My mother and I are telepathically connected. Just when Cynthia and I have exhausted all means to remove a foreign object that had been mysteriously embedded into the soft and fleshy underbelly of my right toe, just when we have exhausted all explanations short of labeling the object as an alien implant – a gift from the return of my recent alien abduction, and just when I was thinking of calling my home in Hong Kong for an answer, my phone rang.
“It looks like a piece of hair, mom. 1 cm long. It could be inside for quite some time,” said I. “How can a piece of hair get into your toe? That has to be a splinter,” replied her. Whether she is right or wrong, it is comforting to hear my mother’s voice. And we agreed that I should see a doctor the next day.
Later that evening, Cynthia offered to take it out for me using a needle. I adore Cynthia, don’t get me wrong. But I doubt that she can play the role as a nurse, when it comes to working with my … big toe. Cynthia laughed and said that if her mom in Indonesia was to know that I was going to see a doctor for this, she would be laughing hard.
This morning, the rain was horrendous. Part of the road was flooded. I braved the rain and walked to a clinic that was a few blocks away from where I parked my car. By the time I was inside the consultation room, my shoes were soaking wet. As I took off my socks showing my favorite doctor in town this strange foreign object inside my toe, he asked, “Have you been to the wood lately? Were you barefooted? When did this happen?”.
To be frank, if not for the recent occasional sharp pain and over the months numbness, I would not have even noticed. I mean, how often does one examine the bottom of his feet unless he is diabetic? In any given day, this chubby friendly doctor always looks happy. But this morning, he looked serious. Very serious. I asked if he was OK. And he said he needed to think.
OK. I kept quiet, lying on the bed waiting for his next move. I wanted to ask if he has done this before but that probably would not help the situation. So I put my arms behind my head looking relax as though I was waiting for a foot massage by the beach overlooking the sea. Still keeping mum, the doctor pulled out a small steel tray and started to line up the clinical tools in front of me. Gasp! That reminded me of either (a) a typical spy interrogation movie scene or (b) TV series such as “CSI” and “Bones”.
First, I felt a needle poked into the underbelly of my toe. OK. That was not that bad. And then I felt the needle again, again, and again. Deeper, deeper, and deeper. Hmmm. That was not looking good. The doctor tried to pull the foreign object out using the tweezers. And then I felt the needle; and then I felt the tweezers; and the needle; and the tweezers. Ouch, ouch, and ouch! I tried to get distracted but all I saw was a bookshelf, with not too interesting books. If I was a doctor, I would have put a beautiful landscape picture on the wall. Preferably a beach overlooking the sunset. Sunset is good because it transcribes to: Time flies and it will be over before you know it.
Some say that having a religion helps with time like this. I recited the Lord’s Prayer in my head in near fluidity only to be punctuated by the needle. But I suppose if I was to recite Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – one of my favorite play – that would have had the same effect. From the distraction point of view of course.
The doctor took out a bigger pair of tweezers, with more poking into my toe by the needle, but nothing seemed to work. I saw a cotton soaked in blood. I was breathing hard in pain. At one point, he paused and called for the nurse. The nurse entered the room looking calm and she wore a surgical mask and a pair of surgical gloves as the doctor explained, “There is a splinter inside. I need you to open it up like this.” Uh-oh.
By the time the good doctor managed to pull out the foreign object, I was in joy. He showed it to me. Yes, it was a piece of hair, just as what I have observed. “Do you want to keep this?” asked he with a smile. Huh?! Before I could reply, he turned to the nurse and said, “Get me a Ziploc bag please. I am putting this inside for him.” And she went: Huh?! I am not sure if it is a common practice for patients to keep foreign objects as souvenirs, like bullets. But I know for sure I don’t want to keep that piece of hair with me. I declined with all my heart. During the debrief, the doctor recapped on what he has gone through, why he needed to attacked from all angles (because the hair moves versus if it was a splinter), and as he gestured the operation in excitement, I thought of Starcraft and added, “So, this requires strategy.” “Strategy! Yes, strategy!” exclaimed he. “Have you done this before doc?” asked I. “Splinter, yes. Hair, no”. And we laughed.
When I called home later that day, my dad picked up the call. He was as comical as ever. And he said in all seriousness, “Yes, that happens. That’s why you need to watch out and be very carefully when you take a shower. And try not to step onto any hair.” Whether he is serious or not, it is comforting to hear my father’s voice.