Caregiving Backstage

Memories that Strangle

Originally published October 31, 2014

Rings. Symbols of promised love, a symbol of taste or status, a gift. A gift that can turn ugly with little or no warning. I tell this story because it is something easily missed in the rush to care for someone suffering from some form of dementia. One more hazard in life’s ever more restrictive path.

When my husband and I got married, we decided to do something a bit different. We selected titanium rings. This is an extremely hard metal that does not yield to much in this world. Just about the only way to do much more than scar it is to use a diamond blade. We loved the cool, gray metal, the uniqueness, and the idea of endurance.

There was a bit of a problem. His ring finger was sort of in between things. He lost the ring twice (and found it again) and we even purchased a replacement (only to find the lost one). We were told that to have a smaller one on his hand would risk not being able to remove it over his knuckle. Well, he solved that and wore the ring on his middle finger—for years. Until a couple weeks ago.

One morning as he reached for my hand he jerked back and seemed pained. On closer inspection I realized that I had missed a gout episode in the making. It was his ring finger, and it was already quite swollen and warm. Knowing the strength of the metal and the impossibility of removing it if things got worse—off to urgent care we went.

They did take us in immediately. It was obvious there was an issue. And they tried. Squishing, squeezing, the thread trick (I don’t think they did that one right), the ring cutters (even the electric ones) and nothing. It was only getting tighter. My poor husband was in pain and the ring was going nowhere. Someone got the bright idea to call orthopedics.

Some 30-40 minutes later (while I kept hand up and cold pack on the finger) here came the bone doctor with the one thing I knew we needed; a diamond bladed saw. It was really quite an operation. I held a couple of supports under the ring to protect the finger as best I could, the doctor sawed, and a nurse ran a saline drip to keep things as cool as possible. The doctor passed out eye protection against sparks and spray. And we cut. Twice. We couldn’t force the thing open with only one side cut. When the ring came off my poor husband had a second degree burn. The metal had heated up even though we did our best to avoid it. Interesting that the only time he took his hand away is when we stuck it in a bucket of ice. With all the ignominies he had suffered that morning, ice water was one step too far.

There was a point while we were waiting for the orthopedic fellow that someone was floating the idea of visiting the jeweler. Really? Do YOU know a jeweler that would take the liability of taking in some poor bloke with dementia, saw off his ring leaving a 2nd degree burn, all the while hoping the wife had the right whatevers at home to care for it? Um, maybe somewhere the lawyer count is lower but not in my neck of the woods.

The moral, of course, it to be a bit more watchful of those who can no longer understand or communicate when they see a problem coming. In years gone by, any hint of gout and the ring would have been off until things were back to normal.

Be wary the midnight strangler. Put jewelry safely away. If it is missed find a flexible substitute. It really is a near thing that we lost a ring, and not a finger.

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