Emergency rooms commonly deal with people whose fingers or toes have been severed. This is a serious injury, and if bleeding is not stanched, can be fatal. But with proper and quick response, the severed digit might even be reattached. Here is what to do.
If you are with someone whose finger or toe has been cut off completely, the first thing to do is to call 911 or the local emergency number. Then get clean cotton cloths – towels, washcloths, gauze pads, even tee shirts – and water. You want to stop the bleeding, prevent infection if possible, save the digit if possible, and avoid shock.
Get the patient to lie down, then position him or her (I will use the masculine hereafter) with his head lower than his heart, and elevate the bleeding hand or foot. Gently run water over the wound, then apply a clean cloth with gently pressure. The patient will be in pain and under stress. These conditions cause the heart to beat more quickly and can increase bleeding, so do your best to calm the patient. Doing slow breathing exercises and getting him to copy you, talking softly and calmly, assuring him that help is on the way. If the cloth becomes drenched and there is still bleeding, do not remove the cloth, but apply another on top of it. If you cannot stop the bleeding, apply a tourniquet at the wrist. Though this has dangers, it can save a life.
If you can find the finger or toe, remove any rings or other constricting objects, clean gently with water, wrap it in gauze if available, and put the dry finger in an airtight plastic bag. Include all bits of the digit, if there are more than one. Then put the bag on ice. Do not use dry ice. If possible, put this in a container and keep it close to you.
Continue to calm the patient until help arrives.
But what if this happens to you when you are alone?
The most important thing is to call 911 and open the nearest door so the emergency workers can get in. Tell the 911 operator which door will be open. Run cold water over the hand (or foot) to help stop the bleeding, press a towel or other cloth to the wound, and lie down with the hand or foot elevated. If you can, do slow breathing exercises to remain calm and avoid shock. But whatever else happens, you have activated the emergency response and left a way for help to get in. They will take care of everything else.
Of course, prevention is still the surest way to avoid permanent damage, so be careful and attentive around broken glass, knives, or other sharp objects.