Friday, March 13, 2009

New skin

I started with the recumbent bike and moved to the upright bike, spinning easy circles beneath the florescent lights of the gym. Ten days isn't a long time but it feels eternal, and the dull passing of time was wearing holes into my resolve to take it slow. By the third day of my renewed gym membership, I had crawled my way over to the elliptical machine, toeless surgery boot strapped to one foot, pressing down on my heel until I hit a good glide. I poured sweat onto the plastic machine and felt like I could sprint forever. Good. Alive. Happy to be out again, even if only inside.

I took a bath and changed all my dressings so my doctor wouldn't suspect anything, but she did.

"You've been getting this wet?" she scolded me as she pressed down on the wrinkled white skin on top of my foot.

"Maybe a little sweat," I said. "Or slush. It's been nasty outside."

"You shouldn't be walking around outside," she said. "You still have your crutches?" I nodded. "Good. Did you get the aloe vera cream?"

"Oh, um, I haven't had a chance yet."

"You haven't had a chance? What have you been doing all this time? These are your toes."

"Sorry. I forgot."

She finished unwrapping my bandages to reveal the deep purple skin that has been darkening by the day. I let out a loud sigh. "It's not looking good, is it?"

"It's going to get darker," she said. She took out a small razor and poked my big toe with the tip. "Can you feel that?"

I sighed again. "No."

"Well, it feels pretty soft," she said. "I'm going to look inside."

She sliced the blade in and began carving a straight line around my dull blue toenail. She rounded the outside edge and pressed down harder.

"Does that hurt?"

"I can feel it, but it doesn't hurt."

"That's a pretty major callous you have right there."

"Thanks. I've been working on it for at least two years. It's my Juneau mountain callous."

"Yeah, well you're going to lose it." She carved out the hard yellow mass and set it aside. She moved around the back of my toe and carved along the bottom, coming up the other side of the dead toenail and meeting the edge where she started. She lifted the blister from the back of my toe and said "wow."

"What is it?" I asked. "What do you see?"

"Look at this," she said as she peeled back the purple skin. "This is moving along very quickly." Beneath the blackened veneer of frostbite was a layer of dark pink tissue, smooth and wet like the skin of a newborn.

"That's new baby skin," she said. "Completely healthy." She smiled.

I looked down at my newly pink toe and smiled back. I don't think I've ever been so proud of what my body can do.


  1. Awww!!! YAY for your beautiful toe!!! What a Victory!!! Keep at the good stuff girl, your body is winning!!

  2. Wow. That was so vividly visceral I almost dry-heaved. Glad you're coming back to health!

    Kim, a lurker.

  3. Go TOE go! Jill, I'm super happy for you this morning!

  4. Congrats on the start of a good healing process! Now get the cream that you need so the rest of your feet heal up as well.

    Keep on working!

  5. So when are we going to see more pictures of your hairy toe knuckles ?.

  6. Wow! Congratulations and keep progressing.

  7. Please listen to your doctor and get well!

  8. Your toe blog is very beautiful and nice!

    I watched my buddy Freddy grow new fingers after frostbite and I remember his brand new pink baby fingers emerging from all that blackened mess.

    Those were the days...

  9. Congratulations on new baby toe skin!! You'll be back at it in no time :)

  10. You are the toughest chick I know. I couldn't read all of what you wrote, but yet, you were actually able to write all of it.

  11. Way to go on the new skin. At least you didn't get lost for four nights. URL:
    take care of those toes,
    Ron Sexton
    new york, ny

  12. Cringeworthy...but hooray for baby toe skin!

  13. Oh my God, I have a strong stomach but that hurt me to read that post. No picture please! I have all I need burned into my mind.
    7 weeks to my event St Croix 70.3

  14. Not only did I puke in my mouth a little bit while reading this, but I now seem to have a headache and diarrhea. Incredible!

    I don't know how you did it, but somehow your blog has given me the flu. Nice work.

  15. Don't be foolish about your recovery.

  16. Jill that reminds me of Mr Deeds black foot

    Bad joke.

    EL Animal

  17. I would think exercise would be a good thing -- increasing circulation/bringing blood to the area to heal faster? I'm not a doctor, though. :o)
    Great news about your toe!

  18. Thanks, I barfed all over my keyboard. I think your rehabilitating it to come back faster with the active recovery. Keep the circulation flowing and the wound from getting infected. Screw aloah vera ... it can not heal as fast as active recovery. Doctors .... argh ...o/o

  19. That bad, huh? It's a good thing I didn't post the graphic version. I even had a picture. :-)

    I was just trying to convey how amazing it seems to have new skin in a place where everything just moments before looked disgusting and dead. The phrase "I have new skin and it's awesome" just wasn't as effective.

    Looking for a happy medium in the art of explanation.

  20. That is good news. Keep healing up!

  21. wow, glad you did not include pictures with this post!

  22. YAY, Jill!

    Follow your gut, but take ALL THAT amazing brain power, will and energy you have and focus it down into your feet to speed your healing!

    You are amazing, and you will come back stronger than before, I know what its like to have to move when people think you shouldn't be walking. Do both.

    Take care of your foot, and feed your spirit.

    Much love,

  23. Sorry about your foot. Had no idea you were going through that when I saw you in Yentna.

  24. Jill...

    Listen to the Doc. Go easy and prevent anymore damage. It's tough to rest, I know, but you are young and have plenty of time.

  25. Somehow I am not at all surprised that you haven't gotten that stupid aloe cream yet. Seems rather mythical anyway. They believe in that in Juneau too?

    You know I would absolutely love to be sent pictures. You can email them directly to me to spare your squeamish readership.


  26. Okay, this made me wince a then brought a tear with the image of the new baby skin! Whew! Be careful, though, give it time to heal -- train you mind so your body can heal. I remember I was working at a dance school years and years ago. Talking to a male ballet dancer, I said, "Seems like ballet takes a toll. Everyone seems to get hurt a lot."
    "No, that's not it," he explained. "Everyone hurts themselves a lot. You don't need to get injured."

    I've never forgotten that. Hmmm.

  27. Amity ... I made the mistake of telling my doctor the emergency room aloe cream story. I've looked for it at four different pharmacies in Juneau. It's like this mythical elixer that doctors seem to believe in, but that does, in fact, not exist. As far as photos: If you like, I'll send you the whole series of gruesome pics soon. My doctor is making a scrapbook, I think.

    I really think that the fairly mild/60-90-minutes-a-day of gym exercise is aiding my healing. I didn't get a "don't do that" from my doctor. I just got a "keep it dry and keep your weight off of it" lecture. She even encouraged use of the recumbant bike. She seemed genuinely surprised at how fast the regrowth is coming along. Granted, her expertise is more with bad burns that frostbite, but so far the transition from damaged to healthy tissue is coming along at a surprisingly rapid rate, aloe cream or not. Although I'm bummed about scratching the race, being off my feet, medical bills, etc., I have to admit this whole frostbite thing has been a fascinating up-front view into the body's ability to heal.

  28. Hey Jill - When you send the pics to Amity, send them to me also.

    Sure am glad that you are healing so nicely. We are so thankful that it wasn't any worse.

    Love you

  29. I think photos of the recovery of your frostbitten toes would serve as a very potent lesson about the dangers of frostbite and getting dry RIGHT AWAY in cold weather.

  30. Thanks for the update. Thanks even more for not providing photographic details. I'm so glad you're on the mend! You are one tough chick.

    Win Toe!
    Win Susan!

  31. lol My first reaction upon reading this post was "Damn, she didn't post pictures". I would've loved to have seen that procedure. At one point in my life I was headed to medical school before fate set me on another course, guess I still have the fascination. How about posting a link with a warning for the weak-stomached so that the rest of us so inclined could see the aforementioned pics?
    Ps..Your word verification is "Rests"..can't be for me,all I did all day was rest aka procrastinate..must be a message intended for the blog owner.Good luck with your recovery.

  32. YAY JILL!

    Frostbite: "Bwahaha! Fear my purply blistered might!"

    Jill's Toe: "Pssh, please. I survived last year's Iditarod, and who knows how many trails since then. What have you done lately? Yeah. That's what I thought. Move over."

    Also, you've heard this before, but your writing is stellar. It takes a lot of skill to get me feeling so triumphant over a spot of pink skin! Your description of the frostbite was gross, but effectively so :P .

    The human body is definitely an amazing thing, and it often surprises doctors with what it can do. (But you should still listen to them! ;) ) Congratulations! May your speedy recovery continue!


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