On Saturday, while working in the garden, I managed to stab my thumb with a huge splinter. It was about the size of a wooden barbecue splinter, and it didn’t just slide under the skin. It went down into the meat of my thumb just above the top joint at a nifty angle that would have guaranteed that it would have popped out under my nail bed, had it pushed through just a little farther.
For a moment, I was frozen with pain. Not only did my thumb freak out at being skewered, the pain transferred to the next finger over as well. I considered asking for help for a millisecond, and then told myself I needed to just yank the danged thing out and get it over with. I grabbed the stick, which luckily had another six inches or so still attached, and pulled hard. This was about twice as painful as when it went in. Lots of ouches and other not so polite words were uttered while I bled all over my favorite flannel shirt. The operation was a success, as they say. Giant skewer of doom came out in one piece without breaking off or leaving slivers behind.
My thumb decided to protest all this skewering and rough handling by swelling up to about twice its normal size and throbbing like it really meant it. Don’t worry; I’m current on my tetanus boosters and there are no signs of infection. Today I can almost bend it normally again as the swelling goes down each day. Besides being a charming story to horrify and entertain you all with, the skewered thumb got me thinking about the efficacy of torture.
At first I was a bit depressed. In my heroic daydreams, I’d be Margaret Clitherow, refusing to testify through the bitter end. In reality, it was more likely that I would confess to kidnapping the Lindbergh baby by time travel witchcraft if it meant avoiding more skewered thumbs. Then I realized that if I were in the hands of persons who would intentionally inflict pain upon me even if I might be innocent, the chances that they’d grant me mercy if I confessed were slim. And so in the end, I would not testify against myself or others under torture– out of self-interest rather than heroism. Either way, whether I gave over to the urge to confess something, anything, in the hope that the torture would stop or refused to talk at all, like Margaret Clitherow or Giles Corey, no truth would be had. Beyond the moral horror, this is another reason why keeping to the Geneva Convention is important.