Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Traumatic Treatment of a Black Toenail

I entered mental health therapy to help me cope with the trauma I have experienced over the last few days as the result of my toenail. The therapist said that sharing about this trauma might help me cope with PTSD.

This traumatic experience started a week and a half ago when I ran the Jackpot Ultra Running Festival. Around mile 30 I accidentally kicked a rock. At that moment it felt like my big toe got struck by lightning. The agony was worse than exposing your ear drums to 1,000 Justin Bieber songs. (As if there is anything worse than listening to 1,000 Justin Bieber songs.) 

I had never done anything like this before. I was reduced to a painful hobble where lightning struck my toe with every step. I did some inspection and knew it wasn't broken because it was only the toenail that hurt.

Fast forward a week. My toenail still feels like a filing cabinet is sitting on top of it. On the Trail and Ultra Running Facebook page I posted this question: "A week ago I accidentally kicked a rock with my big toe while running. Woops. Sweet mother of pearl, it hurt so bad. still hurts so bad. At work I walk normal so I don't look silly, but I probably need a stick in my mouth from clenching my jaw with each step. Any tips on this that don't involve a needle in my toe or pliers?" 

The consensus was that the toenail needed to be drained. And many people suggested DRILLING A HOLE THROUGH MY TOE NAIL to drain fluid and relieve pressure. There are two problems with this: 

1) I'm pretty sure drilling holes through toenails is some kind of torture that Al-Qaeda uses against prisoners of war; and

2) I have a GIGANTIC fear of needles. I pass out when I get my blood drawn. And you want me to put a needle through my toe nail??????? You're more likely to see Richard Simmons' "Sweatin' To The Oldies" become popular again before you see me put a needle into my toe.

But here's the thing: I was desperate. Desperate! That dumb toe hurt so bad that I was willing to try anything. There were many suggestions on how to inflict this POW torture on myself. And part of my soul shudders even mentioning these things:

1) Heat up a needle until it's red hot and then insert it into the toe nail
2) Heat up a paperclip until it's red hot and then insert it into the toe nail
3) Get a small drill bit and work a hole into the toe nail

I'm not kidding people! These were real suggestions! And from lots of people. 

So what did I do? Yep. I tried all three of those suggestions. 

At first I planned to have my wife stick the needle in. She's a nurse. She knows what she's doing. But I was so mortified, I mean absolutely mortified at the thought of this, that I chickened out. When my daughter happened to walk into the bedroom seeing Mel approaching my foot with a needle and a lighter she literally acted like she had just seen a poltergeist. 

(That orange polish on my toes is from the same daughter who asked to paint my toes before the race.) So, yeah. I chickened out. I decided I'd try to do it myself. Drill bit? Fail. Heat the paperclip until red hot then push it into the nail? This worked better. Except for the minor detail that I could smell my flesh burning and I almost barfed and/or passed out. 

I finished off the job with a burning hot needle. I pray to God that my mother doesn't read this post. This will be the tipping point in convincing her that I have lost all my marbles. In all seriousness our bathroom looked exactly like the bathroom of a crack cocaine addict.

In the end this traumatizing experience was only mildly successful. Turns out you probably shouldn't wait a whole week after something like this to drain the fluid. My toe nail doesn't really feel too much better. (I know what you're thinking. "Duh! You just drilled a hole into it Einstein!") I ended up trying another trick of poking a needle under the nail bed. That worked better and was far less disturbing than the realization that I was burning a hole into myself.

So here are the morals of the story:
1) Don't kick rocks.
2) Don't listen to 1,000 Justin Bieber songs.
3) Nothing in the history of all mankind is as disturbing as smelling one's on toe nail melting. 
4) You're not a real ultrarunner until your bathroom looks like you're a crack addict.


  1. I'm so happy I've never had this happen to me (knock on wood), though the music my kids listen to is only marginally better than Justin Bieber, or maybe worse. I don't know.

  2. I was one on the group who suggested under the nail . Those people who heat up things and drill holes are just crazy . Under the nail and you aren't pressing down on an already sore nail . ~ Valerie

    1. Yep, in this situation where I waited a week going under the nail was definitely best. Thanks to you and the rest of the Trail and Ultra Running gang for the great tips!

  3. Been there done that. It sucks and you have to relieve the pressure right away!! I can only imagine the trauma when it falls off.

  4. I've had many black toenails over the years and I've lost many nails. However, mine were all from running only and not kicking anything. I've mastered the art of "operating" on my nails :) Hope it's all better now!

  5. Ha ha, I love this post. I have been there many times although not as a result of kicking a rock, just from running absurdly long distances. Anyhow, I have never drilled a hole in my nail but I have stuck a needle up under my toenail more times than I can remember. Works like a charm to drain out the blister. Just be careful that as it dries out, the nail will be pretty wiggly and loose so watch that you don’t accidentally kick something again and tear it off. Ouch! Good luck!

  6. The hot paper clip trick is one that my Dad used to use. But his black nails were never caused by running. They weren't even toe nails. He'd regularly slam his fingers or thumbs into car doors, between bits of metal or with hammers. My Dad's not the most coordinated guy in the world.

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