This is part of a series about extraordinary experiences in personal health. Share yours at email@example.com.
I have a sore middle toe, likely caused by a blister trapping infection under the new skin. Or maybe by the communal yoga studio flip-flops? I'm religious about public yoga mats, cleaning before and after use, like the man who washes his hands before and after he urinates. Which situation is germier? Be prepared.
My wound looks inconsequential, so I keep putting off seeing my doctor. A friend puns, "Sounds like you better toe the line or you may need to have it toe-tally amputated." I often use my middle finger to express myself. Coincidental? Maybe I now have an "eff you" toe?
Running becomes difficult; then walking gets tricky, my footwear choices become limited and it hurts to go down the stairs. My best friend calls me Gimpy.
One weekend, my husband encourages me to go to a clinic to have it lanced, as he had when as a boy. I look up lancing on YouTube – if I have to endure such treatment, it will be at my own beloved doctor's hands.
She diagnoses a strep or staph infection that started under the nail and inflamed the pulp, prescribes a dose of heavy-duty antibiotics for 10 days and thinks I'll see an improvement in one.
I don't. I'm nearing the end of my antibiotics, both oral and topical and the toe, inflamed, looks like the head of a small angry penis. I think of younger days when my husband joked about giving me the "big toe treatment."
Dr. Mary peers again at my foot, wonders if it's fungal, too. She produces a bottle of potassium permanganate (P.P.), pouring a small number of the dark crystals into a sterile urine bottle. Twice a day, I'm to mix up a hot footbath the colour of pink Freshie. Such footbaths, while messy, used to be all the rage. Sometimes old is good.
She possesses P.P. because one of her patients was unable to use it – she couldn't find a bowl big enough to immerse her bum. Busy writing instructions, I almost miss this choice statement, but later I wonder: One cheek or two? What fungus affects the posterior? And had the patient considered a kiddie wading pool?
The doctor warns me that it stains, jokes that the toe is purple already (was the butt?), so won't make much of a difference and to WEAR GLOVES.
Online, I check out the chemical. Yes, it's used for toe and finger infections, as a fungicide (for animals, too), but also to treat water, mark snow and start fires. I watch an informative YouTube video and ponder the comments. One commenter asks if it can be used for a douche. A replier, who maybe has mixed up body parts, notes that nuts would be fried off.
Of more concern, one writes that specific dosing instructions are critical, that one must NOT follow such advice as adding crystals until the water turns pink. Oh, oh.
Helpfully, Wikipedia says, "potassium permanganate rapidly stains virtually any organic material such as skin, paper, and clothing … thus should be kept separated from … skin, paper, and clothing." Good to know, though difficult to follow when I wish to use it on skin.
The entry continues, "When solid, KMnO4 mixed with pure glycerol or other simple alcohols results in a violent combustion reaction." I think of the Matt Damon character in The Martian, a parody of itself, even to his MAKING water from hydrogen and oxygen, not to mention occasional accidental fires. I'm not sure where to place the specimen bottle with its precious/poisonous cargo. A hobbled Walter White, a Martha Stewart of the domesticated medical world, I'm uneasy about the contents.
Other sites note how the hazardous waste, admittedly, in much stronger dilutions than I'll be using, must be disposed of. I do not want my delightful air-jetted tub, where I've been toe-soaking, permanently purple.
Another web site notes that P.P. is no longer used in the U.S. Hard to believe that Trump is allowed but KMn04 is not.
It is, as well, used in the film industry, such as on Indiana Jones, to age props. And this I'm going to put on my skin? Do I want my feet to look 127 years old (like Harrison Ford's face)?
I need a cure, so I bite the bullet. It's also called Condy's crystals, which sounds innocuous, like penny candy, so how bad can it be? The gloves I locate were last used in a textile dyeing course and who knows what chemicals are already soldered to them.
I decide to do the deed outside. Good ventilation and all. I pour in five flakes and the water is the colour of grape soda. Diluting to pink Freshie is but the work of the moment.
Ah! Not so hard. My toe responds. Healing waters. After, I consider pouring the toxic waste onto my nasty neighbours' weeds but pour them on my own. It repels snakes, apparently.
Reward: my pomegranate-raspberry iced tea is the exact same shade as the footbath solution just discarded, and "permanganate" is suspiciously close to "pomegranate." Huh. I swig it down. "Drinking the Kool-Aid" takes on a whole new meaning for me. Scott asks if I'm now a Pinko.
I'll sneak some to the yoga studio to give the communal flip-flops a good dowsing. Because they're pink and purple already, nobody need be aware of my good deed. Random acts of kindness.
I fly to a conference next week. Not sure what an airport inspector will think of the urine bottle with the scrawl all over and the salts inside, but potassium permanganate isn't on Air Canada's list of hazardous goods.
Probably don't need to fill the prescription, as so few flakes do the job, but a survival kit might be handy in earthquake-overdue Vancouver. Animal fat, or Nutella, and my trusty P.P. for fire, healthy feet, and I'll be good to go! In the meanwhile, I hope the original owner of the crystals, with her substantial buttocks, will not be my airplane seatmate.
Crystal Hurdle lives in North Vancouver