Man recovering after tug-of-war injury

A Nova Scotia man who had four fingers severed during a tug-of-war contest says he's recovering and looking forward to life outside the hospital.

Warning: this story contains a graphic medical image

Jim Thurber says he's doing well after surgeries to reattach four severed fingers. ((CBC))
A Nova Scotia man who had four fingers severed during a tug-of-war contest says he's recovering and looking forward to life outside the hospital.

Jim Thurber, 59, a former warden for Digby County, has been at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax since the accident on Sept. 25.

"For starters, I'm alive and I didn't know for sure whether that was going to be the case about 12 days ago," Thurber told CBC News from his hospital bed.

Thurber was participating in the annual tug-of-war contest across the river separating Digby and Annapolis counties. The game at the Bear River Bridge is normally a light social event, when residents from each county try to pull their counterparts across the border.

This year, Digby County didn't have enough members, and Thurber agreed to fill in at the last minute.

"I didn't even plan on being in that tug-of-war. I had represented the municipality for 12 years and I'd retired and I guess I thought it was one more chance to give the municipality a hand.

"I didn't quite mean it that way," Thurber said laughing.

The former warden said he has a vague memory of how he got his left hand caught in the rope.

"I think there was a loop there that I put my hand into that actually was a slip knot rather than a good knot. Anyway, regardless, my hand was in where there was no way I was getting it out once there were 25 or 30 people pulling on both sides of it."

Thurber said he could feel the crunch of his bones once the rope was tightened. He closed his eyes, and recalled that he knew his left thumb was intact, but that was all.

"I just handled everything in the dark," Thurber said Thursday.

Marathon surgeries

After he was transported to the Halifax hospital, Thurber went through two marathon surgeries.

Leeches are being used to help improve circulation in Thurber's left hand. ((CBC))
In the first surgery, a team of surgeons, doctors and nurses worked for 25 hours — it took four to five hours to reattach each finger. The next day, Thurber had another 12-hour session in the operating room so doctors could do more detailed work.

Roughly two weeks later, he said pain has not been much of an issue. Thurber said he believes the use of one finger is lost, but is hopeful the others will heal.

Hospital staff are using leeches to keep the blood flowing to his fingers. Leeches also help by secreting an anti-clotting enzyme.

"I know these leeches are my buddies right now," Thurber said with a smile.

The 59-year-old said he's received many cards and knows others are praying for him, and wanted an opportunity to let them know he is well.

"I just want to let them know that I appreciate every one of them and I'm doing fine.

"I'm going to beat this thing."