Liam Farrell: Close encounters with an ingrowing toenail

I was holding the baby, or in this case, the toenail. Over the years I had unwittingly earned the reputation of being good with toenails, and as that old bounder Flashy said, 'Give a dog a bad name, but it's far harder to live down a good one.'

Joe’s ingrowing toenail had a precious place on the crowded mantelpiece of our long and painful (painful for me, that is) relationship; unlovely though it was, it was the only objective evidence of a medical condition Joe had ever produced; everything else was just Joe’s symptoms, i.e. lies.

Our diseases are not something distinct from us, they are part of what we are, and Joe’s toenail was the cherry on top. I’d been hacking at it for years, and had even briefly considered decapitation, but the toenail and I had by now a personal relationship, though maybe not quite ready to start dating yet; perhaps we recognised each other as apex predators. As Ugarte said to Rick in Casablanca: ‘Just because you despise me, you are the only one I trust.’

‘Wotcha, mate,’ the toenail seemed to say. ‘I am the Great Toe of the Assembly; hear me roar,’ as Joe snapped off his socks with a certain theatricality, showering me accidentally on purpose with a pungent bouquet of sweat and flakes of dead skin.

There’s a reason the Body Shop doesn’t have a line of products called Joe’s Smelly Feet, but hey, I’m a doc, we’re used to that stuff and bad smells and stale bodily fluids don’t bother us.


After retching for a few short minutes, and cognisant of our special relationship, I set the toe on a little red velvet cushion; it was not quite regal, maybe just a hint of Old Babylonian decadence, but at least a little less repulsive.

‘Ah, look at the wee thing,’ said Joe fondly. ‘There sleeps Titania sometime of the night, Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight.’

The toenail was minimally ingrowing; if had been any less ingrowing it would actually have been sticking out, but that was good enough for Joe; the minimal degree of ingrowingness allowed us to use our imaginations. As Patrick Kavanagh wrote: ‘Through a chink too wide/There comes in no wonder.’

I gave it a respectful little massage and some antibiotics (what else?) and advised it to rest.

A minimal intervention perhaps, but I was content; we doctors, we do terrible things to toenails.

  • Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Follow him on Twitter @drlfarrell

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