It’s now been exactly one week since I had the nail of my big toe surgically removed for the THIRD, and hopefully final, time.
Let’s back up a bit, so I can explain….
This Little Piggy Starts Squealing
The year was 2010, and I was a bright-eyed undergrad student at the beautiful University of Victoria, working a part-time job at a high-end fashion store where I was, understandably, expected to dress up a bit. As such, I had a decent collection of high-heeled shoes, some of which were less
practical comfortable than others. As you can imagine, this lead to many nights after work spent nursing sore feet on my sofa.
One morning, the big toe of my right foot still hurt from working the day before, especially when I put pressure on the toenail. I figured my shoes were too tight, and made a mental note not to wear those shoes anymore (a mental note which I quickly forgot). This happened on and off for the duration of my time in Victoria, but it never seemed cause for concern. It was only after I moved back home, after University, that things took a turn for the worse…
This Little Piggy Meets Dr. Abao
One morning in March of 2011, I awoke to excruciating pain, radiating from the big toe of my right foot. I couldn’t move my toe, I couldn’t stand on that foot, and I sure as hell wasn’t about to attempt putting it into any sort of footwear. My Sherlock-like deductive reasoning concluded that something was most definitely wrong, and I probably needed to get it fixed before going to work that night. I hobbled into my parents’ kitchen and typed “Langley foot doctor” into Google, because I didn’t yet know such a thing was actually called a Podiatrist. The first result was for the “Langley Foot Clinic”, so I called them and made an appointment for that afternoon.
The owner of the clinic was Dr. Marissa Abao– a very sweet young woman who didn’t look like she could be beyond her late twenties, but probably was. She had an assistant with a wickedly strong eastern European accent, who always called me, “Pretty Girl” instead of using my name, and spoke in broken sentences that made her sound like Ulla from The Producers. I liked her.
This Little Piggy Gets Butchered
I’m not sure what I expected would fix my problem, but never, and I mean NEVER, did I anticipate that I would leave that walk-in appointment with NO TOENAIL on my big toe! Unfortunately, Dr. Abao’s examination determined that my pain was caused by a build-up of unexplained cartilage under the nail, which was pushing the nail further off my toe as it grew. The only way to immediately relieve the pain, was to surgically remove the toenail. And I’m sure you can imagine what that sort of procedure entails!
Oh, you can’t? You mean you’ve never had a toenail surgically removed? Well, lucky for you, I have photos of my fist “nail avulsion”!
Basically, my toe was shot up with enough anesthetic to freeze hell, and then, after some poking tests to make sure it was sufficiently numb, a scalpel was used to cut back the skin surrounding the nail. A little tool with a spoon-like end on it was (rather forcefully) wedged under said nail and used to pry it from it’s cozy little bed. Once up, Dr. Abao traded in the little spoon thing for some more plier-like equipment, and proceeded to yank my nail from the cuticle of my toe.
Afterwards, as I sat in the waiting room while my mom filled out some paperwork, I became aware of a dull throbbing in my now nail-less toe, indicating that the anesthetic was wearing off. When I voiced this observation, Dr. Abao hurried my mom’s completion of the paperwork and handed her a prescription for Tylenol3. It’s no mystery why she did this, since by the time we got to the car, the dull throbbing had escalated into something much much worse. Are you familiar with the Hyperbole & a Half Pain Chart below?
In the time it took to
walk hobble from Dr. Abao’s office to my mother’s car, I shot from Pain 4 to Pain 7, and within a block, I was careening into 8. I can’t even adequately describe how much it hurt to regain feeling in a toe than had just had it’s nail yanked off. It was the kind of crippling pain that so overwhelms your senses that you forget to breathe and end up desperately gasping for air between agonized screams. And believe me– I screamed. I screamed, I cried, and I swore like a sailor the whole drive home. We stopped only long enough for my mom to run into a drug store to get my T3 prescription filled.
Unfortunately, this actually turned out to be the time I discovered that I was allergic Codine- a key ingredient in T3s. Rotten luck, eh? On the bright side, the resulting sensation that I’d swallowed a capsule of acid which was slowly burning a hole though my stomach did effectively distract me from the pain of my toe for a bit… To this day, I can’t decide whether the worst pain I’ve endured was that drive home post-nail avulsion, or taking the T3 afterwards. Safe to say, I did not end up going to work that night.
This Little Piggy Gets His Picture Taken
A few weeks later, Dr. Abao sent me to get some x-rays in an attempt to find out what had caused the mysterious cartilage growth that had necessitated the nail removal. The results weren’t good.
It might not look like much to the un-trained eye, but on the end of my big toe, there is a white dot. That dot is actually a bone spur, which had been growing vertically off of my toe bone, and pushed up into my nail bed. The mysterious cartilage was actually my body attempting to protect this rogue bone! Why did I have this bone spur in the first place? We don’t know. Bone spurs show up at random, like those uninvited assholes at a party who drink all your drinks, insult your roommates, and puke on your couch. He needed to go.
This Little Piggy Meets The Drill
We had to meet Dr. Abao at a specialty clinic out of town for my bone spur removal, as the procedure required a device that was terrifyingly named a “Bone Drill”, which Dr. Abao didn’t have. I was awake, but didn’t see, hear, or feel any of the procedure, thanks to lots of anesthetic, a carefully placed TV screen, giant noise-cancelling headphones, and a blue curtain across my waist, prevented me from seeing around the screen, if I’d had the desire or strength of stomach to do so.
Of course, that’s not to say I wasn’t sitting in constant, white-knuckled terror that I might hear, see, or feel something, and as such, I have absolutely no idea what movie was playing. But my terror didn’t prevent me from instructing my mother to take photos for me!
This Little Piggy Goes on Vacation
In stark contrast to the emotionally scarring experience of the first procedure, I don’t remember much of the recovery from this one, which leads me to believe it wasn’t as bad. They gave me some non-codine pain killers, which helped immensely.
I also had an added incentive to not succumb to my pain, because I had just turned 21 and already had plans for a trip to Vegas! Despite Dr. Abao’s reservations about the likelihood that I’d maintain proper post-operative care while travelling, we went anyway. I even took a picture of her handy-work hanging over the Grand Canyon for her! I thought I’d give it to her as a final thank you, since I wouldn’t be seeing much of her, now that my bone spur was removed.
Or so I thought…
This Little Piggy is Retarded
It became clear in the months that followed that my toe would never look the same, but I’d been warned that removed nails often grow back different. What I had not been warned about, and what none of us had anticipated, was that my toenail would come back retarded, and having completely forgotten how to be a toenail. It grew back completely curved, and began growing into my toe.
I went back to Dr. Abao to see what could be done, and she said the best option was to remove the edges of the nail, and burn the nail bed with a chemical to prevent those spots from growing back. This sounded downright awful, so I put it off for months.
This Little Piggy Gets Cooked
I put it off until last week, when the pain in my toe began preventing me from wearing close-toed shoes. I knew I could delay it no longer. I made an appointment for a Saturday, to allow myself lots of recovery time.
It took FIVE injections of anesthetic to freeze my to, a phobia-activating experience which drained every drop of colour from my face, and had me terrifyingly close to puking all over Dr. Abao’s sterile equipment (but I didn’t!). As a result, I was thoroughly frozen for quite a few hours after the procedure, so the recovery was more of a tolerable throbbing than an excruciating pain. Akin to a bad headache, but in your foot… if that makes sense.
So now, since my toe and resident nail just couldn’t get their shit together enough to function normally, we’re all doomed to look like this for the rest of our lives (minus the redness/whiteness of the healing burn sites):
And that’s the story of how I came to need THREE “nail avulsions”, as they are formally known!