“Yes ma’am,” says Rudy Torrez, answering my request for an interview with the charm and respect of both a Texan and retired veteran. His southern drawl returns to that phrase many times in our conversation, and I’m struck by Rudy’s resolve and strength when talking about the accident that took most of his ring finger and damaged much of his left hand.
A family man and graduate student, Rudy keeps busy. His adult children and young son and grandson are often at his home. Typically, at the end of a long day working as a sales manager, or a weekend training for a half-marathon, the family Chihuahua climbs up on his wife’s lap to rest next to Rudy as they watch T.V.
It was just another day for Rudy, except this time, he was finishing off a red cedar hope chest he had been building for Crystal, his wife of 20 years. Rudy was skilled at woodworking, it was a hobby of his, and this gift was intended to be a family heirloom.
“I was cutting the last piece of the frame,” Rudy recalls. “It all happened so fast … my doctor says I didn’t understand the velocity of the blade—it’s like a piece of lint getting sucked into a vacuum cleaner.”
Rudy is describing the moment his hand would become forever altered. He didn’t even realize what had happened, he says—he’d felt a nick, then instinctively wrapped his hand in his shirt and headed inside. He noticed the saw was still running, so he went back to turn it off. “That’s when I knew it was serious,” he says. He could see the top of his finger lying on the table saw.
His family acted quickly. Crystal, who was in disbelief, scrambled to get her shoes on and get in the car. Rudy’s two older sons stayed behind to clean up the blood and make sure the younger kids were ok.
Doctors, Insurance, and the Journey to a Prosthesis
Often, trauma experiences in the hospital setting can feel like a whirlwind. Doctors and ER nurses have a lot on their plates. Patients are there doing what their title implies—being patient, all while coping with pain and confusion.
One of Rudy’s main memories? “They were going to remove the whole finger down to the knuckle, but I said, ‘I can still feel all this, I’d like to keep that so I can wear my wedding ring.’ His pinky was the only digit on that hand that didn’t suffer.
While he was hospitalized for two days, his military friends flooded his inbox with messages of support and the default military mindset—dark humor, recalls Rudy. But one good friend sent him a link to Naked Prosthetics.
“That’s when I started seriously researching,” says Rudy. “I knew I’d be able to bend my ring finger. I found Arm Dynamics and started the process.” Rudy didn’t know it at the time, but his decision to save his nub for his wedding ring would help him be a candidate for the body-driven prosthetic device he would receive months later.
While the ball was rolling to set up hand therapy, post-op appointments, and everything else that goes along with recovery, Rudy was busy processing what had happened.
“I have a very high pain tolerance,” he states. “It’s really been more of a mental thing for me.”
Rudy’s accident happened Labor Day weekend 2018. In the weeks that followed he searched for a sense of normalcy—he wanted to know when he could go back to light duty at work. He wanted to run again. He felt bad his wife was picking up all the slack at home, and he beat himself up over the incident—replaying in his mind the moment when things could’ve gone wrong. All those close to him reminded him that it was a freak accident, the kind that can happen to the most competent and skilled person. They urged him to rest, to take his time, to heal. It was hard.
Finally, in November, Rudy went back to the garage. He wanted to just sit with his table saw. He re-lived the emotion of the accident and took the time he needed to reflect. From there, he slowly began to adjust to his new normal. He endured hand therapy, switching to a new therapist partway through the process—just one of many self-advocacy decisions Rudy would face. He began the process of acquiring a PIPDriver from Naked Prosthetics.
“My team at Arm Dynamics notified me that the insurance would, more than likely, deny the claim,” he explains. “In February, they did. However, I was also told that they expected denial and would submit an appeal. Once the appeal process started, they reached out to a 3rd-party physician who was not familiar with me or my case. He/she conducted a review and agreed that I needed the PIPDriver. In late March, the appeal was approved.”
“To those who are at the beginning stages: meet with your doctor and show him/her the need for your device,” he advises. “For me, it was needing it to help me type for work and school. Secondly, be patient! Insurance companies drag their feet on this type of service and will push back. Keep fighting! Finally, save your co-pay as your insurance is being appealed. This way the money is available to make the co-pay when it’s approved.”
New Prosthetic Finger, New Ways to Live
At the time of this writing, Rudy has had his PIPDriver for just under three weeks. He adhered to the wear schedule – starting from 30 minutes a day, working up to “wearing it all the time.”
It’s the little things that make the biggest difference. He’s opening jars again, holding cups, and perhaps most important—as a student and employee—he’s back to typing.
“I had to teach myself WXS keys,” says Rudy, pride in his voice. “Now I’m typing just as fast as before I was injured.” A surprise benefit to both Rudy and his doctor was relief for phantom pain. If Rudy or Crystal rubs the tip of his device, pain dissipates and he says, “I can actually feel my finger.”
Additionally, Rudy completed the hope chest, with the final piece being the one that caused his injury, per Crystal’s request. He added a new branded logo to the wood—a handprint, missing part of a finger.
In a few weeks, Rudy will walk with his graduate degree in Organizational Theory. He will continue to train for and run half-marathons. And at the end of the day, he will settle on the sofa with Crystal and Chico the Chihuahua, grateful for his family, a fulfilling life, and his new normal.