LINCOLN, Maine — Cameron Fournier can feel his left ring finger. He can also wiggle it a little bit, but he still needs to take pain medications every four or five hours.
He’s lucky. The 16-year-old Mattanawcook Academy sophomore completely severed the finger in a table saw accident in a woodworking class on Nov. 19. Fournier also lost the tip of his left pinky finger and suffered nerve damage to his left thumb in the accident.
“Until I get my cast off and go into physical therapy, I think I will be pretty good,” Fournier said in an interview last week. “I heard from one of my friends who had a finger mangled by a wood chipper. He said that he had some pretty tough times going through the physical therapy. That makes me a little nervous, but I think I can do it.”
About 10,000 Americans suffer an injury like Fournier’s — known as traumatic amputation — each year. If he’s fortunate, his eight hours of reattachment and repair microsurgery will also allow him to be among the high percentage of patients who make full recoveries.
“Everything is going good. We need to keep an eye on the color and keep making sure the blood flow is still going,” said Fournier’s mother, Ann Fournier. “We have to touch it with a Q-tip and make sure he is feeling it. We need to make sure that it stays pink.”
Each year about 67,000 people in the U.S. are injured by table saws, with about 33,000 being treated in emergency rooms, according to the consumer organization Fairwarning.org. There are about 4,000 amputations from table saws annually, according to the organization.
Family friend Jake Rhodes of Milford, who had his right index finger successfully reattached after it was caught in a saw grinder at work in Enfield in March 2012, has discussed his experience with Fournier. Rhodes said he warned Fournier to expect a lot of pain from his finger through his physical rehabilitation and beyond even if his recovery is judged completely successful.
“It is a nagging pain that just doesn’t go away. It is still there today,” Rhodes said. “If I bang my finger off anything, it throbs bad. Cold days aren’t fun. After a long day at work, my finger is pretty sore, and my finger moves perfectly.
“It is not quite as strong as the rest of them because I baby it, but as far as work goes, it is fine,” added Rhodes, who is a television satellite dish installer. “I didn’t even move mine for two weeks after my surgery so the fact that he says he is moving it right now is pretty good.”
Unlike Fournier, whose reattached finger was cut pretty cleanly, Rhodes said he suffered a crush-and-tear injury, which surgeons regard as the most difficult to fix. Physical therapy for him took several months.
The therapy was “like trying to relearn how to trigger moving your finger again. Like when you go to make a fist, it stiffens up and sticks out like a hook,” Rhodes said. “The scar tissue [around the wound] hardens, and the first time you go to move it you really feel that. The stronger it gets, and the more you move it, the more you can feel the scar tissue ripping up inside of it. You can feel that as it is moving. It is not a pleasant feeling.”
Fournier’s ability to recover from his injury rests largely, Rhodes said, in how hard he works at physical therapy — and how much pain he can stand.
“He seems to be taking it pretty good, just as good as you can, I think. Once the finger is back on, it really comes down to how you work it,” Rhodes said. “It is just fighting through the pain and getting it back to where it used to be.”