How To Rip Out Your Own Toenails for Fun and Profit, Leaving the Podiatrist in the Dust

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What an idea for a How To article.

Pay the podiatrist? Hah! Why not rip out your own ingrown toenails? It might be fun, messes with the M.D.’s head as well as his profit, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, yank out them puppies and leave a blood crust!

Wha–?!

The idea for this little tale came from an old set of notes I thought I’d thrown away long ago. The setting was a podiatrist’s office in Rapid City, South Dakota, circa 1992. As a man in my mid-forties at that time, I’d discovered one of those unpleasant but inevitable facts of aging, the sort that ranks right up there with hair growing out of your ears instead of on top of your head.

Guys my age, my future ex-wife informed me, often suffered this condition. The big toes on both feet were experiencing “excessive sideways toenail growth”, to put it in terms even a Ghost could understand. Instead of growing straight forward, they were curling around, trying to encircle the entire toe(s) well beneath the skin, powering forward through muscle, nerve, and the inevitable pain.

“For Pete’s sake, go see a doctor,” the lady of the house told me.

Yeah, well, okay.

FAIR WARNING: If you’re squeamish when it comes to viewing photos of either bloody body parts or less than attractive toes, you’d be well advised to click on outa here and wait for the next post. I’ve got some pics of my own tootsies farther down the page you’re not going to want to study, especially if it’s just before bedtime or (worst of all) you’re trying to eat your dinner.

The Office Visit

Foot doctors get no respect, not even from themselves. In the waiting room of the podiatrist’s office, the most prominent wall hanging was a framed statement:

“FOOT DOCTORS ARE THOSE WHO FLUNKED KNEES IN MEDICAL SCHOOL.”

Cheerful thought, that.

The exam wasn’t so bad. Any doctor’s visit where you get to keep most of your clothes on, that’s a good thing. El m├ędico checked things out, explaining as he went:

“For now, the best thing would be to remove a slice of toenail from each side of the toes. The other option is to remove the entire toenail.”

“Uh, okay, let’s go with plan A, Doc.”

Thirty minutes later, he’d applied local anesthetic (shots about as pleasant as your basic root canal), cut and pulled the offending overgrowth on outa there, hit it with some antiseptic, thrown on gauze wraps, and…done!

Except for his parting advice and prediction for the future, both of which were dead wrong.

“Keep the corners growing out ahead of where they leave the flesh of the toes,” he instructed me, “because otherwise, if you cut them down in, they’ll grow right back under.”

Uh-huh. I didn’t respond to that openly, but knew he was full of it as far as my case was concerned. No way do I let toenails or fingernails grow out at all, let alone with sharp corners. One of my favorite lines was the old song lyric from Homer and Jethro, a takeoff on “Good Night, Irene”–where the singers advise Irene,

“You must clip your toenails, or you will rip the sheet.”

His prediction was this: “You’ll be back to see me within a year or two.”

I did respond to that. “No, I won’t.” But I didn’t explain why.

What he’d done, any rancher’s son with a few simple tools could do. It had helped, having him do that first little mini-procedure so I could see how it worked, but when the day came that it was necessary, I’d be ripping out my own big toenails for fun and profit.

No, the fun part would not be the pain or mopping up the blood. The fun part would be freaking people out, telling them about it.

The profit, on the other hand, was obvious. No visit to the doctor = no medical expense = pure profit to me (though not, obviously, to the fellow who flunked knees in medical school).

Nor was it like I hadn’t figured out any “foot stuff” on my own before. At age 20, my mild case of athlete’s foot refused to go away until I joined the Army. Their insistence that each of us wear flip-flops to the showers, plus the fact that I was no doubt changing socks more often than during my hardcore rodeo days, did the trick. Beyond that, I had one other problem (not counting the hammer toes, which have been there so long they seem normal). My stompers have really high arches; GI issue combat boots…did not.

Did I go on sick call for that, whine to an M.D. to write a prescription for special-fit boots? Nay. I did not. What I did do was place one rolled-up sock under the arch of each foot. Redneck fix, worked like a charm.

Toenail ripping? I could do this. I knew I could.

Gato cat inspects some of my toenail work. Note the seriously high arch, a natural fit for cowboy boots, but for standard issue combat boots, not so much.

Gato cat inspects some of my toenail work. Note the seriously high arch, a natural fit for cowboy boots, but for standard issue combat boots, not so much.


A Ripping Good Time

It was some months after the office visit when it became clear it was time to start yanking entire toenails. On both big toes, the side-curl growth had more than made up the loss of the nails removed by the podiatrist.

Yeah, it took a while. Sure, there was pain. But as the late, great bareback bronc rider and cowboy singer Chris LeDoux said in a song about an addicted-to-danger bull rider:

“To pain and fear he’s no stranger….”

Amen, brother.

Out came the nails, though not both at the same time. As of today, I’ve been performing this mini-operation on myself for more than 20 years. After one nail is removed, I’ve always allowed at least a few weeks of healing time before the other big toenail gets the pliers treatment, but that’s the only limitation I allow myself.

One digusting discovery: Perhaps the M.D.’s have some sort of Agent Orange for Toe Defoliation that keeps this from happening, but in my case, removing a toenail does not keep it from growing back. In fact, my big toes are like gecko tails, gifts that keep on giving. Which means that every so often the operation must be repeated.

However (and this is the good part), the nails do come back smaller every time, and the amount of time between nail pulls gets longer. At present, it’s usually more than a year between extractions.

Awesome.

Now it’s time for the nasty pictures. They show the following:

    1. Left foot: The nail was removed about a week ago. This is done whenever things become uncomfortable enough (toe-ache) to announce that significant nerve-pushing growth is once again going on under there.

    2. Left foot: This particular removal was interesting in that the nail had to be snipper-sliced and removed in several parts, which is not always the case. After things had healed a bit, the cause became obvious. The old nail had for some time been feeling pressure from a brand new nail growing up beneath it.

    3. Right foot: This mostly regrown nail has not been operated on for something like six to eight months. It’s nasty looking, but since I haven’t entered any pedi-beauty contests in quite a while, I don’t care.

    4. Both feet: Note the “old growth lines” where wild toenails grew “once upon a time”. Currently, these nails are thick but small in width and length and quite manageable. Before the Rodney Dangerfield of foot doctors did that first edge-slicing, they (the nails) dominated the toes entirely.

 Left-foot toes as they appear today, 20 years after my first toenail-ripping enterprise.


Left-foot toes as they appear today, 20 years after my first toenail-ripping enterprise.


Right-foot toes as they appear today. This one had the nail yanked at least six months ago. Nasty looking, but who cares? Comfort is king.

Right-foot toes as they appear today. This one had the nail yanked at least six months ago. Nasty looking, but who cares? Comfort is king.


 The red paint indicates the toe area covered by the nail when I first went to the foot doctor more than 20 years ago.


The red paint indicates the toe area covered by the nail when I first went to the foot doctor more than 20 years ago.

The Do It Yourself Toenail Removal Surgery

Since this is titled as a How To type of tale, perhaps we’d best get to that.

The toenail removal procedure is relatively straightforward, though there is an art to it.

First, the pointy end of a folding knife is used to “clean out” as much as possible around the forward “wing corners” of the offending nail. This is also the part where I make it clear I’m not recommending the procedure, not practicing medicine without a license, but simply exercising my First Amendment right to “talk about stuff”.

In truth, this page is likely to discourage readers from tackling their own toes. It’s not for those with weak stomachs or those who faint at the sight of blood, especially their own.

Here’s how it went the last time I removed a nail, specifically from the still-red left big toe shown in these photos.

    1. As stated, a knife was used to clean out the forward corners. A bit of lift was also applied, checking to see how tightly the nail might (or might not be) clinging to its bed. Having been assaulted repeatedly over the years, they’re usually a good bit easier to remove now than they were the first time around.

    2. The left side of the nail was noticeably looser than the right side, which meant it would be ripped out first. However, there was still more than a fair bit of resistance. To lessen that a bit more,a pair of serious nippers were used to slice the nail front-to-back. Not all the way, but as far as the nipper jaw could reach without too much screaming.

    Hey. That’s a joke. No screaming allowed; wifey was in the same room, playing Monopoly on the Game Channel when I did this. She would have had a fit.

    3. Using a pair of needle nose pliers, the loose forward edge of the somewhat loosened toenail slice was gripped and rolled back around the jaws of the pliers.

Note: This “rolling” of the nail, an exact copy of the way we older folks used to roll a key to open a can of sardines, is possibly the most important tidbit of technique in my entire arsenal. Pulling a toenail straight up from the toe simply will not work; the pliers slip every time. But with the roll, it (a) comes right up and (b) does so with a tenth of the pain that would otherwise be the case.

Amusing Note: I have this tiny bit of clairaudience, meaning that sometimes I can hear another person–who could be hundreds or even thousands of miles away–commenting in my head. It’s not a super-refined clairaudience; I can usually differentiate between male and female speakers but am not always able to pin it down beyond that. And I just now, while writing the above paragraph, heard a male voice giving me his opinion of my self-surgery: “KNUCKLEHEAD!”

My late father used to call me that, back in the wonderful days of childhood. Could have been him, watching over me from the higher planes, unimpressed with my sharing of this information.

    4. The roll effect also pulls the root of the nail free from the nail bed and out from under the covering flesh/skin with a minimum of fuss.

    5. Repeat the process with a second slice over the center part of the toe.

    6. Repeat one more time with the right-side, most difficult slice…which is much less difficult with all the rest of the nail already out of the way.

    7. Sop up blood with the paper towel, which had been placed under the toe area before the pulling began.

    8. Spray the heck out of the toe with antiseptic spray.

    9. Leave the serum-weeping, sometimes blood-oozing digit out in the open air for a while if possible, but definitely cover with a large bandaid before putting on a sock or tucking yourself under the covers at bedtime.

    10. Remove the bandaid daily, eyeball the inflammation level (for me, there’s sometimes none, sometimes a bit, rarely anything scary), spray with antiseptic again, put on a new bandaid, and most certainly change out that blood-encrusted sock..

Most of the time, the procedure is not overwhelmingly painful. This particular time was, however, a bit of an exception. Why, I’m not sure–though in hindsight, that new-growing toenail pushing up under the old one seems a likely contributing factor. Somewhere in between removing the first slice of nail and tackling the second slice, the pain amped up enough that at one point I noticed the nausea effect. (For any of you who miraculously don’t know, intense pain can and will make you sick to your stomach.)

How to deal with that? Well, for me, it’s simple enough. I started running the Chris LeDoux line through my head (“to pain and fear he’s no stranger”), alternating with, “It’s only pain”, and capping the lot with that thought that, “Hey, I’ve vomited before. Ain’t no big deal.”

And it wasn’t. The nausea faded right out when the third and final slice came out easily, beautifully, and almost painlessly. Yay rah me. Or, I suppose you could say, yay raw me.

Tools of the trade, laid out in preparation for my Do It Yourself toenail ripping/removal. The fingernail clippers are an afterthought, used to snip a tiny bit of nail here & there.

Tools of the trade, laid out in preparation for my Do It Yourself toenail ripping/removal. The fingernail clippers are an afterthought, used to snip a tiny bit of nail here & there.


A simulation, using a bit of cardboard from an empty box of (get this) nails to stand in for the pliers-rolled toenail.

A simulation, using a bit of cardboard from an empty box of (get this) nails to stand in for the pliers-rolled toenail.


 One spruced-up toe, all good to go.


One spruced-up toe, all good to go.

That’s how to rip out your own toenails for fun and profit, though I’ll betcha darn few of y’all will be doing the copycat thing on this one. Between home surgeries, however, one other item should be addressed: Ye olde maintenance.

Fortunately, that’s simplicity itself. After a nail has been ripped from its moorings and cast free to float upon the karmic winds a few times–or, alternatively, dumped in the trash–it gets kinda paranoid.

“Dang dude ripped out my predecessor, no mercy whatsoever,” it seems to think, exercising abundant TI (Toenail Intelligence). “So, let me see, maybe tuck myself in a little tighter, and, oh yeah, grow really really thick.”

Indeed.

Some of the big toenails I’ve sprouted in recent years have been thick enough to stop a bullet.

Okay, maybe a BB.

The point is, they tend to hump up in the middle, doing their best to cooperate with the God of Pliers . Some have literally cleared the nail bed entirely in the center portion of the toe, aided by nice, yellow foot fungus. Which, since it never spread anywhere else, seemed like a benefit. A sick, easy-to-yank, super-thick nail (sometimes a full 1/8 inch of thickness) is in this case preferable to a healthy, happily growing bit of keratin.

Don’t forget (as if you could), we’re talking serious redneck here.

So..what maintenance?

Mostly, all I do nowadays between nail-pulls is…file that sucker down when it gets too thick, hold that middle hump to a low roar.

My Dad gets credit for that one. During his last few years on this planet, he also had significant toenail challenges. Never pulled one himself, nor had one pulled, but my kid sister–who is a lifetime Registered Nurse–did provide toenail maintenance for him. Knowing what I was doing, she once told me Dad had instructed her to file straight across the nail, reducing the thickness in the center. This weakened that middle part, allowing the outer portions of the toenail to shift in toward the center some, get away from attacking all that flesh around where they weren’t supposed to be growing.

He’d learned it shoeing horses, filing hooves with a hoof rasp.

Of course, human toes don’t work so well with a hoof rasp designed for the foot of a thousand pound equine. At first, I used a point file, an automotive tool made for filing down distributor ignition points. Eventually, though, that wasn’t enough. In recent years, I’ve used an eight-inch bastard file.

Which seems appropriate on so many levels.

The bastard file. Yes, the light-colored streaks are definitely toenail dust.

The bastard file. Yes, the light-colored streaks are definitely toenail dust.

Based on, among other things, the fellow who sent me a psychic message to let me know I’m a knucklehead for leaving the podiatrist in the dust, I’m guessing this page should garner some…interesting comments.

In summary, knowing how and when to peform minor surgery on oneself is perhaps a symptom, just one more indicator of my being either a throwback to another time and place or a cast-ahead to the post-Armageddon days.

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