(Not) Using the Middle Finger

So here I am typing with seven fingers, and one thumb for spacing.

I’m sure we all type differently. Some with only index fingers, while others might utilize more digits as they watch the keys. There’s the “hunt and peck” crowd, and then those of us who were taught to touch type without looking at the keyboard.

That’s where I fall in. I never look at my fingers or the letters, only the words that appear on the screen, at least until three weeks ago when my orthopedic physician diagnosed a partially torn ligament in my left middle finger. That injured digit is now strapped securely to its index neighbor, requiring me to watch my left hand hunt and peck.

Being longer than the rest, the middle finger hamstrings my index digit, which should be striking the letters b, f, g, r, and t. Mr. Middle often misses c, d, e and because I can’t find the home keys, there are many, many typos.

Thanks to my lucky stars I can delete and backspace with my right, which I do on nearly every other word. If I was using real paper and White-Out, I’d be buying both by the train load.

for example, rhis is whar it looks lik4 qhen I’m nor warchinfg my gands.

This current malady throws off my writing balance on the other hand, causing it to make mistakes. And to make things worse, I just today sliced the end of my right middle finger and that bandage is also causing problems.

Irritating ain’t no word for it, and I have a self-imposed book deadline by the end of this month.

To make things worse, I had to visit my regular doctor to get a reference to the ortho.

“So, what brings you in today” The masked physician’s assistant settled down in front of her laptop resting on the exam room’s counter. In days gone by, those counters held a variety of torture instruments utilized by doctors who actually came into the examination room.

“Like I told the lady on the phone when I made the appointment, and by the way, she asked a lot of questions, anyway, I tripped while the Bride and I were hiking in Sedona and she says I fell like a redwood. I think I fractured my left middle finger.”

I resisted the urge to hold it up to her, fearing she’d take the familiar gesture the wrong way.

She hammered her keyboard with all fingers. “Which one?”

And that question brings me to my biggest pet peeve, besides this injured digit. No one listens anymore, because everyone is on some kind of device when they should be paying attention. Whether it’s the local fast food drive-through, which invariably gets my order wrong, to the kids bagging groceries, to the doctor’s office and an exam I didn’t need.

Through six decades of work and play, I’ve jammed, fractured, dislocated, cut, and broken almost all my fingers, except for the one in question. I waited for over six weeks after this particular injury for the swelling to go down, but it remained puffy. By the time I called the doctor’s office, it was stiff and painful in the mornings and I couldn’t curl it any longer.

The truth was, I wanted a specialist, but my GP said he had to see me (read here, his nurse practitioner) before he would recommend anyone and the others I called directly required a reference.

So Nurse Calpurnia sat at her computer and typed while I related the events leading up to that moment. “So anyway, that’s what happened.” I waited while Nurse Calpurnia squinted at her screen, apparently typing her own novel with two fingers. “And now I’m typing with nine fingers.”

She paused and considered my statement. “You only have eight fingers and two thumbs.”

“Oh, we’re going there, huh? Okay, I type with everything except for my left thumb, which just hangs there for balance I guess, kinda like an outrigger, and strangely, it doesn’t get tired after an entire day of working on my novel.”

She addressed the screen, distracted. “So it’s just your middle finger.”

I wanted to hold it up at her, but she wouldn’t have seen it anyway. “Yes. I wish I’d jammed my left thumb instead.”


I was succinct in my presentation, so what did she miss? I had to blink at that question for a moment, something she didn’t notice, either, because she was still hammering away on her keyboard.

Maybe she wants to be a novelist, and takes some kind of mysterious keyboard shorthand to get all the details, and then while patients are talking, she can write two or three paragraphs on her manuscript. At the end of any given day, Nurse Calpurnia could be five or six pages further along toward finishing. I think that’s kinda brilliant.

She pulled me from my reverie. “So you’re healthy otherwise.”

“Well, my knee’s still a little sore, but I’m not here for that. I’ll come back later if it keeps hurting so we can go through this again when I need a knee specialist.”

She missed my sarcasm. “Let me see your finger.”

And once again, I resisted the urge to demonstrate a proper gesture. She studied the extremity for a moment. “Let me see your other hand for comparison.”

“It looks a lot like my left, but without the swollen finger.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Not really.”

“On a scale of one to ten?”

“One.” Instead of striking three letters, she typed for about five minutes, likely finishing a conversation between her characters.

“I can type really fast.” I decided to interrupt her train of thought. “Some days I’ve knocked out over 5,000 words, and once, I wrote 14,000. Now I’m down to 2,000 on a good day, because I taped this one to my index finger for support.” I paused to let that sink in, since she was still working on her book.

She finally straightened, cracked her knuckles, and frowned at me. “Why’d you wait six weeks before coming in?”

“I expected the swelling to go down.”

“But it hasn’t.”


We nodded at each other and smiled, glad to have come to some sort of understanding.

“I need to take your blood pressure, pulse ox, and listen to your lungs.”

“They’re fine. I was in a month ago for a physical and all the pokes and listening and prods and blood work said I’m healthy.”

“Things can change.” She performed those duties as assigned and sat back down and attacked her keyboard long enough to finish a chapter. “Looks good.”

I wasn’t sure if she was talking about her book, or my exam results. “All except for my crooked finger.”

“It doesn’t look all that straight, does it?”

“That’s why I’m here.”

“Have you taken anything for it?”


“Excuse me?”

“Well, aspirin, but I’m an author and we drink…some…because I think it’s a law or we’re contractually obligated, so a few gin and tonics to chase a handful of aspirin and I’m good until the next day.”

“Fine, well, it looks like I need to send you for an X-ray.”

“That’s why I’m here, so I can get in to see an orthopedic.”

“We don’t do that here.”

“I know. I’m going through the process that would have been quicker if the doctor’d just given me a referral.”

“He can’t do that until he sees you.”

“Will he be in?”

“Not for something like this. I just made you an appointment for an X-ray at the imaging center.”

“When did you do that? You haven’t touched the keyboard since you finished that last chapter.”

“It was rather long, wasn’t it?”

“Everyone wants to be an author.”

“We all have our goals.” She closed her laptop and left.

So here I am, fingers still strapped together and typing 4,000 words a day, but backspacing over half of them because they’re typos. I really wanted to finish this novel by the end of the month, but that’s not happening. I’m shooting for October 1, with 30,000 words to go, which equates to 60,000 strokes plus revisions…

…I’m gonna quit now. It’s too depressing.

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About Reavis Wortham

Two time Spur Award winning author Reavis Z. Wortham pens the Texas Red River historical mystery series, and the high-octane Sonny Hawke contemporary western thrillers. His new Tucker Snow series begins in 2022. The Red River books are set in rural Northeast Texas in the 1960s. Kirkus Reviews listed his first novel in a Starred Review, The Rock Hole, as one of the “Top 12 Mysteries of 2011.” His Sonny Hawke series from Kensington Publishing features Texas Ranger Sonny Hawke and debuted in 2018 with Hawke’s Prey. Hawke’s War, the second in this series won the Spur Award from the Western Writers Association of America as the Best Mass Market Paperback of 2019. He also garnered a second Spur for Hawke’s Target in 2020. A frequent speaker at literary events across the country. Reavis also teaches seminars on mystery and thriller writing techniques at a wide variety of venues, from local libraries to writing conventions, to the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, SC. He frequently speaks to smaller groups, encouraging future authors, and offers dozens of tips for them to avoid the writing pitfalls and hazards he has survived. His most popular talk is entitled, My Road to Publication, and Other Great Disasters. He has been a newspaper columnist and magazine writer since 1988, penning over 2,000 columns and articles, and has been the Humor Editor for Texas Fish and Game Magazine for the past 25 years. He and his wife, Shana, live in Northeast Texas. All his works are available at your favorite online bookstore or outlet, in all formats. Check out his website at www.reaviszwortham.com. “Burrows, Wortham’s outstanding sequel to The Rock Hole combines the gonzo sensibility of Joe R. Lansdale and the elegiac mood of To Kill a Mockingbird to strike just the right balance between childhood innocence and adult horror.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review) “The cinematic characters have substance and a pulse. They walk off the page and talk Texas.” —The Dallas Morning News On his most recent Red River novel, Laying Bones: “Captivating. Wortham adroitly balances richly nuanced human drama with two-fisted action, and displays a knack for the striking phrase (‘R.B. was the best drunk driver in the county, and I don’t believe he run off in here on his own’). This entry is sure to win the author new fans.” —Publishers Weekly “Well-drawn characters and clever blending of light and dark kept this reader thinking of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.” —Mystery Scene Magazine

30 thoughts on “(Not) Using the Middle Finger

  1. Owie. I hope you heal up soon
    One of the bad things about the switch to e-records is a lot of patient contact is lost. We hear it from our patients a lot “The doctor/nurse doesn’t even look at me. They’re just typing all the time.”

    I’ve worked as a secretary for years but I never took typing. They just test you for words per minute, not “did you ever take typing” and I was originally a music performance major. Turns out years of playing the piano and flute works for typing just as well.

    Hope you heal up soon.

    • Thanks Cynthia!

      Typing without the brace this morning, but it’ll be weeks before that finger is back to semi-normal. It feels great to watch the words form on the screen, without backspacing over and over.

      As I mentioned, it drives me crazy when people are staring at their screens while they should be listening, or paying attention to stop lights or what’s going on around them. I’m afraid that’s the way of the world now.

      Have a great weekend!

  2. Oh man, sorry to hear that, Rev. I join Cynthia in sending good thoughts for you to heal soon. Every now and then, for no reason I can figure out, the middle finger on my left hand “goes electric.”

    That’s the only way I can explain it. It’s fine as long as I don’t bend it At All, but the instant I try to type, pain shoots all the way up to my shoulder. Fortunately, the symptom usually lasts only minutes. If I ignore it for awhile, it returns to normal. If it persisted permanently, I guess I’d either go fishing or learn to dictate and get some college kid to type my stories for me. (grin)

    • I tried the dictation route once, and it failed miserably. Then I attempted to write on a yellow legal pad. My brain refused to work, and I only achieved one paragraph, that I threw away.

      Nope, Dragon won’t work for me either. I have one way to write, and that’s to watch the manuscript materialize on the screen.

      Take care!

  3. Heal up soon. 4k words a day is great–backspaces and all! I only got in 900 words yesterday with 10 working fingers. LOL! (but it’s 900 more words than I had the day before).

    And you are right, listening is a lost skill for many. Nor do people know how to carry on a conversation without arguing.

    • I’ve never had problems with word counts, when I can sit down with a laptop or the desk computer and start working. As I tell my classes, it’s as if you’re writing and it pops up on my screen in real time.

      Pushing to reach the end. Many thanks.

  4. My husband asked for a knee xray when he fell and his leg blew up. Nope, he had to go to the GP, then he immediately sent him for xrays and an ortho consult (in the same building.) It’s like they think you don’t know your body.

    Sorry about the typing issues. I did lymph therapy on my left arm and had to explain that they needed to leave the fingers unwrapped so I could type. I had a deadline to meet.

    • I’ve been through this more times than I’d care to remember. I wish we could just get X-rayed, then visit the orto. I’m afraid it’s all about insurance, and ultimately….money, the root of all our problems in this world.

  5. It’s not the doctors who take care of you anymore. It’s the insurance companies. I have the aftermath of smashing my right ring finger in the screen door. I think the nail is going to come off one of these days. I’ve been wearing a simple BandAid to protect it–my memory isn’t THAT bad yet, but my muscle memory seems to be on hiatus–and just that little difference messes up my typing. I’m happy with 1K word days. I could do 5K only if I was retyping something and didn’t have to engage my brain.

    • Interesting, I’d just finished responding to Lynn about insurance companies and then here’s your summation. I agree. Hope you get better soon. Glad to have someone to commiserate with.

  6. Sorry to hear this, Mr Reavis, but your post did make me laugh. I hope it heals soon.

    Your right about people not listening any more. Over here in the UK nurses and doctors (if you can ever get to see them) are the same. Busy on keyboards, then asking you to explain it all again. *Sigh*

    I never learnt to type. I was at best a two-finger typist and could never get on with a Qwerty keyboard. Like you I was struggling to get a book finished and my hand were giving me severe grief when a writer friend suggested I try a Dvorak layout. What a revelation! I taught myself in a week thanks to an online programme. Now, as long as I concentrate, I’m a tough typist.
    I’m still not as fast as a proficient typist, but oh! The relief from pain is well worth it.

    Hope all your aches and pains get better soon.

    • Great to hear from you, Lynda. I’m afraid it’s a worldwide problem, and it’s only going to get worse. I remember reading Dick Tracy when I was a kid and thinking how cool it would be to talk into a wristwatch. However, who would have even considered the possibility that one day we’d have a computer in our hands, one linked to all knowledge.

      It’s a weird, wonderful world.

  7. Next time, go ahead and demonstrate with the affected digit.

    As Terry observed, insurance companies are in charge of what, if any, medical care we’re permitted to receive. Don’t get me started.

    Wishing you a quick return to full dexterity, Rev!

    • Thanks, Debbie. It’ll get better, and this is gonna be a good weekend. The Bride and I are heading to the Ft. Worth Stockyards tonight to hear Mo Bandy (old school country from the ’70s, and don’t even get ME started on new “country”), and do a little two steppin’. You don’t need fingers for that, except to hold a drink.

      later gator

  8. Funny scene! I feel your pain. About a month ago, arthritis appeared in the middle finger of my right hand. I’ve started to use squishy exercise balls to keep my mobility. (Walmart has cheap therapy balls in their exercise equipment area.) The only problem is the colorful balls make me crave gummy bears.

    Friends who have carpal tunnel use speech to text programs fairly successfully. Something to consider if the finger doesn’t improve soon.

  9. I’ve had a certain amount of success using tokens that can be translated into an entire word or phrase. For example, if I’m writing a piece on the Austrian philosopher Bilberger-Horfendorfenstein, I set up the software and then can thenceforth just type 🗌bil🗌, and let auto-correct do its magic.
    The possiBilberger-Horfendorfensteinities are endless.

    • Wow!

      I’d get around that by simply typing XX or some such, and then do a cut and paste at the end. That’s worked for me in the past with complex names. Writing fiction these days, I tend to use names that aren’t as long and complicated.

      • Don’t get me started on auto correct. I use Office, and was managing registration for a large international conference (of marine mammalogists, if that’s of interest.) Anyway, no matter how many times we tried redoing Ms Shaffer’s badge, it came out Schaefer I learned then that Office carries all these settings into ALL the programs, so using Access as the conference database from which all badges were generated refused to accept the ‘correct’ spelling of the attendees name since I’d told it to change anything ‘close’ to Schaefer to Schaefer because I kept mistyping the guy’s name.

  10. I do feel your pain, Sir. The only things medically wrong with me are orthopedic, inherited from my dear old dad. With a little insanity thrown in from my mom’s side.

    Way back in another lifetime, I worked in orthopedics, assisting a surgeon-one of the best doctors ever. That was back when you could just call an office, even a specialist, and get an appointment. I long for those days again, but I fear it’s not to be.

    So, as I type these words, I’m sitting here nursing a rolled big toe, the same one that (or is it which?) has had two surgeries and has a metal rod in it, and isn’t supposed to bend anymore.

    It bent.

    Now I’m waiting for the pain and bruising to go away, because I don’t want to have to see my primary doc, then get an x-ray, then wait for a referral to go through, then see another doc, then . . . 🙁

    Hope you heal fast.

    • I’m right there with you on the toe, kiddo. I broke a toe while walking through the kitchen on evening six years ago. Wound up in a boot and flew to John Gilstrap’s house in Virginia, and then he drove us to Bouchercon in North Carolina. He spent most of that week giggling at my infirmity, and I vowed to get him back for finding humor in my walk and actions. I bet he remembers the next time he cracked a bone and I laughed…..

      Heal quickly!

  11. Heal fast.

    I’ve been very lucky with my choices of medical and dental folks. They seem to take time to listen to what I’m telling them, and medicare has been nothing but a blessing. The Girls In The Back Room do an excellent job.

    It has kept me from the poorhouse.

    What I like is how Mr. Wortham took this and made an engaging and witty story about it that many would have said only “I went to the doctor and it was a pain in the tuchis.”

    But as a society we seem to be obsessed with screens and redundant data collection but I think the reason there is the people manning the desks are filling out forms, and in order to get to the next page in the form and complete the task all the boxes have to have an entry. It’s like buying something online when you set up an account four or five years ago and haven’t used that vendor since then. The page insists that there is another account with that exact email address and you MUST find your password and you cannot complete your order without it.

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