In February 1987 I was in a car accident that left me with a damaged hand. During the accident the car rolled several times, and somehow the metal watch I was wearing was dragged off.
I was “de-gloved” to use the medical parlance – all the skin on my left palm was torn off – and I lost the top two joints of the middle finger. The index finger is shorter than it should be, and is held together with a metal clip.
After the accident I was self-conscious about my injury, but in time I thought less and less about it. Now, 32 years on, I don’t often reflect back on that day, except to try and do something life-affirming on its anniversary.
I am still alive, six years older than my dear father was back then. Time plays tricks on you in this way.
One of the injury’s consequences is that it has made me both curious and vigilant about others who have endured something similar. There are a surprising number of folks getting around with at least one less digit than the standard 10.
A university lecturer whose classes I attended was missing a couple of index finger joints. A workplace accident took several of an uncle’s digits, and a former work colleague was absent all fingers on one hand save for a thumb, the result of a childhood mishap.
Well-known members of the Missing Finger Fellowship include Don Quixote writer Miguel de Cervantes, whose quill-holding hand was disfigured by a misfiring gun.
Humorist Dave Allen used his missing digit for great comic effect, placing the stump at the base of a nostril to make it appear as if the better part of his finger was shoved up his nose.
M.A.S.H‘s Radar O’Reilly (Gary Burghoff) was often seen carrying a clipboard or other prop on the show to camouflage a disfigured hand.
A grenade left self-styled Russian politician Boris Yeltsin’s short two fingers, while both Telly Savalas and Daryl Hannah forged decent acting careers despite missing a couple of fingers between them.
You would think that the absence of something as important as a finger would be an impediment to musical virtuosity. Yet it need not be.
Swing-era guitarist Django Reinhardt, bluesman Houndog Taylor, and psychedelic troubadour Jerry Garcia all became renowned axe handlers despite not having the requisite 10.
Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen survived the amputation of his left arm (the result of a car accident) to play in the British soft metal band’s most triumphant era.
Pianist Nicholas McCarthy has established a successful career as a classical musician despite being born without a right hand.
Self-taught on a mini toy keyboard before taking his first lesson at age 14, McCarthy is believed to be the first single-handed musician to graduate from the Royal College of Music.
(When I mentioned McCarthy to a musician friend, Angus, he replied cheekily: “I’ve done some of my best work with one hand”.)
Still, in most of these examples the digital disability is little-known marginalia – a side note or asterix. A curiosity rather than a defining feature.
Either that or it shows incredible tenacity and persistence for an individual to rise above and achieve things even most fully-abled people are not be able to do. Some, such as one-handed NFL player Shaquem Griffin, provide shining examples of inspiration.
This is not the case for the film world’s band of the hand. In movies, a mangled hand often points to a troubled soul, or simply a very damaged individual.
Peter Pan‘s Captain Hook and Get Smart‘s Dr Craw (or is that Dr Claw?) are quintessential villains, their nastiness exhibited in everything from their lairs, to their henchmen, and of course, the prosthetic for which they have been named.
Both have weaponised their disabilities.
Like Messrs Hook and Craw, Poor Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp) is also named for the implements at the end of his arms, yet in his case the fear engendered in the local community is shown to be misplaced. Edward is an artist, not a butcher.
File Logan Lucky‘s Clyde (Adam Driver) into the category of “pitied” rather than “feared”.
When we first meet him, we see a sad-sack bartender, his missing arm the butt of jokes. It is the family’s renowned bad luck that has cost him his limb in a war skirmish.
As the story unfolds, however, we see the Logans are not so unfortunate after all, and if there is cosmic intervention, it is on the side of good fortune as well as bad juju.
You could say the same for Moonstruck‘s Ronny Cammareri (Nic Cage), who lost his hand in an accident at the bakery where he works. Ronny blames the incident on his brother, but perhaps it was just misfortune.
Meanwhile, Ronny’s milquetoast brother Johnny (Dannny Aiello) is betrothed to the lovely accountant Loretta (Cher).
“I lost my hand. I lost my bride,” Johnny says. “Ronny has his hand, Ronny has his bride. I ain’t no monument to freakin’ justice!”
Whether it’s something lunar, Love with a capital L, the universe itself, or simply a case of an unlikely attraction that won’t be denied, Ronny’s destiny is not to be thwarted by an injury sometimes used by writers as a symbol of emasculation or even dehumanisation. He will get the girl.
When Star Wars‘ Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) loses his hand in a light-sabre duel with Darth Vader, it is replaced with a bionic one.
Our fear is that Luke will go down the same path chosen by his evil father, and that this modification is a step towards the Dark Side. Or perhaps it’s nothing more than a high-tech fix for a significant injury.
For Game of Thrones‘ Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), the loss of his right (sword-wielding) hand is both devastating and humanising.
When we first meet the “King Slayer” it is as a fully able villain: a man who has relations with his sister, and pushes a child from a window when observed in the throes of that vile act.
“Even if the boy lives, he’ll be a cripple, a grotesque,” says Jaime of the injury he’s inflicted on Bran Stark. “Give me a good clean death any day.”
Says his dwarf brother Tyrion in reply: “Speaking for the grotesques, I’d have to disagree. Death is so final, whereas life, ahh, life is full of possibilities.”
Of course, when Jaime lose his right hand, he becomes one of the grotesques he used to loathe. And perhaps by relinquishing his status as the kingdom’s most formidable swordsman he learns a modicum of humility and empathy in the process.
We see that while hardly a “white hat”, Jaime has some decent qualities too; he is not his sister.
Importantly, he may still be of use defending Westeros against its greatest foe. Indeed, perhaps some of his best work will be done with one hand.