• Joe And The Toe

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    Joe and the Toe

    As I approached Home Depot I glanced down at my legs and feet, scratched and scarred from various projects over the last couple of years. The thought crossing my mind that I really ought to wear long pants, and even soccer shin guards as long as I was engaged in home building projects. I had bought a pair of hard toed boots a few weeks ago, but today I was wearing my normal Southern California flip flops.

    I was there to get, among other things, three sheets of 4′ by 8′ – 3/4 inch plywood. As I approached the steel shelf that held the plywood I was a little dismayed that the top of the stack was a little over six feet above me. I looked around for someone to help, but decided that I could pull down the sheets myself. Each sheet weighing a little over 125 pounds.

    An object in free fall accelerates at about 48 feet per second, so a hundred and twenty-five pound chunk of wood only takes about one eighth of a second to fall six feet. I really didn’t consider that fact as I tugged the first sheet of plywood off the stack, my hands above my head. I’m not sure what I had in mind as the sheet started to reach the tipping point on its downward journey.

    As the sheet started to accelerate, I quickly realized that I couldn’t catch and hold 100 pounds and decided to jump out of the way. My quickness is not what it used to be, but I got everything away except for the toes of my right foot. At first I couldn’t believe that the sheet had caught me. But as the intense pain began to radiate up my foot and a flower of blood bloomed from my toes, I realized that once again, I had pulled what my father used to call: “another stupid trick”.

    The plywood bounced off my toes, and I began to yell, using words not normally heard in a church meeting. The blood was not spurting but a steady flow came forth, especially from my big toe. By now I had my sandal off leaving rose colored toe prints all around the shelving – it looked as if the Zuni Indians had done a war dance after putting their feet in ochre finger paint. Eventually the flow slowed somewhat, aided by paper towels from the restroom. I decided that a trip to the ER was not necessary even though the blood was still coming and the pain was increasing. I finally found a helper to get the other two sheets down. I shuffled to the cash register and ask for someone to help me load into my truck. I staggered toward my vehicle listing and limping like a one legged pirate, gnashing my teeth with pain.

    The loading employee took a look at my bloody toes (and being unlucky enough to have had parents from the shallow end of the Gene Pool) asked, “Did you hurt your foot”? I glanced at him with hatred, through an agony filled haze and responded, no, “Back surgery”. We then loaded the plywood although I did leave a few ruby stains on the parking lot. Getting in my truck, I was glad I had rubber mats rather than carpet.

    Motored home, even though it was painful to push on the brake and gas pedal. Finally decided to remove the paper towel bandage to take a better look. I was aghast to see that most of the skin had been removed from my first three toes, now somewhat flattened, and that my big toe was a dull red/ebony color. I covered the entire mangled mess with Neosporin and wrapped a large bandage around it. Like Tom Sawyer, I wore this bandage like a badge of honor. When my wife came home, I immediately ask her if she wanted to see something interesting. For some reason I had forgotten that women do not like to see the results of self inflicted surgery. Upon looking at my toes she instantly turned for the sink with a look of unbelievable disgust.

    The foot continued to throb and violent electric shocks ran up my leg. I found I couldn’t sleep without putting ice and a sock over the foot. The next morning, my foot looked even worse. All of the toes had swollen to the point that I couldn’t don a shoe. The color, where the flesh wasn’t covered by congealed blood, was turning bright purple. It would take another day or so before the remaining skin began turning a gangrenous sickly yellow and green. The foot began emitting an unusually repulsive smell. But the big toe was my main concern – it had become a bulbous and loathsome thing – expanding to the size of a 40-watt light bulb pulsating with agony. The anthracite nail was only visible in an island of multicolored puffy flesh. Where the undamaged flesh could be seen through the yellow, purple and green, it was an angry red, really angry.

    At the point drastic action was called for. It was time for an application of my mother’s favorite remedy – Watkins Petro Carbolic Salve – my mom claimed it could cure anything – cancer, tuberculosis, hemorrhoids, amputations, you name it. The unguent was supposedly especially effective in healing gouges and abrasions to the skin. I applied it liberally to my toes.

    Basically the result of the carbolic suave was to make my foot smell even worse – a refinery odor of the first degree. I had to cover the entire mess with a plastic bread sack and a sock at night so the smell didn’t overpower me. I went on antibiotics and began see some results except for the large toe. It hurt day and night and the swelling had decreased only slightly. It was time for other suggested remedies – soaking in Epsom salts, dowsing in Corned Beef Brine, Raw Milk, Alcohol (NOOOO!!!!!) and finally slavering it with Preparation H. The color changed but the throbbing remained.
    What was left – it was time to pierce the offending black nail. I’d heard that you could drill a small hole in a damaged nail to relieve the pressure. I wondered what kind of drill do you use – I only had a 1/2 inch power drill, and the thought of approaching my damaged toe with a whirling drill bit sounded worse than another plywood drop. Finally I got some huge nail clippers, usually used to trim horses hooves, and started in on the offending nail. The first cut brought forth a geyser of black blood when bled out into the washbasin for some minutes but the throbbing began to fade.

    It’s been a week now; the toes are starting to resemble the original digits, although the big toe has shown a reluctance to return to its former size. I cut chunks of the nail out daily, although as I do, the area underneath resembles a jellyfish that has been through a slice and dice machine. The thought of stubbing or even bumping my toes brings tears to the eyes. Still I managed to hit them on a regular basis. Even the slightest touch brings forth shrieks and Olympic Class Hopping.

    Is there a lesson to be learned here other than wearing long pants, steel toed shoes, and not trying to catch 100 pounds of plywood on a toe. Well, probably not, since I tend to be a slow learner in these situations. I’m sure that in the remaining life I have, there will be time spent in similar lessons – with similar results.
    August 2011

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