Growing up, I had the privilege of enduring several ingrown toenail surgeries, which culminated in having a third of the nail removed on each of my big toes. Of course, by that time I was reading a magazine and whistling to myself while blood spurted across the room like a Monty Python skit. Yet I was not always the stoic Sam Elliott of toenail surgeries that the doctor saw before him that day. I had journeyed down a long and excruciating road of impaled digits. I had paid my dues.
The first time I had it done, I yowled like a cat in heat right from the git-go. My dad – sitting on the other side of a drawn curtain – passed out cold. The doctor was administering the shot to numb my toe when, THUNK!, something hit the floor. The “something” turned out to be dad’s head. Thinking he may have had a heart attack or something, both the doctor and nurse raced to his side, leaving the syringe sticking out of my toe and the needle buried. Next thing I knew, they had placed him on a stretcher, wheeled him over alongside me, and deduced that he had simply passed out while listening to his son – who had come to live with him for the school year – cry so damn pitifully. I remember laughing about it for a minute before the doctor returned to my toe and began the extraction. Tears of laughter turned to cries of pain – the kind of pain that makes you want to run wildly and throw yourself off a building.
When you have an ingrown toenail, the first step is to be in denial as long as possible. “It’s not an ingrown toenail,” you tell yourself as you carefully un-stick the fabric of your sock from the nasty red infection on the corner of your toe and clean off the blood and pus. Weeks later, when you can’t take it any longer (or someone steps on your foot, prompting you to wail like a banshee) you finally break down and go to the doctor. “That’s an ingrown toenail,” he says, fully aware that you waited as long as humanly possible before coming in and having it removed. “Why don’t you hop up on the table here?”
The first thing they do is soak your foot in that brackish, stinky, iodine-and-whatever-else water bath, to soften up your flesh. Usually, as you sit there with your foot in the liquid, you quietly reflect on how screwed you are. This is typically followed by cursing your family for passing along such a terrible hereditary trait. The doctor then pulls out the needle to administer the numbing agent. The needle always seems awfully long, considering it’s about to penetrate one of your “little piggies”. You’re tempted to ask if he’s sure he’s got the right needle, but the pain of the injection derails any thoughts half-thunk, as your toe feels like it’s been placed in a vice operated by a mobster you owe money to. Then, while your toe numbs, the doctor chats lightly with the nurse while at the same time producing a few slender silver weapons of toe destruction. You look away, doomed.
Now begins the surgery proper, and the pain is so excruciatingly sharp that your first silent mental scream is “I thought you numbed my effing toe!” Somehow you get through it, though, and they bandage it up, and show you the nail before they dispose of it – a sort of medical “treat” I guess. You leave the office with your foot in an over-sized slipper, because cramming it into a shoe is out of the question. You’ve never tread so gingerly in your life. And for a few days you hope – oh, GOD do you hope – that nobody steps on your foot.