THE BLOG
03/07/2012 10:54 am ET Updated May 07, 2012

"Too Cuticle for Words"

As a man with his finger on the pulse of America, which could get me into legal trouble, I am happy to report that I still have a pulse after surviving an infected finger.

The trouble was caused by a hangnail that developed into paronychia, a bacterial hand infection that can lead to banishment from nail salons or, in extreme cases, death.

I can just imagine the lead of my obituary: "Jerry Zezima, a longtime newspaper columnist and certified public nuisance, died yesterday of complications from a hangnail. He was 58."

Actually, I am old enough to know better. But I didn't, which is why I plucked the stupid thing instead of using a nail clipper or, even better, a Ginsu knife, which is advertised on the company's website as being able to "cut through a nail," as well as a tin can or a radiator hose, "and still slice a tomato paper thin."

Fortunately, I don't have a Ginsu knife or I might have amputated my finger. Which may have been necessary anyway because the infection, according to several trained medical professionals, was pretty severe.

The first one I saw was Julia Leydon, an occupational health nurse at work. When I walked into her office on a Friday morning, she immediately noticed my right index finger, possibly because it was so big and so red that if I had been standing on a street corner with my hand raised, cars might actually have stopped.

"That doesn't look good," she said ominously.

"It doesn't feel good," I replied. "If it gets any bigger, I could be a float in the Thanksgiving parade."

Julia, who is certified in case management, stated certifiably that my case needed immediate management. She took me downstairs and said she was going to make me a cocktail.

"I could use a drink," I said. "It might numb the pain."

"It's a little too early in the day for the kind of cocktail you have in mind," said Julia, who whipped up a concoction of hydrogen peroxide and warm water, into which she gently immersed my finger.

"Soak for 20 minutes," she instructed. "Then repeat three or four times a day. After each soaking, put some Bacitracin on your finger and cover it with a Band-Aid."

Julia gave me a few packets of Bacitracin, an antibiotic ointment, and several Band-Aids.

"Are you right-handed?" she asked.

"I'm ambidextrous," I said. "I'm incompetent with both hands."

"If you notice red lines starting to go down your finger," Julia warned, "you should see a doctor."

By the next morning, my finger looked like it was about to be the cause of one of those Hollywood movie explosions in which a fireball erupts and blows a guy (in this case, me) across the street.

Since it was Saturday, and I couldn't see my doctor, I went to a clinic, where an attending physician winced when she saw my finger and suggested I continue to soak it. "Add epsom salt to the water," she said, giving me a prescription for an antibiotic. "If your finger isn't better by Monday, come back and we'll lance it."

By Monday, my finger seemed almost as big as my head, except that my head is empty and my finger doesn't have a mustache. I went back to the clinic and another physician said he would relieve the pressure by draining the humongous digit. The stuff that came out could have clogged a drain, but I felt greatly relieved.

I continued to soak my finger and finished the antibiotics.

"It's looking much better," Julia the nurse said when I saw her for a follow-up visit. "Next time you get a hangnail, don't pull it out."

"At least it didn't kill me," I said. "Then I would have been a victim of the fickle finger of fate."

Stamford Advocate columnist Jerry Zezima is the author of Leave It to Boomer. Visit his blog at www.jerryzezima.blogspot.com. Email: JerryZ111@optonline.net.

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