Me versus the Splinter



Four days after my thyroid surgery, I did something stupid.

While I consider myself an overall lucky person, I tend to be a magnet for stupid situations. While I love a good medical drama as much as an other ER-loving fan, this particular incident registered as pretty benevolent on the medical radar. I seemed to have gotten myself a splinter under my left big toe.

This was not just a regular thin, easily removable garden-variety splinter. No, no – this was no ordinary sliver of wood. This was an object that would engage me in a struggling battle me for 3 ½ hours on this Tuesday morning.

I googled how to get bad splinters out. A suggestion of some black salve called Ichtbhammol promised to suck the splinter out over night. Seemed possible for something that sounded so German and authoritative. “I will suck the splinter out of your toe,” I imagine an Arnold Schwarzenegger-live voice promising. Good back up plan, I thought. (Note to self – get black German scary extraction salve.)

My father didn’t think I had 24 hours to wait. “You can’t get an infection NOW!” he screamed, stressing the NOW, very Doctor Primetime Drama. Referring to the proximity of time to my surgery – I certainly wasn’t asking for an infection, but even with the HUGE splinter, really?

My father suggested the emergency room. That’s right. You would think I would have just gotten a heart transplant and couldn’t run the risk of organ rejection.

I thought podiatrist, maybe – but ER? (Incidentally, my father loves to suggest the emergency room for ailments of all sorts when he doesn’t know where else to direct you. It’s part of his trifecta of prescriptions. Either eating lemon, putting alcohol on it, or if all else fails, the emergency room. Sore throat? Eat lemon. Pimple, cold sore, an unexplainable rash covering half your body? Rub some alcohol on it. Big splinter in toe? Emergency room.)

My friend, Michelle, who professing her wilderness first aid training, offered to take a taxi to my apartment during lunch to extricate the sucker. “Let me see what I can do,” I told her and began the splinter removal surgery.

First order of business. Gather my implements.

  • Large pot for soaking foot (good thing we made lasagna last night so the big noodle pot was already soaking in the sink)
  • Two sizes of sewing needles
  • Good tweezers
  • A gallon of rubbing alcohol
  • The suture removal kit we stole from the hospital

I figured the boiling water would sterilize the pot (I worried later, though, when, after I dumped out the water, little bits of pasta floated out). The stolen kit was already sterilized. But I did need to sterilize the tweezers and the needles. So I set them under the fire of a match (don’t they do that in war movies?) I didn’t know for how long but figured when the needles starting turning different colors – they were ready. Just in case – I drenched them in alcohol and heard the sizzle. Now I was bonus satisfied.

With my sterilized tools laid out before me, daytime TV glaring behind me, and boiling water at my feet, I begin the first soak. The first soak was the longest soak – almost 45 minutes. I then went on to make the original “pick-incision” via needle. First the big needle and then, when it hurt too much, the smaller one. I just couldn’t get close enough to the huge thing wedged in my toe. Meanwhile, my foot (broken just last year and aching in the rainy weather) was starting to spasm from holding it in a foot calisthenics position for half an hour.

So I go back to soaking. And more picking.

This time it seemed I had picked off enough millimeters of skin to warrant a cutting off of the dead skin. I needed to clear the area to work. So I get the nail clippers and repeat the sterilization process. I clip away the clipped away toe bits. Bye-bye toe skin.

My poor body has endured quite a lot this week – first half the thyroid and now toe bits into the boiling foot water in the pasta pot.

I soak some more and then I pick some more and eventually the length of the little shit reveals itself and it seems I could really grab a hold of him. So I grab my familiar tweezers. My Russian hairiness has ensured that I have developed a mastery of the tweezer. A tweezer artist, if you will. I decided to treat the splinter like an unwieldy, short, thick hair. I’ll play this on my court!

So I secure the subject – slowly and steadily, maintaining a fixed and consistent withdrawing pressure and I feel it slowly slide out of the meat of my toe. SUCCESS!

The blood drips down my foot and I feel so euphoric from my splinter extraction! I birthed the splinter all my own; via cesarean section nonetheless. I call everyone with my announcement “It’s a wood! About ½ an inch big. Quite a stubborn fellow. Mom is doing great!”

Quite a looker I am, my neck wrapped, my toe bandaged, limping under a bright red scarf, happy as can be.

I’ll note that everything in the hospital suture kit (bad plastic tweezers, dull scissors, small gauze) was useless to the splinter removal procedure, reinforcing the moral of the story: don’t take anything because eventually the bad karma will come back to splinter you in the toe.

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