Worst souvenir ever.

I picked up some kind of fungus infection on my toenail while hiking el Camino de Santiago a couple of years ago. One of the fun things about that pilgrimage is the experience of sharing bathrooms and sleeping quarters with dozens of strangers, usually a mix of men and women, but by the end of a long day on the dusty trail, you really didn’t care who was brushing his or her teeth at the next sink or snoring in the bunk below you.

Anyway, I mostly ignored the infection, but occasionally got annoyed enough to try a series

of home remedies, with mixed results.

Vicks VapoRub was promising in the beginning, but then plateaued significantly short of complete healing. I can’t honestly say whether soaking your feet in Listerine and white vinegar works because that was such a mess, I gave it up after just a few efforts and didn’t really give it a fair shot at success.

It really wasn’t a big deal, or shouldn’t have been. I never go barefoot and never wear sandals, so nobody ever sees my feet except me and my dog, and he adores me unconditionally.

But I’ve always had pretty feet, even if I was the only one who thought so, or at least “pretty” by way of comparison. This is an opinion born out of noticing other people’s feet at Holiday World or those who wear flip-flops at Walmart.

So it was mildly frustrating that the only part of me that could even possibly be considered pretty ... now was not so much, thanks to this infection.

Over-the-counter creams and ointments and the home remedies had all turned out to be worthless, so I finally decided if I was going to spend the money anyway, I might as well go to a doctor and get something a little more powerful.

Imagine my surprise when he said there was yet another option: He could remove the toenail altogether.

I had not even considered such a thing.

“Do I need my toenail?” I wondered.

Not really, he said.

“Will it grow back?” I asked.

Maybe, he said.

I thought about it for a few minutes and decided to go for it. I scheduled another appointment and, since this toe is on my driving foot, so to speak, I asked a friend to provide transportation. I wasn’t sure how well, or if, I would be able to press the gas pedal or brake after the procedure.

As it turned out, the injection to numb my toe was the only part of the procedure that hurt. And it was over fast, surprisingly fast.

The nice guy in the doctor’s office gave me a soft shoe with Velcro closures and an open toe. This would provide protection without putting any pressure on my recovering non-toenail area.

My friend took me home and I settled into my recliner with my foot elevated, as instructed. For the next two weeks, I diligently followed directions for care: Soaking, dressing, bandaging, cleaning, wrapping my toe every morning and every night, and as often as possible in between.

I bought something called “Xeroform Petrolatum Non-Adhering Dressing” strips, which are presoaked in some kind of medicine that smells like a hospital. (These are not easy to find but let me know if you need some and I’ll tell you who sells them.)

Recovery seemed smooth, and my toe didn’t hurt at all — except when I tried to wear shoes. At first, I tried to wear the soft shoe with Velcro straps, but the sole of that shoe is not the same thickness as the sole of the sneaker I wear on my other foot, so it made me clomp loudly and walk with a limp.

Who needs to deal with that jazz? So I just took my bunny slippers to work and padded around the office in those. By now, my co-workers are accustomed to my weird fashion choices, so nobody said anything.

And then, finally, just before Thanksgiving, I tried once again to wear my shoes. I slipped my foot in gently, pulled the laces snug like I always do, and stood up. I took a few tentative steps, then a few more.

I took the soft shoe to work and still had the bunny slippers on standby “just in case,” but never needed them. By the end of the second day, I realized I had gone the entire day without even thinking about my toe.

And now, three months later, my toe is fully recovered, healed and strong. It is soft and smooth; prettier than ever.

A beautiful souvenir of another kind of journey.

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