Ingrown Toenail

by Ranim Elborai

At the risk of turning this blog into a catalogue of all my physical ailments, which are apparently rather numerous, today I write about the return of an old arch-enemy: the dread ingrown toenail.

A little background: I have only had one operation so far (knock on wood) — the removal of a nasty ingrown toenail on my left foot at the tender age of eleven.

This procedure was a somewhat contentious matter in my family since my sister happened to suffer the self-same affliction on that very foot at that very same time.

images-1A drawing of an ingrown toenail, because the photographs of real ingrown toenails on the internet are vile.

Hers was a legitimate battle wound. At our old school in Cairo, she was captain of her varsity basketball team. The team went off to play at a tournament abroad and during a very competitive game she was the target of a sustained foot-stomping campaign by the other team.

On her return home, her left toenail had turned a worrying blackish-blue hue, then, having given up on the world, proceeded to fall off. It grew back, but not quite the way it should have (or something like that — the details are now hazy), and she started off at a new school in a different city with an ingrown toenail quite set on precluding her from basketball tryouts.

I then had to go off and develop an ingrown toenail of my own. My sister eyed my foot skeptically, accusing me of wanting in on the pity-party. There’s a five-year difference between the two of us, but as is the wont of many an Arab parent, my dad often bought us identical outfits in different sizes on his trips abroad.a When we’d go off on family outings, my mother would often insist on decking us out in our matching outfits, which irritated my keenly individualistic sister to no end.b

images-2Dressing your children identically not only smacks of a lack of creativity — it can be creepy.

So it stands to reason that she’d be wary of the sudden onset of an ingrown toenail of my very own. Still, she had to endure the ignominy of her and I showing up at our our new school in matching Birkenstocks. Her one consolation at the time was that Birkenstocks were considered very cool, even if you did wear them with socks.

images-3I still consider Birkenstocks ridiculously cool.

Ancient history. The latest news item is that this month, in addition to my little roster of illnesses, my old enemy, the ingrown toenail has returned to rear its ugly…toenail again.

It has reincarnated itself on my right foot and it’s my own fault because I always clip and file my nails so that they’re rounded. I just have something against square edges, ok? Especially toenails, because they just look wrong.


Square toenails are just wrong. Especially if they’re grown long. A real blight on humanity, I tell you!

But any podiatrist will tell you that you must clip your toenails straight across and not fiddle too much with the sides. Otherwise your nails will grow into the fleshy bit of your toe and unleash a dull, aching hell upon your feeties.

And a dull, aching hell was exactly what happened to my poor big toe a couple of weeks after my most recent pedicure. I mean, I could live with it, but the nail bed was sore all the time. Every time I applied pressure to it, the pain became more urgent. And I kept bumping my toe on everything: stairs, tables, chairs, walls, door frames and other people — leading to some incredibly excruciating moments.

Of course, I went off to Google to seek out information, but one look at the pictures of various unfortunates was all I could take in. I mean, there were some really troubled toes out there. Even to my untrained eyes, my ingrown toenail was a laughably minor case, easily taken care of by a visit to a podiatrist or a foot clinician. No more toe operations for me!

A chance encounter with an orthopedist at a friend’s house did me one better. The bone specialist was an older bespectacled gentleman who was waiting for my friend’s father in their living room.

Being polite he asked how I was. Lacking any sort of filter I immediately proclaimed that my ingrown toenail was currently crushing my spirit. He asked to see my foot, which was then encased in a pair of retro canvas sneakers which look great but have a tendency to stink up my feet. I protested, because smelly feet, but he insisted, and there I sat, feeling quite silly, my foot being held by an elderly man on a social call. When my friend’s mother came by to greet him, he still had possession of my foot.

But to summarise his medical advice, I was to soak my foot in a salted water bath, then, once my skin goes all pruney and soft, shove a tiny wad of cotton between the nail and the toe on the affected side, and leave it there. Do this with a disinfected wad of cotton every day and within a week or two, the toenail should grow straight and the pain should subside.

I’ve been on the tiny wad of cotton shoving regimen for about three days now, and my toe no longer aches. I really love a good home remedy.

  1. One would think Arabs would have never caught onto the concept of the “hand-me-down” and all the economic savings garnered therefrom.  (back)
  2. Luckily, I soon grew into a phase where I would refuse to wear anything my mother would pick out for me. I would wander the house in my undergarments and velcro sneakers, and insist on sticking to a rotation of five items of clothing for outings. This put an end to any complaints from my sister.  (back)