Friday, March 16, 2012

A Precious Moment in the ER

In the ER we are from time to time called upon to remove rings.  Usually it is a finger that has been injured and is swelling, and the need to get the ring off is clear but not something that has to be done under time pressure.

The other day I had a patient come in who had injured a finger three days ago.  This patient soul had been waiting three days, hoping it would get better.  All the usual tricks with string, ice water, oil had been tried.  The finger was swollen, red, even a bit dusky blue when partially flexed.  The ring would have to be cut off.

This was an uncommon ring.  It was wider and thicker than usual.  It was made of very shiny metal that was clearly not silver or gold.  I was told it was a "mood ring" on which patterns appeared based on temperature.

We have a standard "old school" ring cutter that looks like this:

The nurse had put a new cutting disc in it in anticipation of this being a formidable task.

I slipped the guard under the ring, engaged the cutting disc and started to turn it by hand.  After a few minutes of muscular exertion I took a look.  The surface of the ring was barely scratched. 

As it happens the ER was not too busy at that time so I had an opportunity to rethink and regroup.  This ring was not going to be damaged by that ring cutter in any reasonable time frame.  My strength would give out first.

Sometimes you do what you have to do.  I decided to resort to an "unauthorized tool".  I obtained-no need to go into the details-a rotary Dremel cutting tool.  I slid a thin metal guard under the ring, put safety glasses on those in range and started cutting.  And cutting, and cutting.  Even this rather capable power tool was laboring.  The ring started heating up, requiring frequent dips in an ice bath.

Although I was making progress, this is where I started wondering just what I was dealing with.  Hmmm, lets take stock.  An unusual ring.  One that can't be damaged by conventional means.  One in which cryptic patterns appear when it is heated.

Damn. It's Tolkien's One Ring!
I must report several things.  The supposed temperature sensitive "mood patterns" were actually floral and did not seem to change that much when the ring got too hot for comfort.  Probably they are designed to change with minor variations around body temperature not a number of degrees closer to Mount Doom.  Also the patient was at all times fully visible and did not seem sinister in the least.

Oh, and I did after 15 minutes of cutting and cooling, get the ring cut off.

It is getting harder all the time to write anything satirical.  Life no longer being content to imitate art seems so often to mock and lampoon it.  So when I looked about the Internet it took me a single mouse click to discover that you actually can get a replica of the One Ring in a more or less indestructible metal.

This is from  It is billed as being a Tungsten Carbide 'The One' Laser-etched Elvish Script ring.  It claims they are four times harder than titanium.  Their otherwise interesting Fact Sheet for Tungsten Rings offers nary a hint on how to remove them in the ER.

Today only, $43.99.  A bargain price for Evil Lordship of Middle Earth.


Anonymous said...

My wedding ring is tungsten carbide; I'm told that it won't cut off, but it's brittle so it will shatter.

Tacitus2 said...

I have not had a chance to try this, but am told that titanium (favored by engineers) will shatter. Tungsten will cut, but not felt like I was more "eroding" through.