Michael Moore must have never met Fabio. No, not the Italian model. The Italian surgeon. Or, as I’ll always remember him, the Butcher of Rome. Had the two met while Moore was making his new documentary SiCKO, the filmmaker wouldn’t be so keen on socialized medicine.
It all started when I was studying in London. In the face of many distractions, my toenail maintenance had suffered. Eventually my talons began to rival those of a velociraptor, and I feared I would end up as one of those freaks in The Giunness Book of World Records with long curly nails, whose photos I’d marvel at as a child. Before embarking on a five-week journey through Europe, I decided to tackle the problem. But I made what I later learned would be a tactical error. Instead of cutting the toenails straight across, and leaving them at a length equal to the skin of my toes, I sliced them around the edges, and cut them as short as possible, thinking I wouldn’t have to worry about cutting them for awhile.
By the time I got to Paris, I felt an itch on my big right toe. But I was determined to wander for miles through the city’s narrow winding old streets in search of every hidden pastry shop, cheese store, and boulangerie, so I ignored the sensation. When I made it to Florence, I was in pain. My toe had become red and swollen as if I were a cartoon character whose foot had been smashed by a polo mallet.
“Dude, you have an ingrown toenail,” declared my friend Jeff, who is one of those guys who always knows about these sorts of things. His diagnosis carried instant authority. Jeff suggested that I soak the foot in a warm Epsom salt bath. Easier said than done. I was able to obtain a salt-like substance from a nearby farmacia, but I should have known from the photo on the box depicting a woman’s smooth bare leg that it wouldn’t do the trick.
I gave up on home care and decided to seek professional help in Rome. I was a little wary. A few months earlier, in London, I went to a public hospital with a strained neck and ended up waiting for more than three hours, stuck next to an alcoholic from Glasgow who had been experiencing recurring back problems because he had once been run over by a car while drunk. He smuggled alcohol into the hospital, and I had to break up an altercation between him and two Pakistani men, after he began hurling racial slurs in their direction.
With this experience in mind, I decided to call the American Embassy and ask if they could recommend a good English-speaking podiatrist.
“A podiatrist!?” The woman on the other end of the phone laughed. “There aren’t podiatrists in Italy. This isn’t like America.” She told me they only had general surgeons.
Fabio dressed in a business suit and looked like a modern Italian man. And he did speak English. “We have two choices,” he instructed me. “Cut off half the toenail.” That didn’t seem too pleasant. “Or cut off the whole toenail.” I went for the first option.
I was told to lie face down on an operating table. His assistant pumped me full of Novocain. Then Fabio went to work.
“Ouch,” I hollered. He had begun to perform the surgery before the Novocain kicked in.
“It’s okay, we can wait,” Fabio said, calmly. Then he instructed his assistant to inject me with more Novacain. He tried to start the procedure a second time, only the anesthetic still hadn’t gone into effect, and so I again shrieked in pain.
Eventually, I couldn’t feel anything, but I could hear the clicking noise as he sliced through my toenail. Afterward, when I got up, half of my right leg was numb, and his assistant wrapped a bandage around my foot so big that I could not put on my shoe. Fabio prescribed painkillers for when the Novacain wore off, and for the remaining few weeks of my trip, I limped my way through Europe with a hackneyed toe.
Months later, I was home in the States when the itching feeling came back, and soon the same toe became red and swollen. I picked up the yellow pages and looked under “PODIATRIST.”
Instead of threatening to cut off my entire toenail, the trained podiatrist said he would remove just a sliver, then apply some medicine to the root of my toenail so that it could never become ingrown again. I sat in a chair rather than an operating table, and he administered a small amount of anesthetic, only he waited for it to set in before conducting the procedure. At the end of the quick “surgery,” he wrapped a small Band Aid around my toe, I put on my shoes and socks, and went on my way. No painkillers were necessary.
Michael Moore’s SiCKO lionizes socialized medicine in France, and implies that if you ever get half your fingers sliced off and want them to be reattached for free, you better get on a plane to Paris. But take it from me. If you get an ingrown toenail in Italy, go home.
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