Lost My Thumb on the Nose


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Sport climber
Sacramento, Ca
Topic Author's Original Post - Oct 15, 2010 - 12:38am PT
last tuesday I cut part of my thumb off on the second pitch of the Nose, A number of people helped look for it and someone actually found it. I was on my way to the hospital when it was found so didn't get to thank that person, Also thanks to park employees and others who assisted. Below is the entire boring story. I wouldn't suggest you read this

Accident happened Oct 12, 10)
Thanks for all the emails and calls, The lies as i remember them: As. Matt and I were attempting to fix our lines from Sickle Ledge to the base of El Cap so we could get a head start on the Nose Route the following day. we 3rd classed up the buttress to the base of the difficulty. Matt led the first pitch and i led the second, I had made the pendulum to the next crack on the right continuing to aid up. My first piece was the cracked fixed pin and i set two more pieces above that. I knew that my last piece wasn't very good but it was the best i could find so I was high stepping above my last piece, when the piece pulled. As i was falling i felt a pain in my left thumb that was unusal. when I stopped falling Ilooked at my thumb and i saw a stump above the distal knuckle. I then looked down to see the end of my thumb falling down 400 feet to the bottom. I was sure we wouldn't be able to find the finger as it went into bushes and rocks. Matt lowered me till i was even with him and then threw a rope over to me and pulled me to him. He then lowered me to a tree that we could rappel from. Curt was on the scene so i yelled for him to alert the clinic so they could alert a medic for my arrival. Curt also called the Park Service and they sent a medic up to the base of Elcap. Curt found a fixed rope and jugged to me and assisted me down the fixed rope. When i got to the bottom, I found an ER Doctor that happened to be in the area. He was holding Curt's crying baby. The ER Doctor looked at the thumb and said he would assist me to the clinic. We met the Park Service ranger coming and he did basic first aid and assisted me to a waiting ambulance, Meanwhile Curt and Matt started looking for my severed finger. I advised them that they would never find it because of the difficulty of the terrain and the wide area it could have fallen. Foutunately they didnt listen to me and started a search, Curt also got other climbers to assist.and one of the party found it.just before dark. By this time I was well on our way out of the park in an ambulance. The Ranger radioed us said they were driving with the thumb, code three, to catch us. We drove to El Portal where we met an ambulance from Maraposa that would continue to transport me to Mariposa (the initial ambulance needed to stay in the greater yosemite area). My thumb also met us at the rundevoux. The people in the Mariposa ambulance made a number of calls and decided that I should be life flighted by helicopter to Fresno where the reattachment could be made. We drove to Mariposa where a helicopter with pilot/flight nurse/EMT transported us to Fresno.when i arrived in Fresno, the first doctor i saw informed me they didn't do reattachments there. Needless to say, I wasn' very happy with Fresno. They tried to make up for it by fast tracking me on all the necessary xrays, blood/urine tests, ekg and other preliminaries for surgery while waiting for another heliocopter to arrive. I got into another helocopter and we traveled to San Francisco and landed at San Francisco Int'l Airport, (we couldn't land at the hospital cause Feinstein has declared San Francisco a noise free zone, according to our pilot). An ambulance then took us to California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. They specialize in finger replacement. The fall occured at 6pm and now it was midnight, I was concerned that too much time had elapsed for the reattachment to be successful but the surgeons said, if there isn't muscle involved (no muscele in the fingers) the time frame isn't as critical. The Doctors told me that it might be difficult to reattach the finger because the cut occurred at the distal joint where there is a defined artery but no defined vein, At 1 am i went into surgery which lasted 1 1/2 hrs. For some reason tme anesthia stops my breathing so they inserted a breathing tube and they controled my breathing. The doctors said there was a fair chance that reattachment wouldn't be possible. they told me when i woke from surgery i would know the surgery was unsuccessful if my finger was wrapped completly. If the end of my finger was exposed and I saw two pins in the end of my finger, i would know it was successful, When i awoke, i saw 2 pins so i was happy. If the cut had occurred near the base of the finger there is a defined vein and artery, With my cut with no veins but an artery, the blood would be able to flow into the severed tip (the doctors use micro surgery and a microscope to reattach the artery) but there is no where for the blood to circulate threw the finger tip until the veins reattach themselves so in order for the blood to flow out, half the nail is removed and a hole is placed there for the finger to bleed. This hospital uses sophistophated instruments and if the bleeding isn't adequate a special solution is used on a swab that causes bleeding. If, after using the swab, the bleeding isn't adequate, a leech is placed on the hole and the leech removes the blood while cleaning the hole. It also emits an anticoagulent that increases blood floow. I am also on a heavy dosage of blood thinners to help with blood flow. Each day now means there are better odds that the reattachment will work. I will probably go home some time next week and be in a restrictive device for at least 2 more weeks then, if the bones are stable, I should be able to start physical therapy. Function, feeling and strength etc are still to be determined.


Trad climber
Oct 15, 2010 - 12:49am PT
Crazy story. Good luck on the recovery.
Could you elaborate on how your thumb was severed during the aid fall?

Trad climber
Oct 15, 2010 - 12:50am PT
Hey, congrats on a successful reattachment. Actually quite an interesting tale. Quite the ordeal, and amazing that your friends found the tip!

Speedy recovery.
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Oct 15, 2010 - 12:54am PT
An unfortunate event, that seems to have happened twice recently.

Heal well!
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Oct 15, 2010 - 01:05am PT
Wow, John. Epic injury and search for a place that could handle the surgery!

I hope it heals up OK. The epic may continue for a little while.

Any theories on what your thumb was caught in, so it got torn off?
Did you have it in a piton scar, to assist in the top step?
(If so, clearly a risky move, although it can be hard to resist the temptation).

I once had my hand in a biner to the side of me when my aid piece pulled - I broke my finger.

Trad climber
Trinity County
Oct 15, 2010 - 01:59am PT
Cool story. TFPU. Especially liked the medical details. Sorry bout your thumb. I'm half-joking but maybe you could ... like write an article, make a movie like the dude who cut his arm off, go on lettermen. I know I'm goin too far there. How bout,... the chicks will love this story, you know they will. Seriously, no disrespect man. I just find it interesting.

Best of luck in the healing and therapy. Stay positive.
Mike Bolte

Trad climber
Planet Earth
Oct 15, 2010 - 02:00am PT
yowch! what a story. Best of luck healing up.

Trad climber
Mill Valley, CA
Oct 15, 2010 - 02:15am PT
Lots of healing energy to you and some supertopo love to you, your partner and the many who helped reunite you with your thumb. May your recovery go well.

Big Wall climber
Seattle, WA
Oct 15, 2010 - 02:19am PT
Dude, you're scaring the fekkin shite out of me.

Trad climber
Oak Land, California
Oct 15, 2010 - 02:23am PT
Dude, I can't believe you typed all that. Best of luck for a speedy recovery!

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
Oct 15, 2010 - 02:32am PT
If something had to take a sharp slice, I guess it's better your thumb than your rope.

Still, :-(. Really.

I hope it heals well for you.

Social climber
Truckee, CA
Oct 15, 2010 - 02:37am PT
Hooray for leeches!!!!!
Jay Wood

Trad climber
Fairfax, CA
Oct 15, 2010 - 03:14am PT
Sorry to hear of your accident- heal up well.

Social climber
Oct 15, 2010 - 03:26am PT
hey there say, johnr9q.... wonderful to hear that nothing worse happened too... and that all this has a good chance to succeed...

get well soon... thanks for sharing, so we can be in your corner and pray and send good wishes... sure is not fun to be alone, when waiting to be healed up...

god bless..

minus the crutches, of course:


Oct 15, 2010 - 04:08am PT
Wow, that's quite a story. I hope your recovery goes well, and the Nose will be waiting for you next Spring.
Fish Finder

Social climber
Oct 15, 2010 - 09:33am PT

"My thumb also met us at the rundevoux."

Now that is a sentence you dont hear often.

Good luck on a speedy recovery and thanks for the share. Very interesting.
Nor Cal

Trad climber
San Mateo
Oct 15, 2010 - 09:53am PT
Yikes, I hope you heal quickly!

Ice climber
canyon country,CA
Oct 15, 2010 - 12:13pm PT
Hope you have a speedy recovery. Thanks for posting. I hope it doesn't come down to it but if you do need the leech, please please please post pictures of it in action.
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Oct 15, 2010 - 01:19pm PT
Amazing story. I too was struck that you can type!

So lucky it happened close to the ground. Imagine if you had been in the upper dihedrals, you thumb would have been a lot worse for the wear when it decked.

Heal up, and don't forget to fill us in on just how it happened.

All the best,

Sport climber
Sacramento, Ca
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 15, 2010 - 01:29pm PT
John R back. someone said it was a job to type this one handed. AND THE HAND I USED HAS 4 TUBES COMING OUT OF IT. sorry for caps. it took 3 hrs to type. thanks to all of you for your thots and prayers. doctors said this AM i should be released next week then 4 to 6 weeks later the bone securing pins removed then physical therapy. clint and others asked what was the mechanism that did the cutting, i looked at the other post on this subject on super topo by matt which includes pics (he will post some of my leeches later). looking at the second picture (which was of the piece just below the piece that pulled-the top piece) (i did not have the lead line thru that piece so that explains why i fell so far) i was high stepping in my aiders and so was holding on to something near the top of the aider while reaching high to set the next piece, the only thing i can figure is that whatever i was holding on to somehow my thumb went thru the cable on the cam and when i fell the rope went tight in the cam before it pulled and my thumb was caught between the tight rope and the cam wire. i remember, when i fell, that the cutting sensation occurred at the beginning not the end of the fall.
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