So Why Did I Have My Second Toe Lopped off?

What an awful, awful arrival of the new year. In early January I jetted to Florida for vacation with my daughter who flew in from London (for my 80th birthday, My God, there are deep holes in my relativity!). Got bumped by Jet Blue three times, had to drive to Canada to get any flight to Florida, had my camera stolen, spent $500 more for parking, driving and flight. That costs me $1,800 extra including the camera (get up at 4AM three mornings in a row, suck in the stress of being bumped , waiting in line and then after the last bump, I would have waited another 4 days unless I made that drive to Montreal.  So darn tired I dazed my way through US and Canadian customs. I was easy pickings. Yeah, Florida was great. Floridians were freezing, to me it was late September, early October weather. Just about perfect. 

Came back to Vermont 20 days later with a strong sense of foreboding. My instincts were right. All the pipes in my house were frozen, the driveway and garage slicked with  black ice from a quick thaw and just as quick freeze. So I am on crampons bringing in wood, working on the pipes, shoveling, trying to get ahead with work and all those bills to pay, $2,000 for fuel oil and propane from Dec 10 to Jan 25. A warm day is when the temperature goes up to ten above zero. 

Trying to live in Vermont as a creative person is madness! So why did I have my second toe on the right foot executed?

It started on 26 Jan when I found a blister on my toe. Pricked it and blood and water squirted out. I washed it in hydrogen peroxide and bandaged it. I propped the toe in front of the fire and built a crust on it but when I put on a sock or shoe and walked it would go mushy. Went to Vermont Medical Associates in Waterbury. Doctor was not in so a nurse assistant looked at it and called in an on-duty doctor. They looked at the toe, which was black and brown on the tip and gooey. They whispered to each other. Then they gave me a shot of penicillin and a five day supply of antibiotic pills. As I left the nurse assistant said she hopes for the best. They thought I had gangrene.  And they did not even clean the toe!

One and a half hours  waiting for the moon, enough to freeze four toes in 1980's

One and a half hours waiting for the moon, enough to freeze four toes in 1980’s

Saw my physician the next day. Told him the nurse and doctor looked, whispered and did not clean. He said he would talk to them. He cleaned it well and bandaged it. He looked at it, did not probe. Found there was a good blood supply and no gangrene. Went twice again to the Waterbury Medical Clinic and had the dressing changed.

Friends at Copley Hospital, one a nurse, said get up to ER at Copley. Don’t fool around with toes. Went up on Saturday. Charles Osler a nurse with long experience in the ER, looked at it, probed it, said the bone was exposed and called the Orthopedic Clinic. He ordered an xray and blood sample. Dr. McLaughlin came up, looked at the toe and also probed it. He said the bone at the tip of the toe was exposed, it was infected, the infection is moving down the toe and he wanted to take the toe off half way down. If he didn’t the infection would travel down to my foot and then…he just gave me a look. So I signed off. Lop it off I said.

The toe is curled and is longer than it looks. The upper line is where the doctor cut the toe off. The bottom line is where the infection stopped.

The toe is curled and is longer than it looks. The upper line is where the doctor cut the toe off. The bottom line is where the infection stopped.

This is my second toe on the right foot.  This toe was a half inch longer than my big toe  and called  Morton’s Toe. Some say the 10% of us who have long second toes are more intelligent or leaders but I think we were very good tree climbing monkeys and it didn’t like banging against the front of my boots. I froze it in the late 1980’s while taking a well known photograph called Moon over Peacham. I was on cross country

Peter's nasty toe the day before its execution at Copley Hospital.

Peter’s nasty toe the day before its execution at Copley Hospital.

Freezing the toe and bumping against ski and hiking boots bruised the skin so this nasty winter the bone exposed itself like a spring flower.

The Doctor said cutting would remove the infection and my toe!

Three days later, at noon, in an operating room with four assistants, Dr. McLaughlin cut the skin with a scalpel and with a special pliers pried off the toe at the second joint. I had one of the nurses take a photo of my toe. It looked like an appetizer one would find in a Szeuchuan restaurant, along with slices of pig ears. Pig in a Poke?

I asked for a local during the operation and wished they had a mirror on the ceiling  so I could photograph the toe execution. One hour of work and I was wheeled back to Room 36. I hadn’t eaten for 24 hours and even hospital food tasted succulent.

I was given a special shoe to wear with a big block of a sole under my right foot so I would not stub my much shorter toe. I could hobble around.

On Wednesday morning John Dostal, a friend, drove me home and fell flat on the black ice in my garage. As the temperature goes up, the snow melts or changes to rain and seeps into the garage and then suddenly the temperature drops 50 degrees and black ice covers the front of my garage and deck. This icing is a new twist in our winters. All the hospitals in my area have had more injuries due to  slip and fall—broken ankles, wrists, wrenched shoulders, dislocated hips than any other year. Now the mal practice lawyers are rushing in to join the picnic.

I refuse to go outside without cleats on my boots. Now I don’t go out at all. This is a killer winter.

I have to elevate the foot, take antibiotic piils four times a day and pain killers when I need it. So far, not much pain. I am incarcerated in my home with a bandaged foot and a hobble shoe for two weeks when I see the doctor who tells me all is well, or he cuts more. I spend most of my time with the foot elevated. Friends have brought food and helped bring in wood. The doctor says I should walk normally. Well the toe was too damned long to begin with.

I still have frozen pipes and now I am told they will be fixed this week. The gallery is a mess with tracking of mud from the cellar. When I came home a few days ago the water was so close to freezing again in the bathroom. By the end of this week we will have a few days above freezing and maybe the salt will finally melt and make my deck and garage floor safe.

This is the third winter of slip and fall and there is no sign of change. There is not enough snow to insulate the sides of the house. Slip and fall winters are no fun. I won’t be in this house next winter unless I too am one of the people who want to leave but can’t find a buyer. With the high taxes we have in Vermont, the change in our weather and out of sight costs of propane and fuel oil, and the efforts put in to just survive, Vermont is not friendly to the independent, self employed Vermonter.

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