even the worst part. The worst part is that you suddenly find that you need that finger – or in this case thumb – for basically everything you do in a day. And everything you do in a day reminds you that you forgot you sliced open your thumb until it starts smarting and stinging all over again.

Like when there is a power failure but you flip the light switch on every time you walk into a room anyway.

It turns out thumbs are pretty useful when they work.

You can’t use your phone without it. You need your thumb to tap, press, swipe, scroll. Which means even if you wanted to put on a bandage you couldn’t. I tried, trust me. I wrapped it over the top. I wrapped it around the side. I wrapped it with gauze and then taped it all around. It just kept popping off, or being so obtrusive that I yanked it off anyway.

You know what else you need your thumb for? Peeling hard boiled eggs. I decided to make egg salad today, never thinking that the jagged edges of shells would be poking into the open end of my thumb.

It’s hard to put on socks without a thumb. They end up sideways and sagging and you struggle with four non-opposable fingers to pull them up so you don’t bleed all over them.

Did you know that the area in your brain that is devoted to controlling your hand is greater than the area devoted to controlling your entire arm or leg? And the part of that allocated to controlling your thumb? Fifty percent.

That’s right, a full half of the entire area of your brain that controls your hand is devoted just to your thumb.

I read this while scrolling with my thumb. I am typing this as my thumb crashes into the space bar after every word.

You just don’t appreciate your thumb until inopportune moments.

Other things you realize you need your thumb for only when its use is inhibited: holding it over the opening of the pour spout on a bottle of bourbon. Unless you press it over the opening after a four-count, you are going to end up with way more bourbon than you planned for, and some of it is going to end up on the counter.

Thumbs are required for setting your earbuds in your ears. And for bracing the peeler as you zest a lemon, which is particularly swear-worthy when lemon juice seeps into the open end of your unbandaged wound.

When my brother Kevin was little, his th sounds manifested a bit more like a d sound. Thumb was a troubling word. So my friend and I had a grand old time asking him repeatedly to say, “I am a thumby.” It never ceased to be the funniest thing ever.

Did you know there is an actual artery in your thumb? It’s why you take your pulse with your index and middle fingers. Your thumb, it turns out, is not only required for unzipping your purse and taking your credit card out at the grocery store, but it also has its very own pulse.

It’s hard to flip open a ketchup bottle without it, nearly impossibly to ignite a candle with a lighter, and makes putting sheets on the bed quite a bit more tedious.

Sometimes you just don’t appreciate things until you have to. So to everyone who does not have a razor cut on their thumb today, take a moment and show your digit some gratitude. Give it a thumbs up, if you will. And if you’ve figured out a way to seal a zip-top bag without it, do let me know.

Photo: dicing some chorizo for dinner. Could you do that without a thumb??