Saturday, November 1, 2014

Stubborn Pride Has Painful Results

While on my first tour of Iraq I developed an ingrown nail in my right big toe caused by an ill fitting boot that quickly became infected and extremely painful. Walking on it caused it to get progressively worse in a very short time. I was 22 and stubborn, and very foolishly ignored it feeling like I could man up and handle it. The infection grew progressively worse, and my toe began swelling up, and oozing pus and blood. The daily routine of putting my boot on became an ordeal. I would bite down and shove my boot on to my foot. Functioning in my daily life was agonizing as my throbbing, swollen, infected big toe would send waves of pain up the inside of my leg. Soon I was walking with a limp because every step was a painful reminder of my stubbornness.
Finally, after the pain became too unbearable, (and even then I waited another week) I sought out the med tent. I delayed treatment for so long because field hospitals are the worst place to be sick. Standard knowledge amongst the troops is that if you don’t have any bullet holes they treat you like a test monkey. That, coupled with the lack of services and comfort, led to many of these horror stories being true. Med tents in the field are good for two things: stabilizing wounded until a helicopter can airlift the patient to a better hospital, and prescribing Aspirin for everything else. If you were suffering from a toothache to scurvy you could bet that all you would be walking back from the tent with was a handful of horse pill sized generic Aspirin in a small plastic baggy. This, in addition to my manly pride, led to my primary avoidance of any and all medical aid that might be rendered.
After finally breaking down and screaming as I walked/limped to the Med Tent. I walked inside to the smell of formaldehyde, air conditioning, and dim lighting. The Doctor was a 30-40 year old black Captain, and as soon as she saw me walking in with no medivac team or obvious trauma she smiled and motioned for her three assistant troops to gather round to hear what my ailment was. I wish I could describe the look of humor on the Captain’s face as I explained my ailment, and the look of absolute horror when I pulled my boot off to reveal my purple swollen toe. Needless to say, I saw the entire gamut of emotions in the peanut gallery as they all took turns looking and snapping photos. (God only knows where those photos went, but I shudder to think of the possibilities.) After being scolded by the Captain for a full 20 minutes amid the snickers from the trainees. I was immediately laid out on a cot while the doc prepared for emergency surgery. I had no idea what this surgery entailed. My worst fears came to life as the doc barked orders to her troops, instructing them on what to bring her. I did my best to block out what she was saying but “large size forceps,” and “scalpel with carving screw” did little to alleviate my fear. She laid out a number of stainless steel instruments on the table beside me.
I thought I knew pain before, but I was in for a rude awakening. After being cleaned and prepped I was instructed to not move. Otherwise, it would make it worse. I could do nothing, but watch in horror, as the doctor inserted a long needle in to the base of my toe starting from the inside left and going in deep. I couldn’t help, but flinch, causing a shock wave of pain from my already inflamed toe straight to my cerebral cortex. Letting out a tremendous scream I yanked back the needle still in my big toe hurting even more. The assistants held me down as the doc extracted the needle and attempted to inject again. Miraculously I was able to sit still as I was injected 3 more times around the base of my big toe. Only after this painful experience did the doctor determine that my infection had progressed too far and that the pain meds wouldn’t work. I cursed my stubbornness, the world, the desert, and a few other things that were on the tip of my tongue using a colorful vernacular that isn’t suitable for print due to good taste and lack of memory. The injections oozed blood and the insertion points hurt just as badly as the actual toe did. The doctor apologized, instructed me not to kick her, then grabbed the shear like cutters and began to cut my nail horizontally right down the middle. I hollered during the injections. I straight up screamed during the cutters. I watched as my nail was flayed open completely. With each cut a sickening crunching noise was made. The nail was hacked down the middle then spread open like a church door. The pain was so agonizing that my head was throbbing. Puss mixed with bright red blood as my mangled toe lay open and bleeding in front of me. Nothing matched the pain of watching her grip the open nail with a pair of pliers as she yanked and pulled the nail from nerve endings by the root and then repeated on the other side. The smell was horrible infected tissue coupled with copious amounts of blood from the open wound elicited a smell that could only be described as hellish.
I’d finally lost it. I shoved the trainee holding me down on my right side and lost everything I had eaten that day throwing up on the floor next to me. From the corner of my eye I saw the doctor pausing, and with bloodshot eyes and stomach contents dripping from my lips, I let loose what was later described as a combination scream/demand to the doctor of “DON’T YOU DARE STOP!” for fear of delaying this painful ordeal anymore than it needed to be. The doctor completed the nail removal, and poured acid and antiseptic formulas in to the affected area before stuffing and packing the open wound with cotton, only to replace them quickly after the blood soaked through too quickly. As I was being bandaged up, sweat dripping from every part of my body, I couldn’t stop shaking. The eager peanut gallery, all smiling and joking before, had been replaced with ashen and aghast looks of pure shock and total disgust as they moved me to the nearest table with crutches leaning against them. What had been a simple routine visit from an Airman had degenerated in to an orgy of blood, pus, vomit, and ear shattering screams in the space of under 15 minutes. I am content to say that I wrecked that tents mood that day.
After she instructed me to stay in my bunk and keep my foot elevated for the next few days, I wearily thanked the doctor for her help. She promised she would never see me again, and I hobbled, half limped out of the tent. Clutching in my hands a plastic baggy of horse pill sized Aspirin for the pain, I didn’t come out of my tent for two days. Anyone that asked or saw me afterwards in crutches got the same standard lie in my attempt to save face “I shot myself in the foot.” That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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