Sunday, 20 April 2014

Lessons From My Toes

It's been 18 hours since I last sat in front of this keyboard, perhaps 19. I spent 12 of those hours in bed, sleeping, resting up for a busy day today; I'm hosting dinner for about 8 of my friends. Spent the other 6 hours waiting for the tips of my toes to stop seeping blood, bleeding slightly and slowly. This is a result of something else I can no longer do; safely cut my own toenails.

The adjective safely is all important here. This is not a disease of sudden loss, like a stroke might be. This is a disease of slow, incremental loss, where the reduction of ability forces you to make choices about what you can, and cannot, do any longer. It's like driving; I can still drive, and still drive safely. There will be a point where I will still be able to endure the mechanics of driving, yet I will be unable to safely operate a motor vehicle. As one of my fellow patients, now passed on, said to me about a month after I was diagnosed, "I've decided to hang up my keys. It's just not safe anymore."

Last night I was cutting my toenails, something we all do unless we pay someone else to do it. I was able to get my leg up, but the combination of swelling in my feet and weakness in my legs and arms meant I could not see all my toenails properly. The big toe was easy; it's big. The smaller toes I clipped by sense of touch and a rough estimation of where toe ended and nail began. I had an 80% success rate. More importantly, I had a 20% failure rate. On two of my smaller toes, one on each foot, I clipped more toe than nail, instantiating a small flow of blood from the tip of each.

This is where the rat poison cut in. These little suckers didn't bleed a lot, they just bled persistently. I bundled them up in tissue and paper towel, hoping that would be enough to convince them to clot. They did not. For the first couple of hours I just wiped up the blood drippings. We are talking teaspoon fulls at at time, driplets and droplets, not cups or pints. The bleeding was a nuisance but never a danger. I wiped the drops and streaks off the floor, the small stains and pools off of the footpads on my wheelchair, the smudges off of my ottoman where I was resting my feet.

I did this for about 5 hours. Then I wanted to go to bed. Prior to doing so, I used the toilet. That's when I noticed that whenever I put my feet on the floor, there was a new stain of fresh blood. These little cuts were still bleeding fresh blood. I was unable to put on band-aids myself for the same reasons I had such a high failure rate while clipping. Going to bed like this would have meant stains all over my sheets, and possibly on my hand-made sailing quilt. I finally gave up, put aside my pride, and called a friend, getting her out of bed to come over and put band-aids on my toes. This was no St. John's Ambulance First Aid requirement; it was band-aids on my toes, and I couldn't do it.

I've learned two important lessons from this, one for each bleeding toe. First, it's time for me to hang up my toenail clippers. I can no longer clip my own toes, at least not safely. Second, when I start to bleed, call someone sooner, rather than later. At least I won't be getting them out of bed. In fact, in general I need to ask for help sooner. It's just gotten to that point.

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