Think about how many times in the last month you have sliced, nicked, cut, burned, or grated one of your hands, fingers, feet, or even toes. It’s easy to do.
You might become overzealous whilst humming Pavarotti as you are grating a nice, fresh mozzarella over the focaccia; before you know it you have grated your own fingertips into the mixture at the same time.
Just as easily, you could be watching a gripping film on the tele, completely unconscious to the fact that you have taken to gnawing the tension out on your cuticles, peeling the dry strips down the sides. When you finally notice, you think, oh well, they needed it anyway. I’ll be sure and apply hand lotion when I get a moment.
Perhaps you cut your toenails short sometimes, so they don’t poke holes in socks. You have to chop them off straight across, taking away that icky “long fingernail” look that looks unappealing on the toenail. A bit of the cuticle almost always comes off with a cut that shortens the nails down, but that shouldn’t matter a bit.
Yet, when you’re dealing with a chronic illness, a simple cut is never simple. When you have a chronic illness, your body doesn’t always do what it should to fight off infection. So that little, tiny cut is inroads to the body for all those invisible bugs that like to feast on humans. For someone who can take antibiotic, the same cut–or one much, much bigger–would be no big whoop.
However, for those of us who are allergic to nearly any known antibiotic, the simplest little infection can be of grave concern. A little infection in my finger last year caused me a four-day hospital stay and several weeks with a PICC line (a home IV line) so that I could take special IV antibiotics.
So, a month or so ago, I decided to correct the square toenail cut the pedicurist gave me by chopping off both corners. When I did that, I somehow introduced a minute cut at the upper left corner of the toenail. A couple of weeks went by and things were fine. But suddenly, around the tiny nick became red: this is where the average, intelligent person would introduce Neosporin or Bacitracin. While I like to think of myself as of average or above intelligence, the best I could do was a homeopathic treatment, Manuka Honey, called Wound Honey sometimes, that is supposed to have antibiotic properties. However, after ten days or so, the Manuka just seemed to make it worse, or else the infection was just going to get worse anyway.
I thought it was starting to feel funny from walking on the Band-Aid on Friday. However, when I removed the cover, I realized the toe had swelled so much, the pad of it was suddenly quite large. Not so good. A quick consult with my brother confirmed my worst intuition: this wasn’t going to get better without help from a doctor.
Thus, I spent Saturday at the ER, having to convince the ebullient ER doctor/specialist that indeed I truly am allergic to all those medicines and that my toe might not look especially threatening, but I know to come to the hospital before it looks gangrenous or else I will be in the hospital for a long time.
Still….I overheard his conversation with Dr. Mycoplasma, my Infectious Disease doctor, who he was lucky enough to reach on a Saturday afternoon. I heard Dr. Stat’s minimization of my infection, and the half ironic/half questioning tone he used when he read off my list of allergies.
In part, it was a case of power politics: I made the mistake of walking in trying to know as much as he did, and he didn’t like it. What business did I have doing that, he must have wondered.
Dr. Stat of the ER reminds me of the opthamological neurologist I saw last month. When he started to examine me, I wanted to warn him, so I put my hand up and said, “Wait, Dr. Looky-Heere, I have a small lesion in my right macula.” He jumped away from me as though I had placed bedbugs into his ophthalmoscope.
“How do you know that!?” he shouted, at top voice. ”How do you know that!?”
“Someone saw it during an exam once and referred me to a specialist. I made it my business to remember. Wouldn’t you?”
His response was simply a rapid exhale of disgust, as though cataloging information about my own body would be a natural reason for his disapproval.
Here again, then, with Dr. Stat, I was dealing with someone who I appeared to have offended. I sat there thinking: My God, was it something I did? No, I realized after a while. It wasn’t what I did; it was what I knew. My best recourse, I decided then, was just to use what I know when I need it. I had overheard Dr. Stat on the phone with Dr. Mycoplasma.
So when Dr. Stat finally returned to my little ER Cell, I denied him his “big man” announcement about my future. ”So, little lady. It looks like you won’t need to be doing any time in the hospital…”
“I know! I heard! I can have one dose of IV Antibiotics here and then see Dr. Mycoplasma in his office on Monday.” I did my best not to emasculate the poor bastard, but instead to sound like it was a great, large mystery that I had happened to overhear his conversation with Dr. Mycoplasma. ”Speak no more! It’s all great news. Thanks so much!” I said. That way, I didn’t have to bother entering into the discussion with him about why I already knew all the answers to all the questions.
I was just happy to be able to go home and go to sleep. Most importantly, I could give my party on Sunday. It was the first literary Salon of the season.
To make a long story short, I got up on Sunday and although I didn’t feel very well, I got ready for my party, everyone came, and we were having a great time. Pretty soon, I stood up and asked if anyone needed something to drink. I turned around and didn’t notice that someone had moved the stool next to my chair and I turned around. Walking fast, I collided into the stool, making a loud splat.
Talk about a great way to end a party! Thank goodness I have such wonderful friends. Katherine became Flo Nightingale and bandaged me all up—no small feat, since the lower part of my leg already was bandaged with another, earlier injury. When I was finally wrapped up, the bandage went from ankle to knee—as does the bruise now too. I look like I have on a black shit-kicker boot (made of bruise). It hurts like hell, too. On the positive side, though, it has been excellent practice for using positive visual imagery for helping with pain control, because pain killers have done a whole lot of nothing for it.
My wonderful friends also cleaned up the whole party. (Don’t say what I know you’re thinking: Hey, Heidi, you don’t have to work so hard to get people to clean up your party!)