I feel ready to share this story, because while my last two meets have been more than sub-par (sub-sub-par?), my training and overall results to this point in the season haven’t been impacted by this now-ridiculous and somewhat funny story like I feared in my soul they might be. This story is also partly why I changed the way I grip the javelin handle!
When are pumpkins dangerous?
Short answer: If you’re an idiot.
In the fall, I carved a beautiful pumpkin. I’m actually really good at this. If I use a template, you know, like from the booklet with the little tools plasticked on the front. If I drew one and followed that I’d probably be pretty good too, but freehand would be trash, I can guarantee it. But I pay attention to detail, I take my time, and they turn out great. Usually.
I took him home, lit him up for trick-or-treaters the next day, woo. They had extra pumpkins at the Olympic Training Center, I needed to be there later the next day anyway, and I had nothing better to do, so I decided to carve two more pumpkins! One was to gloriously proclaim “Team USA” and I planned for the other to be the Olympic City USA logo. Training Center pumpkins for fun!
I had not purchased these pumpkins, nor the knife (a brand new, sharp one of the paring variety) with which I carved the holes in the tops of them. I was not at home. I did bring my own pumpkin-carving tools because I’m extra about crafts, but had no other useful tools to speak of, and neither was I familiar with what might be available to me on campus in that regard. I’m just carving pumpkins. Should be simple.
After carving the holes in the tops of both pumpkins (in zigzag formation, because duh), I prepared to remove the tops to extract the guts. One pumpkin had a nice stem to grab and pull on. The other did not! Problem.
I turned that pumpkin upside down. I attempted to push the lid into the pumpkin guts. But I masterfully carve the zigzag pattern also at an angle so that the lid won’t fall into the pumpkin after the little bit of drying we all know happens (instantly in Colorado). So no dice there. I just could not get purchase on this blunt little stem to pull the lid off, which maybe means I should work on my grip strength.
What to do…
Pumpkin-carving knife (from the little toolkit…serrated, very dull but effective for slicing pumpkin meat) in right hand, paring knife (brand new, pointed at the tip, very sharp and effective for stabbing…other…meat) in left hand, I approached the pumpkin. Wedged each knife into the zigzaggy hole’s respective sides, and attempted to pry the lid off by applying inward and upward pressure. I had been at this lid extraction operation for at least ten minutes with no progress made. I’d gotten impatient. I’d gotten DUMB. After a few seconds of maximal effort, I think maybe this isn’t the best idea, so I begin to release the pumpkin pressure I’m applying, and as I’m right-handed, my right hand obeys that command first.
Now my right (throwing) hand is facing my left (paring-knife-holding) hand. The instant pressure wasn’t being applied to the other side of the pumpkin lid anymore, ol’ lefty’s knife came rocketing out at the same orientation it was being pushed while still in the pumpkin (inward and upward). I did not even see it happen, just felt a sudden, very deep, very achy ache in the bottom of my right palm. The thickest part. The palm bottom margin.
I don’t remember extracting the knife from my flesh. I also can’t remember ever having a cut that was white before red (besides maybe missed-box jump shin scrapes, amirite). But there was no blood when I looked at my hand, and then all of a sudden there waaaaas. I cupped my hand and hustled to a paper towel dispenser. I made sure to put the (not bloody, because I stab that fast) knife down on the newspapers I had there to protect the surface from pumpkin-not human-flesh, and then I hustled to Sports Med. It was cold outside. I didn’t put on a jacket. I was terrified.
I’ve never had subcutaneous fat nudged back inside a wound before. I didn’t get stitches, but I did get steri-strips and a bunch of hand specialist visits. I absolutely grastoned the crap out of my wound once it healed over. I did that thing where you obsessively check in on an injury like every hour to “make sure” it’s healing okay even though you can’t tell cuz you’re not an expert. I followed the doctor and my therapy team’s instructions to the letter. I’ve done more nerve glides this year than ever in history because I must not allow this really dumb thing that I did to impact my career.
The result of this incision (because really I just performed amateur, unnecessary surgery on a small part of my hand) is that I seriously damaged and maybe severed the palmar cutaneous branch of my median nerve. It might continue to grow back, and it might not. Typically any nerve growth that’s going to happen at a surgical site will happen within 18 months, and you can help it along by exfoliating the area to activate the subcutaneous nerves. But the bigger ones are a lot more difficult-if not impossible-to regrow. Luckily, this little branch of my median nerve just controls the sensation in a little part of my palm (hence palmar). We didn’t know for a while if it was going to be more of the median nerve, which reaches some of your fingers and actually goes through your carpal tunnel, and could present other, more serious problems. I could have developed a neuroma at the stab site, which would mean weird and difficult-to-treat pain there and with associated movement. That was my main worry for months, because there were times that I would get shooting nerve pain up my hand from that spot!
If my silly left hand had stabbed my wrist, we all know how terrible that could have been. The middle of your palm has tons of tendons and nerves, so that would have spelled disaster. And the fingers are just too delicate to want a stabby knife anywhere near. Pumpkins cause injury (correlation not causation haha). Srsly, more than 3000 people were injured carving pumpkins in 2017. Please be careful. The nurse told me at my week check-up that a lady came in the afternoon of my first appointment with a pumpkin injury and needed emergency surgery to repair the finger tendons she had sliced through.
I was soooooo lucky. And I colored those dumb pumpkins.
I’ve wanted to change my grip for a while now, just because. I thought it might help my tip control anyway (it has for the most part), and since I didn’t know how my hand was going to fully heal and if I’d need to incorporate more fingers to compensate for this pumpkin accident, why not now? It’s been a hilarious second reason to change my grip, and after much worry, a great story.
I can do hand planks, hang for pull-ups and support myself on rings and parallel bars, catch cleans and snatches, bench, etc. absolutely no problem. This ridiculous stabbing has had zero impact on how I train and how my body feels. I just might not carve a pumpkin again before the Olympic year.