THIS POST CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES. PLEASE DO NOT CONTINUE READING IF YOU’RE SQUEAMISH
If you’d rather read about a more successful ingrown toenail trimming story, read my previous from almost three years ago. That was my second surgery, the one you’re reading here was my fourth.
After three visits to two doctors to try and save both my big toenails by trimming the edges, my Portland podiatrist recommended the nuclear option: complete removal of both toenails, along with acid-burning the cuticle to prevent them from growing back.
After three shots in each toe, refilling the needle and three MORE shots in each toe, the extraction began, as shown in the video below.
Yeah…gross, but I didn’t feel a damn thing. Next the doc dipped a big toothpick in some sort of acid and shoved it into the cuticle, from left to right. I didn’t take pictures because, well, it’s a big stick inside my toe and I couldn’t see anything. The imagined pain was worse than anything else.
Next, the doc wrapped up my toe with instructions not to unwrap it for about 24 hours, and then after that, soak it in Epsom salt and/or the shower twice a day. I gingerly slid my shoes back on, turned down the doctor’s painkiller offer, and sorta limped home (this was stupid and me moving so much would come back to haunt me).
The next day, which I refer to as day one, I soaked my feet and took the following pictures.
You’ll notice my left toe seems a bit more torn apart than the right. Remember that, as this will matter later.
I was expecting a ton of pain by this point. I could barely walk, but I was determined to keep moving around, so I waddled on the outsides of my feet often.
Day 2 was more of the same. Still not much pain, but my toes were very, very tender.
Apologies for the weird angles, I was trying to balance while holding my leg up on the sink, which is tough with one bad foot, let alone two. Still no problems.
Day 3 was a different story, as my left toe started to feel way more tender than the right. It was more painful when soaking, hurt to flex it, and was a bit stiff. I made an appointment with my podiatrist and asked for pain pills to get me through the weekend. Here’s Day 3, in the morning:
And my right toe:
It was especially odd to see the gouges on each side of my toe, where my nails had grown down instead of out. Seeing as how my toes have hurt much of my life, this makes complete sense, but I never had any idea how bad it really was.
Day 3 hurt more. It was a Saturday, so I did my best not to move while my wife waited on me, but the aching wouldn’t go away. I kept to my soaking and bandaging routine, careful not to move much.
Day 4, the Sunday of the NFC Championship game between the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, had my toe aching even more, but downing twice my pain pill dose helped. Sadly, that left me with one pain pill to use that evening during the game. Here’s the morning of Day 4:
Compared to my right toe below, my left toe above looked different. There was something covering the red skin, which I assumed was new skin or the beginning of a scab.
My right toe also looked much “juicier”, instead of swollen.
That night, I made a huge mistake. Because I think I’m tough and that pain won’t bother me, I downed my last pain pill and walked/dragged my left leg two blocks from our parking spot to my buddy’s house to watch that football game. Every single step hurt, as I couldn’t put much weight on my left foot. I declined my wife’s offer to be dropped off closer to the house because I’m stupid. Anyway, I spent the game in agony, as every time I clenched or celebrated, my left toe hurt again.
That night was awful. I tried cider, liquor, wine, Tylenol, and nothing worked. Every movement in bed hurt my toe, as the pain had started to radiate into my foot and ankle. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t move, and couldn’t distract myself. When I woke up on Day 5, my toes looked like this:
Actually, my right toe looked pretty good. Little bit of gross, skin-like stuff, but the wound cleaned easy. My left toe, however…
…now looked infected. Note the redness and pus, as well as the fact I couldn’t move without nearly crying out in pain. It was so bad I almost laid in bed and cried. Thankfully, my wife stayed home from work and drove me the two blocks to my doctor.
The walk to the car hurt. Being in the car hurt. Walking less than 100 feet to the podiatrist hurt. I was still worried that I was just being a pansy about the pain, as my doc said she had never 1) had toenails grow back like mine did over the previous year and 2) never had a patient’s toe(s) get infected. Something like 7% of toenails grow back and fewer still get infected, so I was more than slightly worried I was just a wuss.
Annnnnnnd infection confirmed. Doctor was surprised, apologized (totally wasn’t her fault), and wrote me a script for super-strong pain meds with antibiotics. She wrapped my toe back up and my wife drove to the pharmacy.
Upon arrival, I wised up and requested my wife drop me off near the front. I also took pity on myself and asked the greeter for access to one of the carts for the handicapped, as I couldn’t hop or limp the 200 feet to the pharmacy counter. While I could have just had my wife pick up the prescription, I worried we’d have trouble, as the pharmacy had phone my doctor the previous time to make sure I wasn’t an addict forging prescriptions.
Man, did I feel like an ass in that cart. Scooting along at maybe 2mph, I couldn’t help but imagine everyone was staring at me with contempt, as a healthy-looking, somewhat athletic, not-old dude puttered along. The real embarrassment came when I realized my cart had a back-up siren, which startled me so much at first that I bashed my left toe into the front wheel. After what seemed like forever but was only 15 minutes, we had snacks and drugs in hand and were on the way home.
The painkillers didn’t help much. I gobbled down two every 2-3 hours day and night, as the pain was so intense I couldn’t sleep, sit, move, or read without it hurting. Day 6 is next:
My right toe was looking pretty good. Healing nicely.
Buuuuuuuut my left toe was still infected. The doc said it would take 2-3 days for the antibiotics to work, but I was worried I’d run out of painkillers before then. You know that feeling when your foot falls DEEP asleep and then comes back with pins and needles? The pain felt like that, except the pins and needles felt like they were piercing my skin. It was not a happy time.
Day 7 seemingly had my left toe regressing.
While my right kept on healing.
Saw the doc again later on Day 7. She gave me more, stronger, pain meds, told me it was time to apply iodine at home, and wrapped me up. Oh good, now I get to touch my horribly painful toe more often! Here’s my left toe before, then the iodine packet, then my left toe after application. Also, my right toe’s skin was starting to get all loose on Day 8.
That gross infection look had started to come back.
My very own swab sticks. One-time use only.
Oddly, touching the wound itself didn’t hurt at all. My toe, joint, and foot ached, but the iodine was no big deal. Whew.
Go right toe! You’re my favorite.
I was still on painkillers every hour I was awake and double dosing at night to fall asleep, which sucked because they made me dizzy. (Pro-tip: cannabis counteracts this, though I chose not to pursue that option).
It had now been over a week and I started to wonder if I was going to walk normally again.
Day 9 wasn’t much better, though the terrible pain had subsided substantially. Thank you antibiotics!
Pinkish instead of reddish, which indicates progress. My right toe looked far worse than it felt, as the healing process had super kicked in. Note all the dead skin around where my nail used to be.
Crazy to think my nail was actually embedded in my skin. What kind of idiot puts up with that for 30+ years?
Day 10 brought more of the same and you can see, on my left toe, the patterns of the bandages.
The aforementioned left toe:
I assumed the new growth was a response to the infection (apologies for the out-of-focus pictures, I swear they looked good when I took and checked them). Day 11 showed more obvious improvement:
And now my right toe skin started to get really flabby, meaning it was almost time to leave the bandages off at night to let wound dry out:
Side note: I once had a callus on the outside of my right big toe (you can sorta see it above) so deep that I caught it on a concrete block anchoring a buoy while playing in the Columbia River at low tide (caused by the dam). Sliced the callus clean off, didn’t bother my toe a bit. There’s no reason you need to know this.
12 days later, I was still getting some seepage, right where my cuticle used to be:
Little rivulets of blood, nothing to worry about. I though about squeezing it, but I was worried about hurting it again.
But hey, not much pain. Day 13 brought lots of dead, flabby skin on both toes:
All the white or yellowish skin was loose, like a blister from running shoes. Trimming it was an option, but meh.
My bandage needs had really leveled off at this point. Minimal seepage and pain allowed me to get away with simple non-stick pads (buy the big ones and cut them) with heavier duty bandages during the day.
I neglected to take pictures on Day 14. There is no reasoning behind this.
Day 15 brought more ugly, dead skin in more danger of falling off. I also started only bandaging my left toe at night. My right dried out pretty well.
All the white-ish skin you see is loose and dead.
All the reddish-pink is gone! Screw you, infection. You sucked.
Day 16, more dead skin and the healing of where my toenail dug down into my toes.
Bottom right of my left toe, above, is where you can see that divot.
Similar to my right toe. Geez, no wonder my toes hurt all the time, even if they weren’t infected.
I stopped taking pictures at this point, as I was no longer worried about infection and honestly, there wasn’t much to show that didn’t look like a normal wound. At just over two months, my toes looked like this:
Still a slight divot on the bottom right and left here, as some sort of nail/skin hybrid grew back. It’s not deep and doesn’t hurt, so I dismissed it as just a troublesome spot.
My previously infected left toe looked better:
Pretty clean heal there!
I hadn’t worn any bandages for weeks, but was still protective of my toes. I was running about two miles a day and had zero problems even playing softball and sprinting full out. But around that time I discovered what it felt like to stub your toenail-less toe on a table…
…and it didn’t hurt much. Seriously. Sure, I felt it and was bothered, but that horrible, fall-on-the-ground and then limp around pain didn’t kick in. Why not? I assume because it’s really the toenail being pushed into our tender cuticles that hurts, not the actual toe stubbing.
My toes were still sorta sensitive to being stepped on, but no more than they were with nails. Touching it did feel weird, as did pushing the nail bed area into the ground while doing ballet-style toe stretches. But it was more of a sensitivity than a pain and didn’t affect me at all.
At the time of this posting, it’s been nearly eleven months since I had this surgery, infection, and recovery. IN that time, I’ve run almost 900 miles, completed three quarters of a marathon, and jumped/ran/played tennis/sprinted/kicked a garbage can and just about everything else I could physically.
Happy to report things are only getting better. Here’s what my toes look like today:
My right toe didn’t heal totally clean, but I don’t care because I never have to worry about it anymore. No pain, no digging, no sensitivity.
My left one healed better and like my other, is fantastic now.
While I’ll never win a pretty toes competition and my family still thinks they look a little weird, I’m definitely happy with my decision and am glad I no longer have to make trimming my ingrown toenails a yearly doctor’s visit.
If you’re on the fence about this, the only reason I can think of not to do it is if you’re super worried about how your toes will look. I’m just as active as I was before, though this time I have no pain afterwards, and it’s a relief never to have to worry about when my nail will grow in wrong again.
Here are the products I used and how I used them:
Amerigel Wound Dressing Tube, 1 Ounce
Apply directly to wound 2x daily until seepage stops, then mornings only. I was told not to use Neosporin until the wound was small enough for a bandaid, which was about two weeks. The only time I used Neosporin right away, I developed an infection, though there were contributing factors.
Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, 20 Ounce
Mix with warm water and Epsom salt in bowl, soak toe at least 1x daily before bed until wound closes (2-5 weeks), ideally 2x daily until seepage stops (5-10 days).
Dr. Teal’s Salt, Detox, 3 Pound
Mix with warm water and baby shampoo in bowl, soak at least 1x daily before bed, for 2-5 weeks. I’ve found that soaking in the morning is more pain than its worth, and the evening soak really helps with pain overnight.
Curad Non-Stick Pads, 2 Inches X 3 Inches, 20 Count
Cut these diagonally and use to wrap wound. Bandaids work okay, but tend to be overwhelmed easier by ointment, seepage, and general sweatiness. You can get the regular ones to save a few bucks, but be prepared to rip your scabs off if you do.
Ever Ready Self Adhesive Non Woven Cohesive Bandage 2″x5 Yards Pack of 12 FDA Approved
Don’t bother with the bigger wraps, paper options, or reusable stuff. It’s a pain in the ass to have to worry about. These self-adhering bandages, when paired with non-stick pads, make for a far better protected area. If you need to use the whole pad to cover the tip of your toe, this tape can easily be extended to wrap that area, too.
J.CROW’S® Lugol’s Solution of Iodine 2% 2oz
After seepage stops (5-10 days), apply once daily either directly or as drops in soaking bowl, in the mornings. Can be used at night to dry out seepage, but I like this in the mornings and Epsom salt at night.
If you have any questions, I’m happy to try and answer them below.
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