What bit my mother?
December 1, 2010 2:56 PM   Subscribe

I think something bit my mother's finger. What was it?

So my folks visited New York in April of this year. They stopped by an outlet mall, and my Mom tried on pair of blue jeans in the Saks Fifth Avenue Outlet Store near Paramus. When she stuck her left hand in the pocket she felt a little prick on the end of her index finger. She went immediately to the check out counter to pay for a different pair of jeans and there was a pain up her arm. She thought it very odd, 30 minutes later they left the store and got back in the car. Shortly after leaving she said that she really needed water to take Advil and insisted on stopping, which is odd for her. They stopped and got some water which she immediately chugged.

The day before shopping she tripped going up some stairs and kind of stubbed the same finger on one of the steps, but not hard at all. After shopping they continued to the airport and flew home. The next day, when they got up her finger was starting to feel funny and look bruised, they thought it was a bruise from when she tripped on the stairs.

Several days later her finger was still dark, like bruising from about the middle of the second section of her finger to the tip. She thinks maybe she broke it and went to a doctor who x-rayed it and found nothing wrong. Still not convinced she went to a second doctor who couldn't identify the problem either. She went to the doctors because her finger was not healing as bruises do and she noticed that when she touched her face all her fingers were warm except the tip of the one that was seemingly bruised. It was much cooler to the touch, like a circulatory problem..

It took about 6 weeks before the color returned to normal and everything seemed to be fine, except for some periodic slight numbness and tingling. However now that it is cold outside, the same part of the finger that was bitten and looked bruised, turns white when it gets cold and aches really badly and there is one small red dot on the side of her finger in the white area.

It acts like Reynaud’s Syndrome but never occurred before the incident and is nowhere else on her body.

Note: There was no skin rotting like a brown recluse bite and little if any swelling.

What bit her?
posted by Mr_Zero to Health & Fitness (7 answers total)
I've had at least two items of clothing unexpectedly stab me. In both cases the agent of my injury was the broken-off tip of a machine needle which presumably snapped during the stitching of a seam, and then ended up inside said seam.

Not sure about those symptoms though.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:05 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

My take on this would be that the injured part of her finger only felt like it was pricked because it was injured. Very plausible and more likely than something hiding in the pocket of some jeans. If you assume that it felt like she was pricked because it was already injured, suddenly the evidence of it developing bruising/symptoms specifically at the spot of the prick seems irrelevant/given.

It can take time for bruises to develop visibly after an injury, and I dont think it's uncommon for a bruise to get worse over a period of several days before it gets better. They can also take a very long time to heal as the blood is reabsorbed very slowly. Doubly so for these things if she doesnt have a lot of finger circulation to begin with.

There is the "small red mark" evidence you present to consider, which could indicate there was some kind of a prick, or could have been related to the original injury.

So... still possible something bit her, just don't get too carried away assuming that is what happened. There are many possible reasons for the symptoms I would think.
posted by Diplodocus at 3:12 PM on December 1, 2010

Most clothing originates from tropical locales, so it's not implausible that a small scorpion or some sort of insect found its way into the clothing while at the factory. My guess is it was probably half dead and probably would have disappeared once it went into the washing machine. The other possibility is that it was a needle or piece of glass which had had contact with some chemical used at the factory, but the other scenario is more likely.
posted by crapmatic at 3:52 PM on December 1, 2010

Centipede bites are very painful. I think she would have noticed a centipede in the pocket though.
posted by amberwb at 4:57 PM on December 1, 2010

I had a blood clot in my finger a few years ago and it sounds similar to what she is experiencing.

Initially I had no idea what it was. There was a large bruise on my finger that was very painful. It disappeared after a week and stopped hurting, but I could see and feel a small blue ball (the clot) in my finger. The tip of my finger was cold to the touch. If I held something the wrong way and there was pressure on my finger, it hurt a lot and I would occasionally feel pain all the way up my arm to my elbow. It feels like a very achy numbness, with occasional sharp stabs of pain.

IANAD and I never even went to see a doctor about it, but it's a possibility. It seems strange that a doctor wouldn't notice it though.
posted by shoreline at 5:51 PM on December 1, 2010

I"m also puzzled as to how it sounds like the doctors were just like, "I dunno. Weird!"

Did she run a fever at any point? I'm thinking she could have been pricked by a safety pin (I find those in clothes all the time) and gotten a small infection.
posted by ErikaB at 6:59 PM on December 1, 2010

What may have happened is that she could have burst a blood vessel in that finger. This can be caused by something putting pressure on the area, like holding a heavy shopping bag by the handles. It doesn't take a ton of pressure for some people.

The bruise (from the blood that leaked from the burst vessel) persists for a while, and I would expect that a Raynaud-like phenomenon could then occur in that finger as you are describing in cold weather, because the blood supply has been compromised. It is typically not something that needs any special treatment or follow up on its own, but she could ask her doctor if they see any secondary reason for her to be experiencing Raynaud phenomenon, as it can be associated with other illnesses in some cases.

IANY (or your mom's)D, but in my experience in the emergency room, less than 10% of people who report being bit by something actually have been bitten. Unless they actually have a convincing story about seeing some kind of bug or something or or near the affected area, I usually try to ignore that conjecture in figuring out the diagnosis, because it's usually more an explanation people use for why they started having a sudden pain or redness in an area. (just so you know, you are definitely not alone in supposing this kind of thing!)
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:12 AM on December 2, 2010

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