Toe Nailed: The Lighter Side of Emergency Farm Surgery

We had lived on the farm for only a few weeks when I got my first “farm injury”. I was mowing a choppy area of the lawn by the tractor shed when I hit a rock or something. The mower made a coughing grunt of displeasure at my carelessness and, to punctuate its point, it fired a projectile that hit me square on the big toe. Ouch. Fortunately I was wearing thick leather hiking boots so the rock, or whatever it was, couldn’t do too much damage. I was thankful I wasn’t wearing tennis shoes because even with the thick leather padding it was a surprisingly painful impact.

I continued mowing for another half hour or so before taking a break to have dinner. I came inside and took off my boots, anxious to see if there was a bruise, or maybe even some blood, on my still throbbing toe. I was starting to take off my sock when I noticed what appeared to be the head of a silver finishing nail sticking through the toe of my sock. Removal of the sock showed about a quarter inch of nail sticking out of the tip of my big toe. There was a small black dot near the base of my toenail which, to my dismay, I realized was the other end of the nail. I stared at it dumbly for a full minute trying to fathom what had happened, and what I was staring at. Apparently there had been a stray nail on the rock I hit and the mower blade had fired it cleanly through my boot and into my toe an inch deep. I took a deep breath and called out to the wife. “Tessa, we may have to go to the E.R.”.

She was putting the finishing touches on dinner and sauntered out to see my injury. Now Tessa grew up on a farm, but I was still shocked at how unimpressed she was with this giant (not really), jagged (not at all) piece of metal (yes) that was imbedded (definitely!) in my toe. “Have you had a tetanus shot in the past ten years?”
“Uh, I think so.”
“We can get it out then. I don’t think we need to pay a doctor for this. I’ll pull it out, but… uh… can we have dinner first?”
At first I was upset by her nonchalance, but then I found it calming. And, to be fair, she had been working on this dinner for, like, 2 hours.
“Well, if you really think you can do this…” Now that my endorphins had kicked in my toe wasn’t really hurting any more. And I was in no hurry for the extraction, which I knew would be far more painful than the insertion. “Let’s eat.”

During dinner, which was delicious, I kept my foot propped up on a stool next to the table. I said it was to keep it from throbbing, but honestly I just wanted everyone at the table to see how Goddam brave I was being. My little girls were sufficiently impressed and stared at my Franken-toe in fascination. Josie, who’s 10, spoke first. “How did you do that?

“Well, I’m not sure, but I think someone who doesn’t like me must have stabbed a voodoo doll of me in the toe, and then broke the pin off.” She looked at me in horror. “That voodoo can be pretty scary stuff. That’s why I’m glad I only have voodoo dolls of people I love, like you and your sister.” I smiled benevolently. “Now don’t forget to do the dishes.”
Tessa shook her head at me.
“Does it hurt, Daddy?” asked Chloe.
“Well, it should hurt. Not a lot of people could withstand the pain of searing metal piercing their tender flesh. But Daddy is tough.” Tessa was rolling her eyes at me. I went into recovery mode. “But what makes Daddy is so tough is these delicious home-cooked meals, and the love of the most beautiful girls in the world.”
Chloe, who was 5 at the time, reached for my toe. “Can I touch it?” I jerked my foot away involuntarily, panicked.
“No! If that nail goes in any deeper it could… it could go into my bloodstream and make my heart explode.”
Tom!”
I was in trouble now. I went limp in my chair and tried to look as deathly ill as possible. I struggled to speak. “Sorry, Honey. It must… have… been… the … shock… talking.”
Chloe looked at me. “And scene!” she said.

After dinner we started making preparations for my Civil War “surgery”. Rather than taking a slug of whiskey I opted for chugging a glass of Pinot Noir instead. I thought it was indicative of me being a “gentleman farmer.” Others in the house thought it was indicative of “effeminate city boy”. Potato, potahto. Tessa, after being forced to stare at my toe through dinner, was actually making serious preparations- gathering moist towels, bandages, iodine, and gauze. She wasn’t sure if my toe was going to explode when she pulled out the nail. I laid down on the bed, propped my foot up on a pillow and a towel, and put a pillow over my face “for courage”. Tessa yelled out to Josie “Could you bring me the tweezers on the bathroom sink?”
I sat up in bed and stared at her. “Tweezers? Tweezers!? What kind of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman are you? Tweezers can’t touch that thing. You’re gonna need my pliers, maybe even a crane.”
“A crane? Really?”
“Yes! And even … uh… jumper cables”, which made no sense, but I was trying to think of something manly. Plus I was getting a little drunk.
“Well, let’s just start with the pliers and maybe we can work our way up.”

I laid back down, put the pillow back over my head and tried to imagine some Zen, happy place. I had read about “psychic anesthesia” somewhere, and I thought maybe I could work some mind-over-matter toe numbing. If it worked, not only would I be pain-free, I could start referring to myself as “Holistic“. Unfortunately all I could think of was my father-in-law’s thumb, which had recently been severed in a woodcutting accident. I tried to re-focus on something more Zen-like, David Carradine in Kung Fu maybe, when I felt the cold steel of the pliers and the pressure of Tessa pulling on the nail. There was a flash of pain and then…nothing. No pain at all! “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” I kept repeating. Then she squeezed my toe really hard “to get out the pizen”. I immediately stopped thanking her.

It turns out that it wasn’t a nail after all, but a metal shard from the mower blade. This was fortunate, as it was a shiny clean fragment and not some rusty, dirty nail. Tessa got me all bandaged up, and as soon as I could breathe again I thanked her again.
“You sure are good at this here country medicine, Doc. How much I owes ya?”
“Jest gimme a slug of that there…” she looked at the wine bottle, “…peanut noyer.”
“Much obliged”, I said, pouring her a glass. “Any follow up advice?”
“Well, don’t be kickin’ no horses, and keep them bandages clean. And if your toe starts stankin’ come back and see me,” she said, trying to look wise and redneck at the same time. “And you best bring a hacksaw.”

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