by Nick Callanan
Here’s the story of my ingrown toe-nail. So clear out the sensitive-hearted; oh! and kids under 12 should also leave the room.
This agony all started in a pickup basketball game in Boulder, Colorado. I slipped by an opponent while going for a rebound, and he stepped on my toe in a certain way that made me instantly think, “Ah, I do believe my toenail just fell off.”
When I took off my shoe I could see the nail was cracked at the base and would indeed soon fall off.
Five months later, on the first day of September, it did. It was a small miracle! Another nail grew in underneath the damaged one, and the damaged one gave way. Brilliant!
Unfortunately the succumbing nail needed a bit of encouragement and I foolishly yanked it out, immeadiately causing a small cavern to part in the flesh around my toe.
Within days, the new nail, apparently still adjusting to the life on the outside, began to grow sideways into the cavern. This caused the right side of my toe to swell up so big — with pus and nail and regular, ordinary swelling all contributing — my toe looked like that dude’s bunion in the blaxploitation classic “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka.”
So I did what any self-respecting boater does in such a medical emergency: duct tape it.
After a couple days of raft guide work and three days in my Wave Sport X, I peeled off the tape, thinking to myself, “Had this been black or grey duct tape when I put it on 5 days ago?”
Let’s just say I wish my toe had held out as well as the duct tape. A small infection had set up shop in the cavern, a clear liquid with a sour odor leaked when I poked my toe with a fork, and the new nail was absolutely embedded — but those were hardly the worst of it: To my horrible repulse, I had no cold beer!
Finally I got serious with the care of my toe. I cleaned it with my lighter-sterilized toenail-clipper utility blade, poking it and dragged the skin away from the nail as best I could. I began to soak it in Epsom Salt every night, and just regular salt when I ran out of Epsom. Someone told me to shove cotton under the toe so that it would grow upward and away from the skin sidewall. I tried that too, but none of them worked for shit.
Six weeks later, I became frustrated with my toe, this incessant harbor of evil and pain. I entered a mad phase where every week I attempted to surgically remove the nail’s right edge with dull scissors. It got into quite a fun pattern for a while: I’d chop the nail back just enough so it didn’t bug me for an entire week. Then it would grow back into the skin again, causing more pain. It was sort of like shaving, but more like hell.
One day around New Year’s I noticed the infection was finally dying, but the ingrown nail was still making itself at home in my toe sidewall (you see, after you have had an ingrown toenail experience like mine, you get to make up new anatomy terms, like “toe sidewall”).
I found a sharp pair of scissors - fly tying scissors from my friend Jim - and begin to dig. The only thing about these scissors is they are curved. So every time I had to make that last jab into the cavern to truly get to the elusive root of the demonic ingrown toenail, the curved shears twisted deeper under the nail, and I cried.
But the fly-tying scissors had gone further than anything else before and they gave me a reason for hope. You see, kind reader, almost as challenging as the wound itself was the ceaseless berating my friends and family hoisted upon me for not going to see a “medical foot doctor.” This barrage of unasked-for advice intensified as my hardly noticeable limp persisted into its fourth month.
For a short period early on, I actually considered folding into the gallery’s protests. Perhaps a doctor could be of some service... But, this late in the game? Nonsense!
The fly-tying scissors had almost resolved the smarting, heinous toe, and I knew I was close to unlocking the key to its mystery.
History has chosen the 21st day of January, 2003 as the day I conducted an exacto knife surgery, permanently correcting the path of a previously askew toenail. I prepped my toe by soaking it in warm dishwater, peeled back the skin with the utility blade and then began to carve with Kristen’s exacto blade. The knife felt good: light in my hand and responding to my commands. It was a relatively short and painless 15 minute surgery.
At the time, of course, I couldn’t have been sure my toe was fixed. But here it is, the 5th of June and everything still looks good down there.
Pop Quiz: The most important lesson to learn from “Worst Aid: Ingrown toenail” is: A) Don’t Pull out your dull scissors unless you intend to use them B) A dull knife is a dangerous knife C) Use camouflauge duct tape to better hide infection D) I wish I had health insurance.
Email nick [at] noumbrella [dot] com with your questions, comments and concerns.
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