Sunday, November 04, 2012

One squashed toe


The kitchen was filled with smoke this morning and I worried someone had left a saucepan under the flame too long or forgotten to turn it off. 

No flames, no saucepan and it was clear my husband had overcooked his bacon for breakfast.  He had made an early start and was gone leaving behind the trace of his presence in the congested kitchen air.  It is not an unpleasant smell, only there’s too much of it. 

My husband has taken to making his own bacon.  He coats great slabs of belly pork in various spices, sea salt and cracked pepper and then leaves them to cure in the fridge for days.  After this he smokes the pork in the outside barbeque for hours on a low heat, so low that the pork does not cook but instead becomes infused with the smoke from wood shavings he has earlier soaked in water and placed alongside the pork in the oven.  Then the air fills with the rich offerings of slowly smoked bacon.  Again it is not unpleasant and this time it does not matter how much of it there is because the aroma washes away on the breeze. 

I trust it does not add to the world’s pollution, but who knows.  Anything that goes out into the atmosphere must surely contribute to climate change.  The human impediment.  

I feel distinctly human at the moment.  On Tuesday when I reached up to take down a box of dress up clothes from the top cupboard I inadvertently pulled out the shelf with the box.  The box I held firmly in my arms but the shelf came crashing down onto my toe, my left toe – the toe on the same foot I broke two years ago – and crushed it.  Not to the point where it needs no amputation but toes are sensitive.  This one of mine still aches, five days later, though it’s not so bad now. 

I had been looking for a belt that might fit my grandson and the dress up box filled with cast-offs from my daughters’ years at school in plays and performances and the like seemed the obvious place to go. 

In other boxes we found plastic swords, which my grandson brandished with delight. He is into pirates and knights, interspersed with superheroes.  My youngest daughter who is writing an anthropology essay on the difference between sex and gender uses his behaviour as a marker, to point out that although this boy’s parents had worked hard in his earliest years to be as gender neutral as possible, wrapping him in pink blankets if the mood took them and refusing all stereotypes, he still loves cars and trucks and trains.  He has very little interest in the stereotypical girl-type things, dolls and the likes. 

Earlier I had dragged out a box of old Barbies, the toys my daughters once loved, and he took one look at them, remarked on the fact that we had two identical Ken dolls and that all the Barbies also looked identical except for the colour of their hair, and then cast them back into the box. 

I wonder whether my response to my toe was gendered.  By which I mean, would a man or boy, or someone not of my gender react to the accident as I did.  I tried not to get hysterical but I remember calling to my daughter to get me a Panadol of the pain.  I felt I had to do something. 

She raced first to the freezer for ice which she piled on top of a tea towel to cover the wound.   She took over the care of her nephews and I sat on the couch puzzling over our next move.

My daughter had intended to work on her essay but because I had promised to take the boys to the swimming pool, and my older grandson, despite my toe, still pleaded to go, she changed her plans and came with us so that she could get into the pool with the boys while I sat at the edge and nursed my toe, clear of the water. 

At this stage I could not bear to cover my toe and although it gradually came to look like a ‘manky mess’, as my daughter described it, I could not bear to wash it or bandage it until a few hours later. I needed by then to cover it before I started work.  I could not affront people with the sight of it. 



Only my husband can bear to see what lies beneath the bandage.  It even makes me squirm, my toe, like this disowned part of me that has become a purple mess cringe-worthy in the extreme.

Why do I want to show people, those closest to me?  Is it to get some sort of sympathy or to have someone else recognise how terrible it must feel? 

I took it to the doctor the day after the accident and he took a paper clip, spread it apart and heated one end under a flame.  He used an old cigarette lighter for the purpose. 
            ‘I haven’t seen one of those in a long time,’ I said to the doctor.  ‘They’re not as effective as they used to be,’ he said.  ‘Safety regulations mean you can never get a hot enough flame’.  For his purposes that is, namely to sterilize the tip of the paper clip so that he might relieve the tension and swelling in my toe by drilling a hole in the nail. 

Even as I write this it sounds ghastly, but as the doctor said, ‘It sounds barbaric yet it’s not as bad as it seems and it won’t hurt, just a prick.’  I didn’t even feel the prick, but I smelt the burnt nail after the event, an acrid incinerator smell, nothing like my husband’s bacon, and I noticed the thumping pain subside almost immediately. 

My toe is on the mend now but it will take several weeks the doctor said before it recovers fully and I may well lose the nail. 

Is this to much information? as Jim might say.  Too much of the blood and gore variety that people hate to read about because they identify with the narrator.  I don’t know.  I only know that after the event I wondered that I could have endured it at all.

And it could have been worse.  Instead it becomes proof of my nine lives.  Like a cat, I tell myself, I have enjoyed nine lives and still have a few more to go before I run out of chances. 


27 comments:

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Oh my I could almost feel the pain and smell the various scents you describe so carefully. . I like the part about the way the dolls appeared to you grandson. they all look alike. The reason it got my attention is that I recently heard of a person who hired plastic surgeons to make her a Barbie look alike! Insane!!!
Hope you will soon be better.

Christine said...

A Manky mess...Yuck!!! Still, it looks like your toe and you will recover. I will remember the doctor's solution.

juliet said...

Oh poor you! But how marvellous that your doctor could use such an old fashioned remedy to bring relief. I enjoy your words about the bacon smell - not unpleasant, just too much of it. As I get older I keep getting reminders to do things carefully, especially after I tumbled and broke my wrist last year. I wish you a good recovery. (Arnica is good for shock and bruising)

Rubye Jack said...

I have read about the paperclip/lighter cure before. It is supposed to work quite well actually.

Maybe when we are in pain we feel so alone due to our body's betrayal that we immediately need the comfort of those who love us and so we "share" our pain. I hope your toe quickly gets better and better Elizabeth.

Now, as far as the smell of bacon goes, no comment. :;

juliet said...

P.S. Am catching up after a writing deadline and computer breakdown; so nice to be reading yours and other people's blogs again!

Mary LA said...

I like doctors like that but the smell of burning nail - my toes curling in sympathy.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry for your poor toe, Elisabeth. It is going to be such a nuisance until it heals. Oddly, we have just spent the day with our (Dutch) friends and they were retelling the story of their daughter who had exactly the same treatment to her fingernail following a car door incident (I'll spare Jim the details).
Is it just me, or do the seemingly simplest injuries take on a whole new dimension with age?
I am starting to understand the fear of falling, which I never used to give a thought to.
BTW my most detested smell is the smell of burnt toast first thing in the morning. I don't know why but it just puts me in such a bad mood.
Karen C

River said...

Ouch! And thank you for not showing the actual injury as I'm just sitting down to dinner. Hope it is better soon.

Jim Murdoch said...

My wife would find this article far more interesting than I do. I'm sorry you've injured yourself—I'm far from uncaring—but I honestly didn't need the gory details. When my wife had an operation about ten years ago she asked me when she came home if I wanted to see where they'd cut into her and I said I did not. Beforehand she'd gone online and watched actual operations. I couldn't do that. Just wake me up when you're finished. Obviously when she had her nose done I couldn't avoid seeing the mess—it's not like I made her wear a paper bag over her head or anything (I ever photographed it for her)—but I had no need to see and nor do I have a need to show. Sherril Jaffe wrote a short story once called 'Scars Make the Body More Interesting' and Leonard Cohen wrote (in The Favourite Game): "Children show scars like medals. Lovers use them as secrets to reveal. A scar is what happens when the word is made flesh. It is easy to display a wound, the proud scars of combat. It is hard to show a pimple." My wife will now have scars following her surgery but I've never gone looking for them nor has she insisted I bear witness to them. Now when she had the boil on her back I attended to it. I'm not squeamish in that way—you do what needs to be done for the ones you love—but mostly she looks after herself.

I've mentioned before that I don't like to draw attention to myself when I go out; I'm easily embarrassed. The same goes for my crumbling body. I hate fact that I suffer (too strong a word?) from dry skin for example and I'm as bad as a teenager if I get a pimple before I have to go and meet someone. I felt a pressure on my head last night on the edge of the hairline and so there I was in the bathroom holding up a shaving mirror trying to see what the protuberance looked like. The worst thing, of course, is a spot on my back that I can't reach and then I have to ask Carrie to deal with it which, of course, she does.

When I was younger I was more revolted by the human body's secretions, excretions and other bodily fluids that I am now but that doesn't mean I'm that comfortable with them; resigned is probably the closest word. One of the worst experiences for me as a kid was when I had a patch of impetigo on my cheek; I would have been about thirteen at the time. It's highly contagious and I shouldn't have gone to school but as I was otherwise healthy I got sent and, thankfully, I never transmitted it to anyone else. But I felt like a monster.

My wife has a habit of sharing too much information and especially at bedtime. The last thing I want to be thinking about before I fall off to sleep is something horrible or disgusting. I'm a delicate wee soul that way.

Laoch of Chicago said...

Recently, when I hurt one of my toes, it occurred to me how remarkable it is that an entire system can all because of the failure of one small part.

On another note, I have homemade bacon envy now!

Kirk said...

Right before I came here I was at a comic book blog. On it was a comic book story from the late 1940s, a humorous comic book story, about a dumb, hillbilly girl who's cajoled into giving blood to a dying king until she's on the brink of death herself. She actually turned white as the blood drained from her body. Meanwhile, the king, now with the personality of a hillbilly, jumps out of bed hooting and hollering, and falls down and breaks his neck, dying instantly. The hillbilly girl is brought back to live via a blood transfusion from her father, but it's a halfway transfusion, so they're both walking around shaking after it's done with. Had this been a horror comic from the same era, I probably wouldn't have been shocked, but this was supposed to be funny (and in fact was) and you seldom see such black humor in anything from the 1940s. Why am I telling you all of this? Because you wanted to know if you were giving too much information. After reading that, no, you weren't, at least not to me, even though you're real and not a comic drawing.

When I was a kid, I didn't particularly care for Barbie dolls OR toy cars and trains. I must have been really gender neutral.

Hope your toe gets better.

Ms Sparrow said...

I hope when the nail comes off it does so cleanly and easily. Those things seem to take forever!

Anthony Duce said...

Sorry for the pain. I did enjoy the writing... and the smells..

Kath Lockett said...

Ooooh hurty hurty hurties!

I broke a couple of toes a few years back in the bath - screeched in pain and before moving to Switzerland the doctor had to drill a hole in a finger nail to relieve the swelling and squeeze some pus out.

I feel your pain, I really do!

Elisabeth said...

I agree, Heidi, there's nothing appealing about being a Barbie look-a-like unless you want to be a clone. To me individuality packs more punch, even if it can at times be more painful.

Thanks, Heidi.

Elisabeth said...

My toe's already recovering, after only one week, though it still needs to be covered with a bandage, not for its own sake but because it's still hideous to behold. Thanks, Christine.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for the tip on arnica, Juliet. It must have been terrible to break your wrist, worse than a squashed toe I suspect, at least far more disabling.

Elisabeth said...

I take it you don't like bacon, Rubye Jack. But like me you share a need for empathy from others towards your suffering, even the tiny pain like a squashed toe. Thanks Rubye Jack.

Elisabeth said...

Yes, Mary La, the smell of a toe nail burning is not one of the most edifying of smells. Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

I enjoy the smell of burnt toast in the mornings, Karen, maybe not so much burnt as well done, but then again I like most things - foods that is - well done. I agree as we age our injuries begin to seem monumental. A function of our aging, no doubt. It takes longer to heal. Have you noticed that a small cut which might once have cleared up in a few days seems to hang about longer?

Thanks for your commiserations, Karen.

Elisabeth said...

I'm still not exposing the wound to the public gaze, River, though it's beginning to look a lot better. Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

I hope I didn't offend your delicate sensibilities too much, Jim. I tried hard to constrain the detail here. I could have written far more detail. And funnily enough reading your post here bits of it make me squirm. I'm okay with a bit of blood and gore but as the Leonard Cohen lyrics suggest I find it harder to read about or write about the likes of pimples and boils. Anything filled with pus puts me off. Even the word 'pus'. There now I've said it.

It may also be that women faced with the biological imperatives pf birth, at least more so than men, of toileting and feeding babies cope better with the human body in some ways, but I wouldn't want to generalise.

Please note I covered the toe in the picture and will continue to do so till it's less gruesome to behold.
Thanks, Jim.

Elisabeth said...

My husband's homemade bacon is pretty fantastic, Laoch. You've good reason therefore to feel envious. And yes i agree, one small fault in the system when it comes to fingers and toes can shut everything else down, if only temporarily.

Thanks, Laoch.

Elisabeth said...

Gender neutrality, Kirk, is a fascinating notion. I wonder whether it's actually possible, though we needn't be too polarized either.

Thanks for the story, too. it's funny how tragedy, sadness and humour can go so well together.

Thanks, Kirk.

Elisabeth said...

I know I'm in for a long wait before my nail heals, Ms Sparrow, including the very real possibility of losing it altogether. I hope it comes off cleanly and is replaced by a decent alternative, but I can live with it if it's not.

Thanks, Ms Sparrow.

Elisabeth said...

Fingers and toes, Kath, they don't like drilling or other assaults. I understand we have many nerve fibres leading to our fingers and toes, hence the excruciating pain when something goes wrong in them.

Thanks, Kath.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for your commiserations, Anthony.