The day I defeated the toenail

A new practice. They had seemed to want me despite my stringent working conditions. These total one only - I don't do toenails. That's it. Simple, succinct, unassuming even.

Think of the great number of things which, by implication, I do do. Warts. Plantar fasciitis. Hula dancing. But no toenails.

It didn't work. Wednesday morning found me wrapping a big toe in the elastic band the postman had delivered only that morning, embarking on the eternal gargantuan battle between woman and toenail.

It took, first of all, 10 minutes for the toe to go numb - 10 minutes during which the patient repeatedly informed me that his toe never ever went numb and I convinced myself that I had injected lignocaine with adrenaline even though I hadn't. And then... anaesthesia. It was time to launch the attack.

How to describe the scene? The giant florid cauliflower of granulation tissue, the gargantuan swelling, the patient pickled in flucloxacillin, a scene from the non-toenail-confident doctor's purgatory.

‘Okay,' said I, ‘I just have to gently insert these scissors down between your nail and your toe and we'll just lever it off.'

Lever it off? I could have used a chisel and it still wouldn't have come. Insert gently? Ram the scissors in with brute force.

This toenail, in case you've missed the gist, fought back. For several minutes it struggled hard, spurting me with blood and something else I prefer to think of as ‘activated white cells'. It crumbled and snapped, it bent and twisted, it screamed silent abuse at the red-headed twit with the artery forceps and the attitude.And then, just as I began to fear I would have to give up and find a strong man with a tow truck and a pneumatic drill, it came out. Oh the incredible smugness of the world's best toenail doctor. Now there's nothing I don't do.

- Dr Selby is a GP in Suffolk. You can write to her at

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