I went to the emergency room today. I should have gone right away, but I'm too stubborn and bull-headed sometimes, and I have a pretty messed up perception of what constitutes an emergency, so I didn't.

At Habitat for Humanity this morning, I was cutting drywall for the house we're working on, and I failed to pay appropriate attention to my utility knife for a critical second. That's all it takes when you're not wearing gloves like you know you should be.

I cut my left thumb with the utility knife pretty badly. Finger damage hurts a lot, you've got an incredible concentration of nerve endings in your fingers. Fortunately, we do keep a first-aid kit on site, and I was able to clean and bandage the wound quickly.

There was a lot of blood involved. I have seriously never bled this much before in my life, except when making a blood donation which doesn't count because that's on purpose and the bleeding stops relatively quickly. I had a choice, I could go to the emergency room, or I could just change my bandages and keep it clean until the bleeding stops, and wait for it to heal on its own.

I chose poorly. Seven hours later the bleeding had not stopped, and I had changed the bandages six times. I'm going to estimate I lost half a pint of blood, nothing life threatening but certainly annoying. At this point, I was concerned that the bleeding was not stopping on its own and I finally went to the emergency room.

I mentioned I have poor judgement when it comes to visiting the emergency room. It wasn't a broken bone, or a life-threatening illness, or head trauma, and I wasn't shot. What about this was an "emergency"? I just cut myself, it wasn't life-threatening. People cut themselves every day. Well, it turns out a bad cut like this is a legitimate emergency and I was stupid and stubborn and because of that I lost more blood than I should have and spent several more hours in pain than I needed to.

Emergency rooms can be slow when you have a non-life threatening injury. Hospitals have too many patients and not enough medical professionals. All told, I spent about three hours at the hospital, but at least I'm not bleeding anymore.

After almost an hour in the waiting room, a nurse saw me, removed the gauze I put on my hand, told me I should have come in seven hours ago, re-bandaged it properly (putting more pressure on the wound to stem the bleeding), and set the procedures in motion to fix me.

Most of another hour went by before the hospital was ready to see me. When you're in pain time moves more slowly than usual, unfortunately, and I didn't have much to keep me distracted, so I spent the whole time thinking about how much my thumb hurt. I don't recommend doing that.

They then transferred me to an exam room where I waited some more, filled out some paperwork, gave them my insurance information, and waited some more.

Finally a nice nurse practitioner came in to see me. I went over the story of how I hurt myself again, and when she examined my cut she saw two things I had missed (it's difficult to examine your cut when the blood pools up fast enough to hide the details). First, I had an avulsion injury. That means that I didn't just cut myself, I actually cut off a chunk of thumb. Part of me is now missing. Second, she saw that I had cut a small artery in my thumb, which was why I was soaking my bandages so quickly.

Of course, emergency room staff see much more serious injuries on a daily basis, so this was just routine to them. To me, it was the third worst I'd ever hurt myself (1: extruded hernia in my spine, 2: broken finger after a rollerblading fall) and the most I'd ever bled. She came back later with the tools she would need to fix me and got to work.

First, she injected my thumb with a local anesthetic. This was the most painful part of the procedure, getting the fleshy, sensitive pad of my thumb stabbed with needles three times. It was actually more painful than the cut itself, but, as it was anesthetic, the pain was fleeting. In moments my thumb was numb.

She then gave me two stitches, one to help close the wound and one to close the cut artery. This was the weirdest part of the procedure, as I was very aware of the stitches going in but it didn't hurt. At worst there was a slight sting, but the sensation of pressure was still there and was still telling me things were happening that should hurt, even if it didn't.

Once the procedure actually started, the whole thing was over in minutes. I went through several hours of pain, bleeding, and awkwardly trying to get through my day one-handed which I absolutely did not need to experience. They sent me home with a pill for any lingering pain after the anesthetic wore off and told me to come back on Thursday to have the stitches removed.

To anyone reading this, serious cuts are most definitely an emergency room accident. If the bleeding doesn't stop in a timely manner, get yourself to professional medical help. They have the tools and the experience to help you, that's their job. Don't be stubborn and foolish about it.