Toe Drama, Part 1 (In which I tell a story of toe problems)

If I uttered the phrase “ingrown toenail” to you, I’m guessing you wouldn’t shudder in fear and dread.

Me? I hear that phrase and kind of want to throw up.

Let me back up.

If you are someone who’s been around reading my random thoughts for any length of time, you know there are certain lessons I keep learning over and over (and if you’re new, welcome! What’s up? Nice to see ya!)

One of the lessons I can’t seem to hold onto is that life has a way of throwing up obstacles and challenges just as I think, “Look at me! I’m all good!” The piece I can’t seem to let sit in my gut has to do with recognizing these obstacles and challenges AS my life, not interruptions of it.

So, just as I was building back up from my tendinitis, starting to feel like I was truly on the road to recovery, lifting up some heavy shit and eyeing a 300lb back squat by the end of 2014, I got an ingrown toenail.

It was late July and it wasn’t a big deal. I googled home remedies and thought it might improve. It didn’t. The first week in August, two weeks before we left on a European cruise vacation that we had saved and scrimped and worked hard for and dreamed about for, literally, YEARS, I decided action was needed. There was no way I could traipse around Spain, France and Italy and drink in our trip of a lifetime with this bum toe.

I went to a podiatrist and, though he was a little brusque, he efficiently hacked up my toe (not the medical terminology, which I believe is “partial nail avulsion”) and sent me on my way with instructions. And for a time, things were pretty normal, as ingrown toenails go. I had a bandage on my toe for a day or so, and then I downgraded to a big ole Band-Aid.

The trip was relatively unaffected, although we affectionately called it: Europe, 2014: Don’t Step on Mom’s Toe! Because it was high season in Europe and everywhere we went my toe was in direct peril of being tread upon, usually by my own tightly packed-in family. At any given moment, you might hear me hiss, “Don’t step on my toe!”

Despite the warnings and the nickname of our vacation, my toe STILL got stepped on multiple times. Usually by my own kids. Ouch.

But, you guys, THIS:

europe vacation cruise gelato

Please take me back. At least just for one gelato. (Also you can click the image to see it full size and admire this beautiful scenery. And please take me back.)

So in the grand scheme of this amazing and possibly life-changing trip, the occasional toe pain wasn’t really figural. I avoided swimming because of it, but you know. The cruise was packed and the pool was tiny, so the idea of swimming in that pool with all those bodies was a little gross to me anyway.

When we got home and back to reality, though, it was clear that something wasn’t quite right about the toe. It had been about a month and it just wasn’t healing. If anything, it had gotten far worse, with the skin all round the toe starting to deteriorate. (eeeewwwwww)

I went back to the podiatrist the first week in September and he mercilessly hacked up my toe again. This time, I was less inclined to refer to him as “brusque” and more inclined to see that the guy was kind of a jerk. He was bullish–he barely talked to me for two seconds before he started digging into the VERY SENSITIVE area in my toe with a metal tool. At which time I am not ashamed to say that I screamed and practically leapt off the chair. And at that point I was shaking all over and asked him to please numb it up and not touch it again until he had done so.

Which he did. And then he hacked off another big chunk of my toenail and said it should heal up nicely from here. He prescribed me more oral antibiotics and sent me on my way.

Yeah, uh, the healing part? Not so much.

I tried to ignore it, because when it was all covered up by bandages, I could forget about it. Sort of. And, you know, it was early September and still warm enough to wear flip flops all the time, so for a week or so, I was like, what toe problem?

Oh, that pain in my toe? That’s nothing. (*cries in the corner from the pain*) I mean, if I could just get a shoe on my foot, I could go work out, right?

But then. Then it got even worse. The raw mess part of my skin crept ever lower, beneath the bandage, threatening to branch out from the toe.

This all seemed rather unbelievable to me. I was a normal, healthy person and I had been on repeated antibiotics courses. What was the deal with this toe? Surely if I gave it a couple more days all would be well. I mean, it was an ingrown toenail, for Pete’s sake!

Uh, no. I could barely stand the pain.

So I went back to the jerky guy, despite my hesitation at his lack of…well, anything resembling empathy.

When he came bustling in the room I was VERY clear with him. He was not to come at me with his metal tools. In fact, he was not to touch my toe before looking at it and talking to me about it. It was extremely sensitive. I told him straight out that I was afraid he was going to hurt me again.

He didn’t care. He grabbed his metal tool and dug in.

I screamed, “DON’T TOUCH IT!” Seriously. I felt like such a lunatic, but this guy was a barbarian. I was now full out shaking. He apologized. He said he thought if he could just clip the edge, he could take a closer look.

I took a deep breath, but before I even consented, he clipped into it with his metal clippers and this time, I didn’t practically leap out of the chair, I actually leapt out of the chair on one foot. I could barely control my shaking, and the toe was bleeding where he had clipped it. It was all I could do not to cry and I am actually having a mini-trauma while typing about it.

“I’m done here. Give me my records.”

He tried to sweet talk me then, told me he was going to take the whole toenail off and that would solve it.

“Nope, you are never touching me again. Do you hear me?” I looked at his nurse, “Do YOU hear me? He is not to touch me again.”

I wish I could say I stormed out of there, but it was more like a wounded hobble. I did have my records, though, so that was a win.

I went to another doctor the next day, knowing it was pretty serious at this point. The pain was so intense.

When I arrived at the new doctor, I was terrified, you guys. I will tell you straight up that I started crying as soon as I sat down in the chair. Like I had podiatry chair PTSD or something.

The nurse was so nice to me as I explained to her what had happened so far. When she unwrapped my toe she had this look of mild shock on her face. I feel like if she had some Xanax on hand, she probably would have given it to me. And, frankly, I would not have turned her down. She promised me that no one would touch it.

The doctor was amazing–Dr. Charlot-Hicks in New Haven, should you ever need a podiatrist. She took one look at it and said, “We’re just going to numb you up right away, before we do anything else.” I literally (and I do mean literally) wept with gratitude. It wasn’t my finest moment.

She did take the whole toenail off that day, and wanted to admit me to the hospital for IV antibiotics. I convinced her to hold off, what with my husband being in Detroit and all. There was this super strong oral antibiotic that she ordered for me instead.

Unfortunately, after three days on it, I started having chills and running a fever. When I called her office to let them know, they were all, “Go to the hospital. Go directly to the hospital. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.”

So what started off as a minor blip–“just” an ingrown toenail–had turned into something that was completely putting my life on hold. At least that’s how I viewed it at the moment. As if I stopped living my life when I got admitted. In fact, the five days I spent there taught me a lot…but let’s talk about that another day.

To be continued in Toe Problems, Part 2…In which I make an Important Point with this very long story. And possibly share some disgusting pictures (but way at the bottom so you don’t have to look unless you want to).