Rest in Peace, Zombie Toenail

If you read the Great American Novel otherwise known as my Ironman Canada race report, you’ll recall how I mentioned that a couple of my toenails turned purple after the race. Here’s a picture of the initial discoloration in case you forgot:

The pinky toe managed to survive, but alas, I lost Thaddeus von Middlenail. Maybe I’ve been watching too much of The Walking Dead lately, but I coped with the impending death of my toenail similar to a zombie apocalypse survivor having to deal with the fact that his loved one had become infected and was starting to turn.

First, there was hope. Despite hearing from numerous people (including Running Magazine) that my purple nurple nail was dying and would fall off, I thought that maybe if I just left it alone, it would pull through. It’s like if Jas got bit by a zombie and I said, “Well, we don’t know for sure if he’ll turn. Maybe different people have different reactions…yes, I’m aware that a huge bite-sized chunk of his arm is missing.”

So instead of accepting the fact that my toenail was indeed going to fall off, I masked its rapid discoloration with some nail polish.Β It’s akin to wrapping a scarf around my infected boyfriend and pretending that he’s now okay:

"Uh, I don't know if this is helping..."

After a while, though, my toe started to throb and I was distraught to discover that pushing down on the nail caused a clear liquid to ooze from underneath it. I thought to myself, “Well that’s not normal,” and resorted to covering the whole mess up with a Band-aid. Out of sight, out of mind!

Zombie equivalent:

"That band-aid oughtta do the trick!"

The toenail eventually stopped oozing and things got quiet for a while. When I finally took the nail polish off my toes, I was surprised and a bit unsettled to see that my toenail was no longer purple, but white-ish. It was as if it tried to emulate my other healthy toenails but couldn’t quite pull it off. It looked the color of bone. That couldn’t be a good sign.

Although to be fair, Zombie Jas isn't that much paler than Normal Jas

Over the next couple months, the toenail went through varying degrees of looseness. Some days I’d be able to wiggle the hell out of it, while other days it’d feel more firmly planted, giving me false hope that things were finally looking up…

…until one fateful night when, while Jas and I were sitting on the couch, watching TV, I halfheartedly wiggled my toenail to assess its condition, as I’ve grown accustomed to doing. To my horror, it was super loose. In fact, after a couple wiggles, I was able to successfully detach it completely on the right side and along the bottom, leaving a 1/3 attached toenail that resembled the spine of a book. Oh god, it had finally turned. I was looking at Zombie Toenail.

Don't ask me why he's still wearing the scarf

I was devastated. The little guy was supposed to pull through, not succumb to the sickness and die! After sadly flicking my deceased toenail back and forth and thoroughly grossing my poor (non-zombie) boyfriend out,, I knew what I had to do. This bad boy needed to get removed, and the sooner the better.

Since I was a nail-losin’ virgin, I didn’t know whether to take the thing off myself or to consult a professional. The problem with my toenail was that it was actually still pretty firmly attached on the one side that was left, as if it was clinging on in futile hopes that it would somehow prevail. I didn’t really feel like torture porning my own toenail out with a pair of pliers, so I asked Dr. Perry about it when I saw him for my foot issues. He was like, “Uh, yeah, I think I can remove that for you,” but by the end of my appointment he must have realized that feet are gross and wanted nothing to do with yanking a zombie toenail off my smelly foot. He said he didn’t have the right scissors at his office (riiiiiight), so it wasn’t happening.

Per his recommendation, I called my general practitioner and made an appointment to get the nail removed. The receptionist assured me that he was pretty sure this was something the doctor could take care of and even joked over the phone, “Hell, I’d remove it for five bucks.” However, the next day an employee called me back and said that my doctor wasn’t able to do that sort of procedure. What the hell, who knew a loose toenail would turn me into a leper.

I called the medical center’s podiatry department and found out that it’s just one dude who works there, and he was up to his eyeballs in feet until mid-January. No way was I going to wait that long to dispatch of my little piggy. Back to the drawing board. I called another doctor in Capitol Hill and found out that he only works with patients who have no insurance. Frustrated, I began to consider the “tie one end of some string to my toenail and the other end to a doorknob and then slam the door” approach.

Finally, after my fifth attempt to locate a doctor who was willing to see me sometime before the Mayan apocalypse, I was successful. I shelled out fifty bucks to consult with a foot doctor for roughly five minutes as he clipped my nail off (what the fluff, I could have done that) and kicked my self esteem in the balls by saying I have freak feet. He didn’t even give my toenail a proper burial, instead just flinging it in the trash like it was nothing. I wanted to keep it and string it onto some dental floss to make a little necklace keepsake for Jas (kidding).

I’m sad I lost my toenail. We had some great times together — me clipping it every once in a while, scratching Jason’s legs and making him yelp in his sleep, having it protect my toe whenever I stubbed it or dropped cans on it — and it was a bummer to see him go. However, as David Attenborough has taught me in many BBC series, life is a glorious cycle and I’ve already got a new toenail sprouting up and halfway grown in. When it’s finally done growing, I shall march up to the top of a cliff edge and hold my foot up over my head, belting “The Circle of Life” at the top of my lungs.

I hope you’ve learned from my experience, dear reader, that you are not immune to toenail zombification. It can happen to anyone. Sure, it may be a long, arduous process filled with naivety and hope, but in the end, it will turn and you’ll be forced to put it down. You never know what may cause it — for me, it was 140.6 miles through Canadian wine country — but the end result will be the same.

7 Responses to “ “Rest in Peace, Zombie Toenail”

  1. Bri Cooper says:

    If my fellow lunch eaters at mertropolitan market only knew what I was reading about while I eat my over priced salad πŸ™‚

  2. teresa says:

    That toenail will be missed, but many more will be joining it after each ironman πŸ™‚


  3. Sean says:

    If it really is a Zombie Toenail, don’t you have to worry about it coming back right now?

    dun dun duhhhhhh! (queue spooky music here)

  4. Jill says:

    Becca, I seriously empathize. I also innitially tried the purple nail polish technique. Alas, after the marathon, I lost FIVE toenails, and a sixth is on its way out (we’re in the scarf stage, I believe). My toes are now like sad, naked little stubs. I don’t ever wear flip flops, and it’s summer here.

    • Rebecca says:

      I can’t believe you’ve lost five toenails! That’d make quite an impressive necklace if you strung them on floss. /gross

      Hope your trip is going well! So exciting — stay safe and keep updating your travel blog!

  5. Denise says:

    I realize this article is very old however it was #1 in my search for unhealthy nails so I feel compelled to offer my opinion as I have suffered this malady many times and maybe I can reassure just one person if not more.
    I have lost numerous nails this way. The first time it was both my big toe nails at same time. Although my Doctor removed them both quite easily (after numbing ) he asked about my shoes. I was wearing flip flops at the time due to the pain. I had been wearing tennis shoes before. There it was. My shoes were causing friction on my nails causing pain and blisters underneath the nail. Very simple. I chucked those shoes and sometime later it happened again. And again. Different toes at times but always from my shoes. So now I am very careful to make sure my shoes fit correctly. The oozing came from the blister popping. After losing 10 nails this way i am sure this could be your problem.
    I hope this helps someone !

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