‘All I could see was white’: the wedding ring injury that changed a life

For almost five years, Sarah Payne couldn’t bring herself to wear her wedding rings. It was too hard. Just the thought brought back a flood of emotions and trauma.

She lost her ring finger in 2017, when her wedding ring caught on a trailer, stripping the finger to the bone.

“It took a long time for me to be comfortable wearing rings again,” says the 40-year-old Wairarapa mum.

“I felt like it had bad luck, for a while. I had them repaired and put them away in the box. I thought about getting them blessed again… but I never really got around to it.

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“It took ages mentally to get over that. It has been quite traumatic.”

Payne suffered her horrific injury when her family was moving house. A moment of inattention led to long rehabilitation.

Payne and her father had been loading a trailer to take final items to a new property near Warkworth.

As they pulled out of the drive, she remembered the feijoa plants she recently planted.

Sarah Payne with husband Dave Payne and daughter Katy.


Sarah Payne with husband Dave Payne and daughter Katy.

“I was adamant we had to get them because that’s just my nature.”

Rather than opening the trailer gate, Payne jumped onto the wheel arch to throw the plants in.

As she jumped down, she felt an almighty yank on her ring finger.

“I looked down and said, ‘Oh s..t, what have I done?’”

What she had done was wipe the flesh off her ring finger, from the first to second knuckle.

Sarah Payne’s ring finger was lost to a moment of inattention.


Sarah Payne’s ring finger was lost to a moment of inattention.

“All I could see was white, from the bone being exposed with all the skin taken off. My first instinct was to grab it and put pressure on it to stop the bleeding, but it didn’t bleed.”

They rushed to A&E, then to Middlemore Hospital for surgery.

Skin grafts were taken from an arm, veins from a foot. When that failed, she had a second surgery. It failed to take, the finger turned blue, and amputation followed.

The pain and the stitches being removed was excruciating.

Sarah Payne with goats Mush, Teke Tali and Cupcake, sheep Lollielamb and Alfie the Airedale.

ezra mcdonald/Supplied

Sarah Payne with goats Mush, Teke Tali and Cupcake, sheep Lollielamb and Alfie the Airedale.

When the doctor said he would amputate, Payne’s biggest emotion was relief.

“We had only just moved into our new place. I just wanted to get home and help. Over time, the grief of what I had been through hit me.”

But home also proved challenging.

She was in pain and adjusting to a cast. She had to keep her hand raised to help blood-flow, sleeping with her hand on cushions. And she was exhausted from three general anaesthetics.

Now, Payne feels the injury was a wake-up call she needed, even if her left hand no longer has the power required for her passion, horse riding.

“I don’t ride any more because I don’t feel that I’ve got strong enough hands to be able to,” she tells Stuff.

“I choose to focus more on the fact it’s helped me to slow down, it’s helped me to recognise my limits and not keep saying ‘yes’ when I don’t have any more room in my cup.

“I was working 40 hours a week, managing a farm. We were moving house, looking after kids and livestock. I was trying to be all things to all people.

Sarah Payne’s hand.


Sarah Payne’s hand.

“Slow down. Everyone thinks we have to go at life at 100 miles per hour and yes, we always have so much to do. But life is not the destination, it is the journey. You have got to enjoy it.”

Payne was helped by ACC, whose injury prevention leader James Whitaker says research showed 90% of all injuries were predictable, and therefore preventable.

“If we can slow down… before we get stuck in, we can significantly reduce the chance of getting injured.

“We generally know the safest way to do things. It’s just sometimes we are in such a rush that we forget to take a breath and assess the risk.”

ACC injury prevention leader James Whitaker.


ACC injury prevention leader James Whitaker.

In 2021 more than 21,000 DIY injury claims were accepted by ACC. It cost $27.8m to help people recover, the highest in the past five years. Since 2017, 326 people have had an amputation/enucleation as a result of a DIY injury.

Payne could not have got through her recovery without ACC, she says.

It covered surgeries, medical appointments, physio, hand therapy, financial support to her employers, even kitchen tools.

“The financial support ACC gave my employers was awesome. It was so important that I wasn’t out of pocket and that life carried on for the family.”