During a typical summer, Capt. Tommy Pellegrin would normally be whacking speckled trout and redfish right now out of Cocodrie.
But the longtime guide has barely touched a rod and reel since he got stuck in the finger by a live shrimp on June 19.
Pellegrin, who owns Custom Charters out of Houma, gets jabbed, nicked and cut by live bait just about every single day — but he specifically remembers the testy crustacean he crossed paths way the day after Father’s Day near Wine Island.
“We actually fished mostly plastic that day, but when it slowed down we tried live shrimp,” Pellegrin said. “It nailed me with its tail right in the crease of my right index finger, on the palm side. I remember saying, ‘Damn, that one hurt.’ Where I got poked in between the joints in that crease where the skin is thin, it was like a hypodermic. It went into my tendon and it was over.
“By that afternoon, my finger got so stiff I didn’t know what was going on, and it started swelling. I soaked it in Epsom salt, which is what I normally do for cuts and scrapes and pokes. I did that Monday evening and Tuesday morning, and realized something wasn’t right.”
He called his doctor and started taking the antibiotic Doxycycline, but things didn’t improve when he woke up that Wednesday morning.
In fact, they had gotten worse.
“My finger was huge and wasn’t bending,” Pellegrin said. “I told my wife, ‘Something isn’t right. I’m going to Urgent Care.'”
After examining his finger, the staff there recommended he see an orthopedic surgeon — immediately.
“You’re going to need surgery, and you’re going to need it now,” Pellegrin said he was told.
So he picked up his wife at home and headed over to see Dr. Christopher Cenac Jr., who was notified by Urgent Care that Pellegrin would be in to see him shortly.
“The doctor came in and looked at my finger and said, ‘The hospital’s right around the corner. I’ll see you there,’” Pellegrin said. “We’re putting you on mega-antibiotics and we’ll do surgery in the morning.”
So in what was a whirlwind day, Pellegrin checked himself into Terrebonne General Medical Center that Wednesday afternoon. Cenac performed the surgery on Thursday, and made a V-cut over the joint, then flushed the immediate area into the palm of Pellegrin’s hand to clean out the infection.
“Lucky enough, I had started antibiotics early and killed the bacteria, because they could never get a culture to grow from what they took out of my finger,” he said.
But the pain from the surgery was intense — until that Saturday, when they removed the packing that had been inserted inside his finger.
“They pulled about a foot-long piece of gauze shoved up in there,” Pellegrin said in an interview this week. “Since they pulled that out, I’ve only taken a couple of pain pills.”
Pellegrin checked out of the hospital that Saturday after a three-night stay, but will continue an antibiotic regimen for the next 2 ½ months to ensure the unknown infection inside his tendon doesn’t return.
“I’m staying on antibiotics so if anything starts up in the next three or four weeks, it’s going to be dead,” he said. “If there was a little something left in there that started growing from one cell, and all of a sudden it blew up inside, I could lose my finger.”
But more healing time is needed before he can get back on the water and return to guiding as usual.
“They told me do nothing until my finger was healed up and sealed up to where a splash of bayou water doesn’t go internal,” Pellegrin said.
In light of this nasty brush with live bait, he recommended anglers carry a few extra supplies onboard in the event they get poked or jabbed by a shrimp or fish — and then montior the area closely for persistent redness and swelling.
“If you get poked, use Betadine. Put it in your boat and rub it in there and put yourself a rubber glove on and protect it for that day. If you don’t have that, use rubbing alcohol, and keep a pack of doctor’s gloves in your boat in a Ziploc bag,” he said. “Somebody said they didn’t want to look silly by putting a glove on.
“Then think about it like this: You can look silly with a glove on with all five of your fingers. But how are you going to look with half your hand gone and no glove on? Which silly do you want?”
In the meantime, Pellegrin said he’s going to wrap his finger in bandages, cover it with a glove and enlist other area guides to help out on some of his upcoming trips.
He won't get to actively participate much, and has to totally cover up from the sun because of the antibiotics he’s taking, but he’s thankful he still has his index finger — and fellow guides willing to lend a helping hand.
“I have some really, really good friends that will do that for me,” Pellegrin said. “We have no issues at all with helping each other out.”