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I’m filling out a standard form in Dr. Ryan Minara’s waiting room (Reason for visit: my boyfriend made me, Activities in which the patient regularly engages: running, walking, cycling, and cuddling) when my boyfriend calls.
“No one’s allowed to touch your toe until I get there,” he instructs, then hangs up.
Since it takes the mere mention of a medical procedure or a word such as “pustule” to make me feel woozy, I tend to avoid doctor’s visits altogether. Even now, with my big toe painfully swollen from an infected ingrown toenail, I’d rather be sedentary forever than be prodded by a podiatrist.
“Everyone knows podiatry is the field D-level students choose out of med school,” I had said when my boyfriend told me he booked the appointment with Dr. Minara without consulting me.
“That’s ridiculous. And you’re going,” he’d replied.
I figured that my boyfriend was either a thoughtful man for researching New York City’s footcare industry on my behalf, or that he was disgusted by the thought of watching me soak my puffy toe in a warm, Epsom salt infused bath one more night in a row. Or both. What I didn’t figure was that he’d insist on being present for the assessment.
With him looming, it will be a lot harder to convince the doctor that I’m not in constant pain, or lie about how long the problem’s persisted. I see a parade of needles, scalpels and blood in my near future, all courtesy of my meddlesome boyfriend.
By the time he takes the seat next to me in the waiting room, my “thanks for coming” drips with sarcasm. I’m scared. More so, I’m irritated. Who’s to say what I should or should not do about an appendage? Does my boyfriend think he has power of attorney over my body? The mini Eve Ensler resting atop my shoulder tells me that I did just fine for two-plus decades without this guy and that I don’t need him to take care of me now any more than I did before!
When my name is called, I stand and collect my belongings without acknowledgement of the tumor that is my clinging boyfriend. A nurse ushers us into an exam room, then instructs me to remove sneakers and socks before ducking out to fetch Dr. Minara. While unfastening my footwear at the pace of three-toed sloth, I frown at the “pain scale” poster on the opposite wall
By the time the rotund, affable Dr. Minara enters, I’m seated cross-legged on the patient’s reclining chair, feet carefully tucked from view.
Before Minara can look up from his chart, I blurt, “Has anyone ever died from an ingrown toenail?”
“Not that I know of,” he admits.
“Aha! So, I can probably treat this at home.”
“You mean with some kind of home surgery involving tweezers, nail clippers, a sterilized safety pin and some over-the-counter antibiotic cream?”
The doc’s gentle mocking isn’t lost on me.
Sensing my dismay, he continues, sympathetic but straightforward: “All you you’ve got in those toes is some skin, nail, and bone. If the infection spreads to the bone, you can end up having to amputate. There are serious risks to letting this sort of thing go untreated.”
I have to appreciate Minara’s accurate prediction of my lackluster at-home methods. Plus, being nine-toed seems a lot less than awesome. Do I really want to give up flip-flops forever?
I whip out my foot.
A few pinches and some dedicated squinting later, Minara deems my infection a six on a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst ingrown nail he’s ever dealt with.
“That’s doesn’t sound so bad,” I try.
“Six is bad,” counters the doc.
Defeated, I look at my boyfriend. There’s no denying that he was right or that I reached this point through sheer neglect. I finally feel like the foolish ingrate I’ve been. Simultaneously, it hits me that this meeting isn’t just critical to my health. As the first time I’ve been in a doctor’s office with a partner, it marks a sort of Life Step. This is a First that seems meaningful -- at least more so than losing my virginity to a summer fling who screamed Can you feel me inside you? repeatedly. I reach for my man’s hand and squeeze it, silently requesting forgiveness.
“I don’t want to see anything,” I tell him, “but I’m ready.”
“That’s fine, Sweetie.”
Four injections later, my foot is completely numb. I refuse to watch the doctor unwrap his various instruments or to listen as he details the process of excavating nail from skin.
Ten minutes or so later, I peek through my fingers to see the doctor bandaging my toe. As I inspect the large, bloodied, crescent-shaped pieces of nail on the tray at my side, my boyfriend rubs my leg. With each loving stroke, he lends weight to the medical hell I went through rather than sneer at me for making too much of a relatively benign procedure.
All wrapped up, my bulbous digit looks a lot like a potato. I know it will be insanely painful once the anesthesia wears off, but I sigh with relief -- for getting through the worst of it, and for knowing that I have someone to feed me Percocet later.
“So what happens to the extra bits?” I ask.
“We usually make a soup,” Dr. Minara replies.
“With foreskins from circumcisions?”
“And colonoscopy juices?” adds the boyfriend.
The three of us laugh, and I feel like myself again.
In the backseat of the taxi home, leg elevated onto my boyfriend’s knees, I say, “Thank you for making me do this,” and promise not to resist him on medical matters moving forward.
My boyfriend’s response grin is oddly devilish. Next, he whips out his cell phone and admits that he filmed the whole thing on the sly.
“Maybe you’ll get the guts to watch it one day,” he says.
The chances of that are slim, of course, but maybe only as slim as finding a guy who loves me enough to film such a thing. The fact is that I do need taking care of in certain respects, and I should be grateful that someone’s willing to take on that challenge.