I knew Eduardo Doerr two weeks, kayaked with him every day on whitewater rivers near his home in Central Chile, before I realized he was missing half a thumb.
Eduardo Doerr (bottom) and Todd Ericson of Chilean Adventures
Eduardo grew up in the Andes on La Jaula, the family farm which also serves as base camp for Chilean Adventures (www.chileanadventures.com), the outdoor adventure company he co-owns with American Todd Ericson. The two of them allowed me to tag along on several of their whitewater adventures in the winter (Chilean summer) of 2005. At about the end of week 2, which is apparently how long it took me to pull my head out from under my kayak’s neoprene spraydeck, we were sharing pitchers of cerveza and pisco & colas at the local pizza joint in Los Queñes, a little town at the confluence of the Teno and Claro rivers. Eduardo was telling a story that involved the trick in which you pretend to pull your thumb in half then put it back together. “Ha ha ha,” everyone laughed. Then I noticed that when he held his thumb up to show that he could put his thumb back together, the top half was still missing. “How did you do that?” I breathed.
The table went silent. Looks shot from person to person. Todd gagged on his beer. Tears formed in the eyes of the girl next to me. “No way,” she squeaked, then erupted in laughter with everyone at the table. Everyone but me.
Eventually, once my red face had paled and the pizzeria hysterics had tapered, I got Eduardo’s story, which is all the more remarkable for his whitewater kayaking prowess:
I was 5 years old, I think. We were rounding up some cows with my dad and another guy who was one of our employees at la Jaula. We were riding for a while and the horse I was on had bucked me off a couple of times before. She did it once that morning before we accomplished anything with the cows, and then when we finally got to the main road the cows turned around and returned to where we started. My dad was pissed and he realized I was kind of a burden for them that morning. He told Torres, the employee, to tie my horse to a tree and to get me off the horse so I would be safe and they could get the job done without me. As he was doing that the horse got scared and got loose with me on it still. She bucked me off and started running away. I was still attached to the stirrup, so she dragged me for a bit. I don’t remember the pain, but I was sure I was going to die because there was a cliff very close to us.
All of the sudden I got released. I saw some blood on my thumb but I didn`t realize what had happened. Torres got to me, he grabbed my bleeding hand and told my dad that I was missing a half thumb. My dad took off to get the truck distant a few kms from us while I was being carried more carefully on Torres’s horse. We made it to the hospital in Curicó and the doctors wanted to know where the thumb was. My dad was pissed once again. He just said it was in a big effing field, 1 hour away from the hospital. To find a piece of finger?? not so much. Torres found it a couple of months later and I believe he still has it. It was the horseshoe against a rock that did it, I believe.
I’m missing exactly from the joint on up. The surgery they performed was just to stitch up the skin. I do have a piece of the old nerve that sticks out (my dad thought that was a thorn once and tried to take it off). This is the most extraordinary thing about my half thumb. Just thinking about it makes this electric current type of thing go from it to my spine. It’s really weird.
My thumb is very normal in its use, although sometimes I can’t reach certain things because of it. Opening lids that are too tight is a task that I can’t perform with my right hand. I blame it on the lack of the fingerprint-type of skin I’m missing. Getting my IDs and passports is also something I can’t do normally. There’s always a sidenote explaining the situation.
I used to use my thumb as an excuse to my bad handwriting, but my brother’s the same so I can’t really say that’s it. There are certain coffee cups and scissors I can’t use either.
When I started dating my wife, her younger brother was 5. From the second floor of the house I told him I could take my thumb off. He wouldn’t believe me so I acted as if I had done it, and told him to go find it downstairs: ‘I see it, just move to the right a bit, no, no, now to the left.’
There was a friend’s little sister who would call me ‘dedo de chocapic’ (Chocapic finger) after a cereal we have down here. A Chocapic’s shape fits perfectly onto the top of my thumb.
Thumbs are helpful little creatures, Opposable and magnificent. I love them. I wish I had a spare.”