The perplexing thing about being an adult is that no one will prepare you for random health problems. You’d like to think that you lead a relatively healthy lifestyle, free from smoking, drugs, excessive eating and other detrimental indulgences, but somehow something will worm its way into your system. I, for example, never thought that I would feel like I’m 42, at the age of 24. However, I admit that some of it was my fault. Only some. I’ll only admit that much!
Granted, people of varying ages are susceptible to different ailments depending on their circumstances. One would think that you’ll only run into complicated health issues when your body starts to slow down with age, and you get assaulted by health issues due to lack of overall strength. But of all the things I never thought I would have to deal with, it was most certainly not having an ingrown toenail. And I certainly didn’t think I would get it twice, in a year.
Now, you’re probably thinking that I’ve got nothing to complain about, and you would be right. This is categorically one of the most insignificant health problems to dramatise. But my battle with the ingrown toenail(s) was as much my own fault as it was the persistence of the affliction itself. I never imagined that my years of improperly cutting my nails would finally come back to bite me, literally, in the form of sharp pain. It was precisely this pain that made me spiral down the wrong path; a path which made it much harder to appropriately deal with the issue.
It was March 2016, and I was hit with a triple combo of unfortunate events.
– I injured my leg trying to repair the fence in our backyard, after it was blown down by a storm from the previous night.
– I was (moderately) depressed from my unemployment situation, made worse by the increasing duration and the subsequent events.
– I developed my first ingrown toenail. For no real apparent reason.
The sensation was unique, to say the least. There I was, waking up in the morning as always, only to discover that my left big toe was swollen, and it hurt to touch it. I was bewildered, and I couldn’t fathom what had caused it. Did I bump my toe without realizing? Did something get into my toe? It really didn’t make much sense, and at the time I dismissed it as some rogue blister with a grudge, as it seemed to not want to leave me alone! It was annoying, and the pain was considerable, but without too much effort I was able to leave it alone until it disappeared by May of that year. After a few futile, and at times dangerous, attempts to cut off the problem at its source. But it gave in and gave up all on its own. Problem solved right?
Later, in October 2016, after overcoming my daunting start to the year and securing solid employment, I was in high spirits. The job was going great; even better after defeating a challenging period over the summer, when the job had taken a dramatic turn. However, it was around the 10th of that month when I yet again woke up to an ingrown toenail, just as bad as the first one, and almost as if it was never gone. I was more than bewildered, I was bamboozled. It was also around that time that I had to admit that it was consistent with the traits of an ingrown toenail. And so my downward spiral began.
Why now? Why this? The timing couldn’t have been worse of course, because it seemed as if my life had finally settled, only for me to be thrown a curve ball the size of a watermelon. As any clearly rational person would do in that circumstance, I immediately cut the whole nail out, as far to the root as possible, believing myself to have accomplished some great feat. This was instead adding injury to the insult, and the insult was very offended that I had the gall to handle it in that way. My first step should have been to consult home remedies for the problem, and then seek medical attention if it persisted. Despite that, I didn’t exist in the world of smart decisions because pain usually walks you the other direction.
You see, this was my first real job since I had left University, and it was the happiest I had been in literally years. Money does not buy happiness, but my goodness, does it buy everything else. I had a steady work role which meant that to keep earning what I was getting, I had to stay consistent. So any sudden health issues would interfere with that, and the severity of such a thing could put it in jeopardy. Or so my slippery slope mindset told me. I’ve always had the genuine fear that when the first thing goes wrong, everything goes wrong right after, and this destructive thinking was spurred on by past experiences. Regardless of the very successful year I was having, this incident came to give me the finger wag for assuming that I was sailing on a leak-free ship.
The pain, I finally came to admit, was hard to ignore. It only really hurt when I touched it directly, but it was bad enough to cause me to act even more irrationally. I would constantly poke and prod it, as if testing to see if it would magically disappear after each time. And so the problem grew. Over time, I would mess around with the skin area and poke at the root of the nail, seeing if I could find the sweet spot to make the pain stop suddenly. And so the problem grew. I chose style over comfort, wearing close-fitting shoes and not-so flexible socks. And so the problem grew. I would try to take matters into my own hands, by using crude tools to try to alter the root of the nail, receiving some temporary relief, as well as smug self-satisfaction. And so the problem grew, and the insult became an injury.
Every day during this time, I would wake up, hoping to see the problem had corrected itself. This time, I had woken up to see a whole new development that locked me in for a ride of emotions. The nail hadn’t gotten better, instead choosing to take a bizarre shape and ooze some mystery substance that was not quite solid, but not quite liquid either. And remembering that it was formerly an insult, the injury then decided to hurt completely on its own, signalling that the affliction had progressed from ‘negligible’ to ‘hard to ignore’. It was at this point when I had finally had enough, and I chose to do the unthinkable; I sought medical attention.
I pride myself on never seeing the doctor. Never broke a bone, I’ve only had a few severe colds as a child, and I haven’t had any injections since being very young. Nor do I plan to do so. Such was my thinking throughout this event. Whilst researching the solutions to an ingrown toenail, you’ll inevitably run into the inescapable fact that a severe case of it necessitates surgery. Surgery in which my pointy metal enemy will be present and accounted for. This to me was out of the question and I (brace yourself) would have rather endured the pain for as long as possible if it meant that I wouldn’t need to face a needle. Score 0 for rational thinking, yet again.
My fear of needles was already on a level that people might consider comical, and it was most certainly sent sky high by a recent event; an event which still shakes me to my core. If you’ve ever heard the name ‘Roosterteeth’, you’ll likely also recall the tragic event some time prior where one of their employees, Monty Oum, died during a routine surgery. Yes, just like that. Reasonably health guy, living a great life, with friends and family and loved ones, having created the immensely popular ‘RWBY’ series, sent to meet the reckoner for no grand reason. This made my dark place even darker.
I’ve always had overwhelming fears and anxiety. I’m still chilled by a news story of a smart young man, with excellent educational prospects, found dead by suicide, whose suicide note read to the effect of “I have thought carefully and weighed the pros and cons of life, and found that it’s not worth it”. I’m constantly worried by minor health ticks, the random possibility of developing cancer, or the chance of finally breaking a bone or being stung by a bee. Because while these things are all survivable, to some extent, I’m afraid that when it finally happens to me, I won’t make it. And what happened to Monty Oum sent my anxiety into overdrive.
So picture the maelstrom in my mind, as it grows in shape and size, when I finally develop my first big health problem in years. An ingrown toenail; an insult so small, yet enough to send a 24 year old man crying in fear. This is it, I thought. I’m done, it’s over. Best case scenario is that it goes away on its own (obviously), worse cases scenario(s) is that I have to get surgery, it puts me out of work, or it doesn’t work and it forever affects my feet, or it works but the healing process is too long, or I have to chop my toe off, or I die. Yes, the flowchart was that long. And any hope I had of ignoring it was soon destroyed in this final act.
I ended up going to see my GP (General Practitioner), on a most melancholy day where I had some hope, but the anxiety of waiting for the appointment was enough to make me more sluggish than usual. But, I had some faith that a health expert might dazzle me with a bit of good news. No such heart-warming story there. Not only did they confirm, in certain terms, that it was an ingrown toenail, but they almost immediately recommended surgery. Oh dear. Like a condemned man, I asked if there was any means of redemption, and I was offered a half measure. A measure which I clung to like it was a savior, when it was nothing but snake oil.
Foot ointment. A substance which is supposed to catch the problem at the onset, not at the onslaught. Combined with my plethora of other ointments, I sought to fight the monster not with sword and shield, but with a water pistol. It was quite easy to delude myself during this time that I was doing the right thing, that I would simply outlast this pain with nothing but determination. The insult did not find this very amusing at all.
Perhaps you could call it an ultimatum, but it was when I was over the hump of re-organizing my room, buying a new PC, and consolidating my workplace challenges, that I was trying to sit down and relax for a cozy Sunday afternoon when the insult entered its final stage of the contest. Simply moving my foot the wrong way was enough to aggravate the toe, and the pain was at a peak, above and beyond heights which I couldn’t have dreamt of. To pretend like everything was ok at that point would be less than rational, less than emotional; it would have made me a complete fool.
Now comes the risk. It was at this point that I had to consult a specialist; a ‘podiatrist’ as they are known, for their expertise in dealing with foot-related issues. They were local sort; I found them through search engines, and they seemed to have favourable reviews. This was the ultimate stage of my contest with the insult, and we were about to see who would have the last laugh.
On that fateful day, the anxiety was at critical mass. Waiting to walk myself over there was like willingly handing myself to the executioner. At least, that’s what my destructive mindset was telling me. I had not reconciled the possibility that I would need surgery, and I hoped to the pit of my being that this was the last resort. I marched my way there and the game was set to signal the closing moments.
Upon meeting the specialists, they once again confirmed that my affliction was, indeed, an ingrown toenail. However, using handy tools they were able to fish out the source of the insult; a tiny triangular nail spike that had dug its way into my skin. And no needle in sight was needed to get this done. Meeting the insult face to face, a man and a miniscule problem with the gravity of a black hole. After being given excellent advice, and a comfortable wound dressing, I was sent on my way with the assurance that it should get better with time. Assuming of course that it’s not as bad as we think it might be. Oh, and I should mention that when they dug it out it did hurt. But nothing comparable to the 2 month period I had the problem. Yes, this was over the span of 2 months. When it really should have lasted 2 weeks.
A week passed, and I had nearly forgot why I referred to it as an insult. Just like the offensive joke that it was, the pain was back, like nothing had changed and I had simply given it a light tackle. The source of the problem was gone, but it seemed that its onslaught was too strong to simply wait out. It was then when I had to provide it with the last line of defence, which even it could surely not contend with: antibiotics.
The next week felt like being processed like meat; I was lethargic, my body felt strange, and the insult had strangely ran out of bad jokes to make. We were both at a stalemate, with neither party aware of the outcome. But, once I had completed the cycle of the antibiotic treatment, the insult finally acknowledged something which it was so adamant in refusing to do so. Bad jokes can only last so long.
Calling it a miracle wouldn’t be fair, but the feeling of no longer having this crippling pain that would not go away, well that was something divine. It happened in gradual stages, but the obscene and offensive sharp jabs of discomfort dissipated. The barrage of solutions finally resulted in my ingrown toenail giving ground, and after the joint risks of minor surgery (thankfully with no needle) and general antibiotics, the battle was over and the contest was won.
I had made this much harder for myself that it needed to be. I had let this small problem snowball into an inescapable health trap that threatened to ruin my wellbeing, right after I had thought I was on the straight and narrow. My co-workers and friends had always stressed that ‘health comes first’, and I was the first to ignore this warning when the event finally presented itself. If this is a lesson at all to be taught, it’s that you should always take the right steps to deal with health problems; whether that’s by following proven health remedies, or by immediately seeking professional, trusted, medical attention. It could quite literally save your life, and your mental peace of mind.
I don’t have any delusions that this is the end of my health struggles, and I don’t truly know how I will deal with the next one. The health insult was a trying time for me, and one which I am very grateful to not deal with anymore. Every day, I now look at my toe and see the incredible recovery its made, finding it hard to believe that not long ago it was the source of all my pain and frustration. I narrowly avoided surgery, I skirted just close enough to the edge to see the bottom, and for that I am ashamed. Above all else, I am just glad that despite wanting to do so many times, I never truly gave in, and I never completely gave up. A battle with health is a difficult one, but it’s one that I’m happy to know I fought, and I won.
Patrick Toworfe is a freelance writer and video content producer. He spends most of his time gaming and watching/editing video content.
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