Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Importance of Fingertips

Here is one of the stories I told seventh graders at a public school when I was substitute teaching, and had a few minutes at the end of class. At the kid’s request, I wrote the stories into a book called Four on the Floor.

If I asked any of you why fingertips were important, I bet you would not be able to tell me. After I tell you this story, you will know. It is another Holly story (Holly is my daughter). I alluded to it when I told the Holly story about two arms and three elbows.

Holly and one of her girl-friends at school would ride horses at a stable near us in Upland, California. She was a seventh grader, I suppose. The other girl’s parents and we would take turns dropping them off at the stable and picking them up later. They had the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains to ride all over. There was a lot of open space and no cars to worry about.

One Saturday morning Holly said her friend could not go with her. We considered the facts and decided to take Holly up there anyway. She had been going for a long time and should be able to handle herself.

I went on to work, leaving Holly’s mother to handle the transportation problems. And when I got home there was a surprise waiting for me. Holly had a huge bandage on her hand.

“What happened to you?” I gasped.

“Got hurt by a horse today,” Holly told me. She was afraid I would be angry with her.

It turned out that when Holly went to rent her favorite horse, she was told by the stable owner that the horse was being ridden.

“Take number 5,” he told her gruffly.

So Holly took number 5 and had a nice ride. When she came back and tried to tie up the horse, it reared. All thousand pounds of the horse pulled back. Unfortunately, Holly’s small hand was in a steel ring, holding the reigns when it happened. Thus, her fingers were caught between the steel, unyielding ring and the very heavy duty reigns. The result was that the ends of three of Holly’s fingers were crushed off.

Do you know what happens when you lose the ends of your fingers? The skin on your fingers falls back to your hand and what you see is muscle, tendons and bones of your fingers. Holly dropped her hand and pulled then skin back over her fingers.
Then she went to the stable owner’s shack to ask for help. He wouldn’t give her any help, telling her to call her mother.

Well, it is difficult to dial a telephone when you have no fingertips. But Holly bravely managed somehow and her mother came to get her. They went directly to a hospital where plastic surgeons tried to fix as much of the damage as they could.

Holly’s mother and I were furious at the stable owner for not helping. We wanted him to pay for Holly’s medical bills. But he said, “No.” Then Holly said something that really got my attention. She said, “As I was leaving the stable, a worker said, ‘Number 5 always rears when you try to tie him up.’”

“Come on Holly,” I said, “we’re going to see a lawyer.” I was thinking that there was a point of law that might be in our favor. We explained our situation to the lawyer, and at the end I asked, “Do we have a case?”

The lawyer rubbed his hands together and smiled broadly. “Do we ever have a case!” he said.

I hate suing and courts, but this time I was really angry. So we filed lawsuit papers immediately. I found there is no advantage in threatening to sue; you just file the papers.

We waited for the case to come to court, and I am sure the stable-owner’s lawyer told his client to pay, that he was in deep trouble.

The case finally came to court for a hearing. Holly walked into court with her mother and her lawyer. I was working again. Fingers1 Holly was on crutches. Her foot hadn’t healed from the needle episode I told you about earlier.

“Did the horse do that to her, too?” asked the judge, looking at her crutches.
Our attorney told the judge what had happened and the judge simply told the stable owner one word: “Pay.”

Eventually a check came for Holly to be held in trust until she was eighteen.

What was the point of law? Well, if you put someone in danger, you have to tell him or her about it. If you had reason to believe a horse would unexpectedly rear, you have to tell the renter of the horse, or you are at fault. If you sell a car with bad brakes you have to tell the buyer the car has bad brakes or you, the seller, are responsible for what happens. It is the legal and ethical thing to do.
And what is the importance of fingertips? Fingertips keep the skin of your fingers from falling down.

No comments: