Another in the occasional series detailing some of the strange and odd occurrences from my life…
Once upon a time my (now ex-) wife and I used to whip cheese into our mashed potatoes. She had a disease that meant she had to eat as much carbs as possible, and no fibre at all, and adding cheese to mashed potatoes was a yummy way of helping us endure the endless quantities of potato, bread and rice we had to consume.
(Me? No, I didn’t have the same condition but I believe in supporting your partner through thick and thin. Her condition and our dietary habits at this time meant she was the thin and I was the thick.)
The easiest way to add cheese to mashed potatoes is to grate it straight into the pot and then whip it in with a fork. One night this system became my undoing.
After dinner, I washed up since a good rule for any marriage is the partner who didn’t cook does the washing up. Once I got to the mashed potato saucepan, I noticed a sliver of cheese stuck to the inside of the pot, near the top, that had thoroughly dried out. As it had dried flat against the steel my dishcloth just slid straight over the top of it so, without any real thought, I went to prise the sliver off with my thumbnail.
I have strong nails. I have used my thumbnail to slice through masking tape and, being a guy, have used fingernails to prise all sorts of things off all sorts of surfaces: bog off car panels, paint chips off walls, dried paint spills from tiles, food scraps from plates, masking tape from boxes. None of these scrapings ever caused me any sort of problems. Until this night…
I scraped the cheese sliver from the pot and then stared, fascinated and a little horrified, at my thumb. The sliver of cheese had, without any apparent resistance, slid straight under my thumbnail and was now visible, under the thumbnail, all the way down to the quick, barring a couple of millimetres sticking out from the end of my thumb.
Since the sliver of cheese was roughly half as wide as my nail, it was very easy to see exactly where the cheese had gone, which contributed to my mounting disgust. I pulled on the little bit of cheese sticking out from the end of my thumb but, as the cheese had now reached human-body temperature, the bit sticking out separated from the bit trapped under my thumbnail like…well, like warm cheese.
“Ummm, I may have a problem here.” I called to my wife and our house-mates.
Soon they were gathered around, peering at my thumb.
“What the hell is that?” asked Grant
“What do you mean, cheese? How did you get cheese in your thumb?”
“I tried to scrape it off the pot.”
By now, I was thinking “Isn’t cheese made using bacteria? Some sort of culture? Is that likely to be something I can leave buried in my flesh without problems? Probably not.”
But my wife and our housemates were riding a different train of thought.
“That’s amazing! It’s a shame we didn’t get it on video; we could have sold it to some TV show. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen anyone do.” And similar assorted insights and witticisms.
“I guess I’m going to have to go to the doctors.”
This caused another outbreak of frivolity as everyone tried to picture exactly what I was going to tell a medical professional.
“Thanks for your help, guys, I’ll be sure to remember it when I’m having my thumb amputated when the doctor tells me that cheese culture is related to botulism and I have to lose the digit or I’ll die.”
Predictably, this caused more hilarity so I grabbed my keys and headed out the door.
“Wait” called my wife “I’m not missing out on this.”
“Fine, you can drive.”
“What is that?” asked the receptionist at the medical centre, staring at my thumb.
“Umm… cheese.” I replied, somewhat ashamed.
“Okay, take a seat and we’ll get a doctor to see you as soon as we can.”
A little surprised at her lack of reaction, my wife and I found empty seats. Looking around, the place was pretty full, maybe 25 people, with conditions ranging from readily apparent colds and flu to relatively minor bleeding cuts, to the regular people-who-appear-to-be-fine-but-must-have-some-sort-of-problem.
My wife couldn’t stop smiling and chuckling.
Eventually, I got called up and was ushered into a doctor’s office.
“What is that?” asked the doctor, holding my hand and twisting it around to get more light on the thumb.
“Really? You got cheese under your thumbnail? I would have thought it was too soft to manage that.”
“Oooh, I got a watermelon seed under a toe-nail once.” said the attending nurse.
The doctor and I both turned to stare at her.
“What?” she said “I kicked a watermelon when I was a kid, on my parents farm.”
“With bare feet?” I asked
“Sure.” She said, defensive now “Haven’t you ever kicked anything without thinking?
(Years later, I kicked a wheelie bin with bare feet, opening up the sole of my foot to the tune of five stitches and I swear I saw her in my mind’s eye, arms crossed, saying “See, just like that.”)
The doctor turned back to my thumb and said:
“Well, we can’t leave that there. I’ll give you an anesthetic and try to scrape it out with a dentists hook but, if that doesn’t work I’ll have to split the nail and remove it.”
“No worries, once you give me the anesthetic I guess you can do whatever you like.
The doctor stared at me for a beat or two, then crossed to the door, pulled it open and called “I need two more nurses here, right now.”. Then he busied himself at his drawers and cupboards.
“What, you want more people to come and laugh at my thumb?” I asked, trying to make light conversation.
“No,” said the doctor, “now just lie back on the bed.”
I did as I was told and nurses positioned themselves all around me.
“Now, have you ever heard of a facet block?”
“Okay, what I’m going to do is insert two needles into this joint here.” He said, indicating the palm-to-thumb knuckle.
“Okay, but it’s just an anesthetic, right.” I asked.
“Yes, it is, but we have to make sure the nerve running all the way through the thumb is numbed.”
“Okay…” I said, suddenly a little less light-hearted as I realised he was holding my wrist really quite firmly.
“This is going to hurt.” he said.
“What? You’re a doctor; aren’t you supposed to say ‘there will be some minor discomfort’ or ‘you’ll feel a slight tug…”
“No,” he said, looking me right in the eyes “you’re going to cry.”
Suddenly, two nurses were leaning over me, each holding the other side of the bed, pinning me down, while the third nurse held my arm tight against her body, with both her arms.
“Now try not to move…” murmured the doctor as a white-hot laser of acid was nailed into my thumb.
Almost instantly sweat poured from me, my teeth started making ominous cracking noises as I ground them together and I squirmed like a ferret escaping a particularly amorous python. The pain was intense and reminded me, horribly, of the pain I endured the day I was stung by a ‘Happy Moments’ fish. It’s always difficult to adequately describe pain so let’s just file this experience under ‘Fucking painful!’
Then it was over. I was shaking and panting and covered in rapidly cooling sweat but I was stupidly proud that I had endured some significant pain without too much complaining.
“Right, that’s the easy one done…” said the doctor as he and his murderous staff redoubled their efforts to pin me immobile.
This time I didn’t even bother with the squirming and the gnashing of teeth. No, this time I went straight for full-blooded screaming, at top volume, with cursing, swearing and yelling as a counter-point to my expression of displeasure.
In no time, though, it was over and I couldn’t really feel anything in my thumb which, I guess, was the desired outcome.
The nurses left, no doubt to rinse my sweat and tears from their uniforms, and the doctor turned to me with one of those disturbing medieval looking hooks that dentists use to dislodge particularly well-planted bits of spinach from between teeth.
I held my thoroughly numb hand out and with one quick swipe the cheese was removed. Both the medico and I then stared at the thumb, twisting it to funny angles under every form of light we could find to ensure there were no cheesy remnants hiding in my thumb.
“Huh, that was easy,” said the doctor “I fully expected to have to remove your thumb nail.”
“Yeah, maybe, but I wouldn’t have called it easy.” I muttered darkly.
“Well, it was easy for me. You’ll be right. Just remember to be careful what you scrape from now on.”
And with that dubious insight, my torturer left and I headed out to settle the paperwork, shaking, numb and appalled at the treatment my thumb had endured.
When I got back to the waiting room I saw my wife and three or four strangers staring at me, horror and fear obvious on their faces.
“Where is everyone? This place was packed five minutes ago.”
My wife chuckled and said
“Yeah, we could all hear you screaming from here and when you let loose I guess about fifteen people suddenly decided they weren’t that sick and they all left.”
So, I am one of those rare people who has managed to have a piece of cheese inserted into my flesh and I lived to tell the tale but not without scars; to this day, whenever significant rain is due, the first joint on my thumb throbs with a notable pain and I live in constant fear of the words ‘facet block.’