Your fingers for a cigarette?

Of all the press releases that flow into my inbox, some of the quirkiest are from Waikato Hospital. Take today’s tale (I’m publishing the release in full below as it relates the story well).

What struck me in particular with the case of this unfortunate meat packer, is that Tamati would even consider losing the opportunity to keep two of his digits in order to have a cigarette. Can anyone relate to that? What would you give up two fingers for?

From Waikato District Health Board:

Tamati's dangling fingers Meatworker Tamati Parkes has a promise to keep – along with his ring finger.

The 38-year-old – a smoker since he was 11 – has vowed to stay off the cigarettes to honour a large medical team at Waikato Hospital who reattached his finger after a work accident earlier this month.

The stakes are high – if he resumes smoking he may well risk amputation of the finger.

“I want to do this for these beautiful people here. They’ve touched my heart and that is the motivation for me walking out of here and never touching a cigarette again.’’

Mr Parkes was using a hock cutter at the Silver Fern Farms meatplant at Waitoa on Thursday, October 4, when he sliced through two fingers. He arrived at the hospital with the left little and ring fingers hanging on by a bit of skin at the second joint.

Doctors wanted to operate to reattach the fingers. Mr Parkes wanted them off completely so he could have a cigarette.

“Three times I told them. I changed my mind when after three times of telling them [to cut the skin] they still wanted to save them.

“I didn’t want to waste their time and the money it costs to go into surgery.’’

After 20 hours of surgery by a team of about 20 and “amazing” care afterward, Mr Parkes was adamant his smoking days were over.

“In the time it takes me to have a cigarette it will ruin all their work,’’ he said, now knowing smoking narrows the blood vessels.

“These people have touched my heart and my mind.’’

Registrar Dr Duncan Bayne was one of the surgeons. “This has been a life-changing operation for Tamati. He has had his finger saved and has made some great ongoing lifestyle choices,’’ Dr Bayne said.

“It was certainly a technically difficult operation but by no means unique.  But being a smoker made the outcome less certain. Initially he wanted the fingers off but after we talked it through he said ‘I’ll give it a go’ and has quit smoking.’’

Life-changer: Tamati Parkes, second from right, with part of his plastic surgery team, from left, Registrar Dr Duncan Bayne, registrar Dr Yun Phua, and consultant Bulent Yaprak.

Nicotine replacement therapy was not an option either, so he has been going “cold turkey” for 12 days now. (Tues, Oct 16)

Consultant Bulent Yaprak, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon,

said: “Smokers have a tendency for the blood vessels to contract or spasm. But we were happy to give it a try with his undertaking to stop smoking.”

The operation team involved five surgeons, five anaesthetists and 10 nurses.

“So there was a lot of effort put into this by a lot of people,’’ Mr Yaprak said.

Registrars Dr Yun Phua and Dr Beryl Tan were involved from the outset and spent the first 14 hours with Mr Parkes, along with fellow registrar Tamatoa Blailock.

Using microsurgery techniques they were dealing with vessels less than 1mm in diametre.

Part of the little finger didn’t make it due to damage and vessel size, which became evident the next day. But all going well Mr Parkes’ ring finger should be fine.

It will remained wired in place for the next 3-4 weeks and then the hospital’s hand therapy team will take over rehabilitation with 3-4 months of work.

Mr Yaprak expected Mr Parkes to be back at work in 4-5 months.

One of the Waikato District Health Board’s health targets is to help people stop smoking, and 80 per cent of hospitalised smokers are provided with advice on quitting.

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