Not the hands! Musicians’ greatest fear

IMG_20160711_091241546_HDR[1]One minute I was deadheading my roses and nudging the compost cart along. The next I was on the ground staring at my throbbing fingers. The open cart had become unbalanced and fallen toward me. I fell in among peach parts and chicken bones. I know I hollered as I went down. Only the trees heard, and they said: “What do you want us to do, we’re stuck in the ground?” If a woman hollers in the forest where no humans can hear her, does she make a sound?

Anyway. I landed with my left-hand fingers first, specifically the middle, ring and pinkie fingers. Yes, I’m left-handed. I also banged my left knee and whacked my ribs pretty hard on the rim of the cart, but all I cared about, once I determined I was still alive, was my fingers. I needed them to hold down the frets on the guitar and play the bass notes on the piano. Everything else I could figure out with one hand. I’ve done it before.

As a musician, I always worry about the fingers first. Once upon a time in Lincoln City, OR, I fell down the stairs of our rental house. I still wince at the memory. My injuries were relatively minor but worrisome. My sideways-pointing big toe was the doctor’s main concern, but I kept whining about my fingers, two of which were swelling rapidly, and hey, I had a performance in three days. I didn’t need my big toe, but I definitely needed my fingers.

This turned out to be not that bad. Nothing broken, just bruised and slightly swollen. After a few days of ice and rest, they’re almost like new, sore and a little purple but workable. I played all weekend. Why did I put my hands out to stop my fall? It’s instinct. Better hands than head, our body says, throwing the hands down before we have a chance to think about it.

A couple days later, I was chopping berry vines at the side of the house, my hands protected with leather gloves. My late husband Fred had left behind this pole saw thing that I had never used, but I just had to get those high vines that were leaning on my house. So I studied the thing, hung it on a branch, pulled the cord, and it cut! Excited, I started cutting everything in sight. However, in my enthusiasm, I pulled down too hard right above the chain link fence and whacked the heel of my right hand on the upward-pointing wires hard enough to bruise it. It was at that point I thought maybe klutzy musicians should not do their own gardening. But then yesterday I pinched a finger in my keyboard stand. Another bruise. Fingers are in for it no matter what we do.

Fingers are so vulnerable. They stick out at the end of our hands with no protection. Without them, it’s hard to play guitar or piano or most other instruments—although I do know two talented men who play well despite missing their left index fingers. It doesn’t take much to put you out of business. A paper cut in the wrong place, a mashed fingernail, a mosquito bite. When people shake my hand too hard, I think: Careful! The fingers!

An injury to one little finger can put us out of business. It seems like we should sit with our hands in our laps and do nothing. But we can’t do that. We have to live our lives. I’ve had sprained wrists, torn shoulder ligaments, golfer’s elbow and tendonitis from my shoulders to my fingertips. I’ve worn slings, splints, and braces. I’ve applied “liquid skin” to torn calluses. Most of the time, I played anyway. I have seen guitar players bleed on their strings from cuts that didn’t have time to heal. Life is dangerous. We take our chances and thank God every time we get to play again, even if it hurts.

It’s not just musicians and fingers. Think about the body parts people use to do their work: the artist’s eyes, the pitcher’s throwing arm, the dancer’s feet, the perfumer’s nose. And you would not believe how paranoid I am about my vocal cords. I can’t get sick! I’m a singer. But that’s a whole other blog.

I’m typing this post with all 10 fingers. The keyboard seems to be a safe place, but you never know. There’s always carpal tunnel syndrome.

Worst case, I’ll play my harmonica. No fingers needed.

Comments? Do you have any finger-hurting memories to share?

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Author: Sue Fagalde Lick

writer/musician California native, Oregon resident Author of Freelancing for Newspapers, Shoes Full of Sand, Azorean Dreams, Stories Grandma Never Told, and Childless by Marriage. I have published hundreds of articles, plus essays, fiction and poetry. I teach writing workshops and offer individual editing and mentoring. I'm also pretty good at singing and playing guitar and piano.

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