The tips of the nails on my thumbs are always notched, never rounded. The padding around the nails is usually cracked and, in the winter when it’s dry, split and bleeding. Every day these useful digits are under pressure.
With them, I peel stickers off apples; hold tiny bits, like garlic cloves and jalapeños, as I mince them; scrape dried paint drops off the floor; pry open the tightly sealed container of a glucose test strips bottle, six times a day; dislodge nits from children’s scalps and hair and pinch them off; peel up the ends of tape from the roll; snip withered leaves and blooms off plants as I walk by them; puncture plastic bags of mulch or frozen french fries; press a rubber eraser down on the page; pick snarls out of thread; unknot shoelaces; unbutton and button my pants; buckle belts and Mary Jane shoe straps; unscrew the empty reservoir from my insulin pump; fish coins out of my wallet; adjust a slipped bra or camisole strap; floss; and more.
When I, occasionally, use my teeth as tools — to open something stuck, or to bite open a knot — I hear my mother’s voice in my head: “You’re going to crack a tooth!” No one, however, objects when I maltreat my thumbs. They’re designed for many tasks, for any task.
Emily, my sister, broke both her thumbs when she landed and keeled backwards after completing a running long jump during Field Day activities in 8th grade. I was in college at the time, and I remember that sinking feeling of sympathy when my mother called me and told me about Em’s accident, and that her hands would be casted for six weeks.
Imagine six weeks without the use of your thumbs.
Photograph by Jimmy.