Friday, April 27, 2012

Frankentoe.



I don’t cope with gore very well. I don’t mind blood in movies such as The Godfather and Gladiator, but anything that’s icky gives me a prickly feeling in my sternum that threatens to move to my stomach. If I’m ever struck by curiosity over a medical issue and turn to Wikipedia, I load the page with my right hand hovering in front of the screen, ready to block any gross pictures intent on implanting themselves in my brain.

Unfortunately, disaster struck almost two weeks ago, and it’s not possible to hover my right hand over the offending image at all times.

It was as innocent as a Saturday night can be for a 22-year-old. Clark was in town, and I had spent the evening cleaning and doing laundry while he was at a fraternity dinner. When he came back we talked while I folded clean clothes and put them away. My antique dresser, which stands on legs rather than resting on the floor, is a solid oak hunk of furniture, and the warmer and more humid weather has caused the wood to swell ever so slightly. I had folded some shorts, but couldn’t get the bottom dresser open with one hand. Still talking to Clark, I set the shorts on my bed and gave the drawer a two-handed tug. It still stuck, so I tried again.

This time, the drawer came flying out and landed squarely on the nail of my big toe. I yelped, mostly from surprise, and then I started hopping around my room, trying to ascertain just how much pain I was in.

“Maybe you should sit down,” Clark offered. I did, and playing part of damsel in distress, I asked him if he would get me an ice pack. In the short time he was gone, the magnitude of the pain set in, and by the time he got back I had big, juicy tears rolling down my cheeks.

I managed to fall asleep, but the feeling of my heartbeat in my big toe woke me up around 3am. I hobbled upstairs to get another ice pack, which I then shoved down at the bottom of my bed.  I woke up again around 6, again unable to control the tears. I laid awake and tried to distract myself, imagining how someday, in the midst of childbirth, I’ll look back on this night and chuckle.

When that didn’t work, I finally got up and took off my turquoise nail polish, mildly annoyed at how badly it had stained my nail. Then I realized it wasn’t stained—that blueish gray was the actual color of my nailbed. I remembered hearing a family legend about an uncle smashing a finger, and an aunt sticking a hot needle through the nail to relieve the pressure. In my crazed agony, I became convinced that this was the only course of action open to me.

And by me, I mean Clark. I went and roused him, and he didn’t even flinch, much less question me, when I told him my plan. In the end, it was a hot thumbtack, and while not that much blood came out, it relieved enough pressure that I could go to sleep.

I hobbled around the next day, to church and the grocery store, and then Clark came to my rescue once more with a giant pot of warm water and Epsom salts. Soaking my toe helped some—at any rate, the water was hot enough to take my mind off the pain.

Below the jump lie the rest of the gory details, in bullet form.


  • By Monday, the swelling bruise had pushed my nail up to a 45 degree angle.
  • On Monday night, my darling housemate Abby took me to the urgent care clinic near our house. There, they X-rayed my foot and declared it unbroken (duh) and told me to ice it and not go to work for three days (right).
  • The doctor also gave me a prescription for Tramadol, which I took before bed. I felt great for the thirty minutes it was in my system before I went to sleep.
  • When my alarm went off, I was desperately thirsty, had a splitting headache, and my toe started throbbing in protest of leaving its cozy, elevated home. I called in late to work and iced my toe until it was numb enough for me to limp to the car.
  • At work, my headache got worse, and my stomach started to rumble. After two hours, I hobbled to my boss’s office, burst into tears, and said I had to go home.
  • Once home, I puked. A lot. And felt immensely better.
  • Then I slept for four hours.
  • On Wednesday morning, my toe had given up on the neat geometry of a 45 degree angle. Instead, it looked as though someone had removed my nail, glued it to a prune, and then surgically attached the prune to my toe. Amputation didn’t seem like a bad idea, if it meant I wouldn’t have to look at this monstrosity that had made itself at home on my foot.
  • Fortunately for me, I have a lot of wonderful nurses in my life. One of them is Sara, my cousin who works in the ER. She asked me to send her a picture, and then she called me, aghast that the urgent care clinic didn’t do more. She told me to either call a podiatrist or come check myself in at her work.
  • Another nurse, my friend Laura, was sweet enough to give up her day of sleep to drive me to and from the podiatrist.
  • The foot doctor took a syringe and sucked out all the blood and guck that had been chillin’ on my nailbed for four days. I didn’t want to watch, and Laura reported that it was about 3.5 milliliters worth. Gross.
  • The days that followed included my own version of this same procedure, with plenty of princess bandaids to cover up the hideous appendage.
  • It wasn’t until this past Sunday that I could walk like a normal person again.
  • By Tuesday’s follow-up appointment with the foot doctor, I didn’t feel any more pain.

I still have to lose the nail and grow a completely new one, which will make for a wonderful summertime fashion statement. And if I’ve learned anything, it’s that my usual tendency to avoid laundry for as long as possible is actually driven by a biological yearning for continued survival.

Now, who wants to see pictures?

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