my left thumb
by ed collins/nov., 1998
tuesday, november 17: i notice something wrong with my left thumbnail, the one with the chronic nail fungus. whenever i touch it i get a slight pain. nothing to worry about, i think.
thursday my thumb has me worried. in the afternoon i notice a little dark spot at the base of the nail. an hour later i notice that the spot is getting bigger. i show my thumb to practically everyone i see. larry said i must have had a trauma, he called it. no, i don’t remember hitting it, i said. odd, jim said, but nothing else. ick, said lisa. that’s the fungus, not the problem, i said.
friday my thumb is not getting better. and it’s getting bigger. each time i reach into the ball basket i’m careful not to jam it. but sometimes I do. at night i wince and wake up every time i roll over on it.
saturday, after finishing my lessons, i figure i better do something about my thumb. i call frank, evie’s father, who is a geriatric specialist. no answer. i call dr. ruth, andrew’s mother. she’s home. i describe my thumb to her. it’s red, swollen and throbbing like hell, i said. you should start some antibiotic, she said. do you have any? hold on, i said. in the medicine cabinet was a bottle of tetracycline that we bought in tijuana. tetracycline, i told ruth, and it expired in 1996. why don’t you come up, have a beer if we’ve got any, i can look at your thumb, and i’ll give you some samples of augmentin.
i got in my car. 30 minutes later i pull into their rancho santa fe crunchy-rock driveway. ed and ruth were watching the usc-ucla game on tv while making christmas cards on the computer. i didn’t like the serious look ruth gave my thumb. i’d prefer such and such drug, she said, but all we have is augmentin. plus you should be soaking it in phisohex. after pepsi and popcorn, ed went to the local pharmacy to pick up some things, including the phisohex.
that night judy went up to bed early to watch her british sitcoms. my thumb was throbbing and hurting. i even yelled once, which brought judy to the top of the stairs. what was that, she asked. me, my thumb, it’s killing me, i said. take something. i had already taken two tylenol. in the middle of the night the pain subsided and i slept ok from then on.
sunday i spent the day at home, writing and relaxing and soaking my thumb, which was more or less a non-stop discomfort. when peter and nicole came over to go out to dinner, i kept my thumb covered with a band-aid and tape. no sense spoiling their appetite. sleeping sunday night was, in a word, fitful. my thumb kept me awake half the night. i took three excedrin pms and slept good until my thumb woke me at 4am. it was really throbbing now. i went to the bathroom and saw that the skin was bulging out from around the base of my thumbnail.
it was time to lance it.
i returned to bed and turned on the light. immediately judy woke up. please heat up a pin, i asked. puss and blood oozed out of the pin prick. and continued to do so for the next two hours.
monday i spent half of every hour draining or soaking my thumb. i called dr. frank, thinking maybe he could do a better job of lancing it, to relieve some of the pressure. yeah, sure, he said, when i bring evie for tennis at four. i’ll bring the needles, syringe and a pair of pliers, in case we have to take the thumb nail off. we can do it right in front of the kids; they can see what a man you are. i laughed, too loudly, i think. but he was funny and i felt better after talking with him. then dr. ruth called in the morning and asked if it was better. i told her about the lancing. is the redness receding, she asked. no, i said, it’s still above the knuckle. keep an eye on it. if it spreads you’ll have a problem. you’ll end up in the hospital on i.v. i told her my student’s father was going to bring his lancing stuff and look at it. good, she said, a second opinion. i told her i have another student whose father is a doctor. maybe you can all get together and discuss my thumb, have a medical conference on it. then she told me that ed told her he has the drug she wanted to give me in the first place, at his office, that he would bring it home and send it overnight delivery to me so i’ll have it wednesday morning. i’ll come and get in now, i said. i was thinking about the hospital, and being left thumbless, when i canceled my early-afternoon lessons.
dr. ed’s office is in vista, an uncomfortable fifty-minute car ride away. while i sat in his office waiting room i read sports illustrated and watched a couple of his sickly-looking patients come and go. dr. ed is a cardiologist. i wonder if the look i got from this one old guy was of sympathy, thinking that i’m pretty young to have heart disease. if he only knew that i’m here about my thumb.
when i got back to robb field dr. frank was sitting in his car. he was reading. i walked up to his open window, stuck my thumb through the window and said, ok, lance it, and make it snappy. after looking at it, he told me that it couldn’t be lanced yet, that it would be too painful. then he took the pen that was in his hand and drew a line around the base of the redness. if the infection goes past this line call me, he said. during the clinic lisa asks why i keep looking at my thumb. i was not, i said. i was watching kaitlin serve. tell it to the judge, lisa said. that night i went to bed at 8 and slept solidly ‘til 6am, when i woke up. judy brought coffee and the newspaper to bed. i read while soaking my thumb in phisohex and hot water.
tuesday my thumb doesn’t hurt but it throbs whenever i let it hang at my side or dip into the ball basket. thankfully, i have three cancellations today.
wednesday, thursday, friday, saturday and sunday: my thumb is getting better. the redness is diminishing but the nail looks like it’s a goner. i keep on soaking it in phisohex and taking my new drug, cefzil. i could’ve easily kept this to myself, but i’ve managed to solicit sympathy from everyone i know. when a student’s father asks about my thumb, i laugh. thanks for asking, my thumb has been the biggest concern of my life for the past two weeks, and somehow i’ve made it a concern for everyone else too. did you ever see that movie, my left foot, i ask.
monday, i pry back the nail and peek underneath. i see something pink.
Tuesday and Wednesday it’s feeling pretty good. The swelling is gone, for the most part. Dr. Ruth says its ok to stop taking the cefzil. “Good,” I say. “It upsets my stomach anyway.” Finally, I can use capital letters and quotation marks without it hurting.
Thursday I come home from a long day on the court and slip into a nice hot bath. After a good 15 minutes of soaking I start prying back my nail. How far will it go before it starts to hurt? I wonder.
All the way. It came off.
I’ve got a brand new baby pink thumb nail. It’s one-quarter of an inch long.