Choppy Choppy

Posted on Thursday 29th January 2009 at 00:00
This is a post that I started writing over a week ago and I've only just found the time to finish it. Apologies for the delay!

As I sit on this rail replacement coach, from which I write to you on my iPod, furiously trying to turn up my music to drown out some in-coach noise pollution that I take to be Radio 1, I'm driven to wonder why, in an age where most of the travelling public have invested in portable music players it is considered necessary to deafen people with a coach radio on maximum volume? As if pubic transport isn't unpleasant enough!

You may have noticed that I've been suspiciously quiet so far this year. No, I've not abandoned you, dear reader, I've just been horrifically busy with this and that.

For starters, following the New Year party I attended with L and hosted by some of her friends, I've been added to the list of regular invitees to all manner of social events, which has been lovely. Secondly I've been virutally overrun with coursework. I'm now a quarter of the way through a series of pieces that will keep me occupied until the end of February, seemingly with not much of a break. It is so bad in fact that I've elected to write this post while travelling, as it's about the only time I can justify a leisure activity.

The other big time consumer though, and the one that I wish to talk about tonight is the surgery I had on my ingrown toenail.

WARNING: The following post describes in some detail a surgical operation and may make unpleasant reading for some people. If you are a minor or of a queasy disposition, please stop reading now.

Ah that's better, I'm now sat on a warm comfortable train, without anyone playing annoyingly loud music at me.

So first I'll start with L and my adventure to the clinic and then talk about life post-op til you all drift off to sleep. L, btw has been and absolute star the whole time and I'd have really struggled to get through the first few days without her.

Anyway, it's the first Wednesday of 2009 and L and I have just got off the bus in Downend, slightly later than planned as we discovered on trying to flag down an earlier bus that we were stood at the wrong (unmarked) stop for that particular bus and the one we wanted was back round the corner. We set off walking to the clinic, which is hidden away on a housing estate."

Are you sure you know the way?" says L. I assure her that I do and that we just have to turn left off the highstreet and then left again and we'll be there. Five minutes later we arrive back at the high street.

A little investigation reveals that it should have been a left, a right and then a left. Eventually we arrive however, and I'm quickly shown in.

The procedure is to be carried out by a chiropodist with the aid of two student chiropodists who, according to their uniforms, come from the same uni as L, which I tell them as a means of breaking the ice.

They seem mildly impressed, but not as impressed as when I show them my toe, which has been growing steadily worse for 6 months.

"Wow, I don't think I've ever seen one this bad!" says one.

"Me neither, this is the sort of thing you see photographs of in text books!" agrees his companion.

"Can we take a photo?" they chime together, brandishing a camera phone.

The procedure starts with a spray can. What was in the can I can't say. All I know is that when they spray it on my foot it feels like someone has dropped it into a particularly chilly part of the Arctic. Apparently this is to numb my foot so the injection of local anaesthetic doesn't hurt, they explain. Next comes the injection, which really doesn't hurt all that much.

I lie on the bed and watch them preparing their equipment. It requires a lot of preparation, or so it seems to me, especially for a little thing like a toe. Every now and again the chiropodist comes over to me and pokes my toe to test for numbness. Eventually they decide it is ready and begin covering the area in that orangey brown liquid they always smear on peoples throats before cutting into them on House. House, btw is the single source of my (very limited) medical knowledge.

What follows is so far beyond surreal it could easily be a dream. Every time that that toe has been stubbed, knocked, stepped on or pushed into a tight shoe in the last 6 months it has been extremely painful. Now I'm lying here looking at my foot and seeing the medical students poking it roughly with a scalpel, cutting away the damaged flesh that covers the edge of the nail. I feel the pressure of their movements, but in terms of pain, it might as well have been someone else's foot. I've been under local anaesthetic before, but last time the surgery was on my face (in A&E) and I was too upset to really appreciate what was happening.

At first the synopsis is good. It looks like they can save the nail and just remove the side bits, where they dig into my foot. They proceed with my happy consent and remove the first side. When they begin working on the other side however, I can see from their faces that they aren't happy.

"I'm sorry" says the chiropodist, "the flesh under the nail is badly damaged and has loosened the nail too much. I think we're going to have to take it off completely."

The first time this prospect was put to me during an examination a few months earlier, I remember being quite upset. By now though I've had time to think about it and my attachment to the nail that has left me limping for half a year seems to have dried up. I instruct them to proceed.

I've always been very much in favour of students learning on the job, as I don't feel that textbooks are much substitute for personal experience, and I must say I feel very reassured as each of the students in turn gets to have a go with the scalpel on my foot. I'm tempted to have a go myself, as I don't feel I'm really pulling my weight in this surgery, but feet can be difficult to reach when you have a bit of a belly as I do.

They finish after a time and begin to dress the foot. The dressing, once complete is about the size of a satsuma. I'm silently grateful that I remembered to bring flip-flops, as the idea of putting a shoe on over it is laughable.

I thank the team for a superb job and hobble out to reception where L has been sitting waiting patiently for me.

"Shall I call a taxi?" she asks.

"No that's ok" I reply. "I feel fine, let's save ourselves a few quid and take the bus. We could even stop at the pub on the way back and get some lunch. I really fancy a burger!"

Of course, that's the problem with anaesthetic. You have a massive dressing on what remains of your toe but you feel like you can run a marathon. By the time we get to the bus stop, the blood has soaked through the dressing and onto the flip-flop and I'm beginning to feel the first pangs of what promises to be quite a bit of pain.

The rest of the day is spent with my foot up on a cushion. Poor L finds herself running round like my own personal Florence Nightingale, and I'm extremely grateful for her efforts. She'd make a good nurse, and I tell her this. Repeatedly. She even furnishes me with ample pain killers, after a quick search of my flat reveals that I have none.

The next day it is time to have the dressing changed for a smaller one; a task which is performed by a slightly scary Scottish lady, who tells me in no uncertain terms that I was an idiot for taking the bus and that I've probably made the whole thing worse. She also implies that I don't know how to take care of myself, which seems a little harsh. When she points to the swollen state of my toe as a sign of the abuse that I put it through the day before, I don't even bother pointing out that the toe is less swollen than it was the day before and that 6 months of walking around on an ingrown toe nail is far worse than a short walk post op.

Since then things have been pretty good. I still have a dressing on the toe, which I change myself after bathing it each morning in warm salt water, and I have to wear a plastic bag on it in the shower to keep it dry, but otherwise life is more or less back to normal. Incidentally, if anyone else is in the same position, might I recommend disposable freezer bags for keeping injuries dry in the shower? They lack the holes found in carrier bags and all you need is an elastic band to hold them in place and they work a treat.

Now I just have to hope and pray that everything is fixed by the time I visit Brussels with L in March, as I can think of few things less fun than walking miles and miles round a city I'm visiting without being able to walk as comfortably as I'd like.

I hope this hasn't been too yucky a post for you to read. I'm sure many bloggers would file this under Too Much Info, but I like to write about my life, and this surgery has been the defining characteristic of 2009 for me, so there.

I can make my next post a little less stomach churning if you'd like?

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