Nov 12, 2018

Glamorous sporting injury - toenail removal

So my hard-earned day off work today got off to a flying start -- up at 4 am for a rare surf in uncrowded Monday morning waves ... but then I couldn't get the car started ... and so opted to have a toenail removed instead.

Glamorous sporting injury - toenail removal photo

The other week I banged the big toe of my right foot on my surfboard during a fall.  I didn't think much about it at the time.  It stung a bit but the toe was still moving freely.

After getting back home the nail had already begun a color transformation from, well, clear to blue and green in the bottom corner.

I had hoped the healthy part of the nail would win out and things would return to normal soon enough but after about a week the whole nail had turned black infused with a worryingly toxic-looking green.

Still, I continued to hope it would grow out.  In the meantime it was coming away from the skin and during surfs I could feel the water seeping into the gap and kind of pulling away at the nail, so during subsequent surfs I strapped it up to hold it in place.

Nothing seemed to be changing though, and after the partner made a lighthearted remark about having my toe chopped off (and a Daihatsu Move that refused to do just that) I went to see the doctor.

So, in the interests of serving the community with insights into the blunt realities of life in Japan, I'll share here my toenail removal experience at a Japanese clinic.

First, you have to pick the right medical clinic.  In my limited experience of healthcare in Japan, unless you're going to a hospital, at a local clinic level you have to find one that specializes in your particular problem.  In this case a 皮膚科 -- hifuka / dermatologist (skin, nails, hair etc).

I've been to my local dermatology clinic before.  It's a walk-in place -- no appointment needed.  The facility reminds me of those scenes from the early Terminator movies in which we skip to the future, as taken over by the machines, and follow the movie's hero John Connor along the shelled-out corridors of some building where people are squatted against walls and huddled in tight corners in the tight space.  That is to say, the clinic waiting area is emphatically not up to task and the examination rooms are little more than curtained-off alcoves.  

This place doesn't muck about though.  You get about two minutes with the doctors before they diagnose the problem and you're sent off to the treatment ... area.  

The doc said that the nail would eventually grow out but surfing in this condition would be to run the risk of the nail snapping off in a weird and unhealthy way.  Better to pull it out now!

I asked if it would hurt, to which he responded that it would be anesthetized and that school kids had had the procedure done.  I'm nearly 40, by the way.

So, you lie down and get two injections to numb the thing.  And a bit of a toe massage from the nurse to speed things along.

Then the doc comes out, there's the clanging of bits of medical kit, and a pulling sensation as the nurse holds your leg to apply some resistance.  It's not at all painful but the images in your head (I wasn't looking) and the clipping sounds are not particularly welcome.

It took about 15 minutes from taking my sock off to having the toe (without nail) cleaned and wrapped up.  I wan't given the removed nail as a memento.  Nor did I ask for it.

I was told that once the anesthetic wore off, it would hurt and was given a pill to deal with the pain along with some stat about how many people take the pain and how many people take the pill.  I took the pill, because it hurt like hell for a couple of hours.  And it's still throbbing a bit now some seven hours later.  

This being Japan, plenty of other drugs and creams were dished out.  I've about two-days worth of what I assume are antibiotics.  A few day's worth of cream to apply to the bit of the toe where the nail should be.  Gauze and plasters.  And a couple more painkillers.

Glamorous sporting injury - toenail removal photo

And, again this being Japan, I have to go back in next weekend to have another once over. 

I'm on Japan's National Health Insurance so the cost of toenail removal along with the medication came in at just under 6,000 yen.  Maybe the smaller toes are cheaper!

A word on the crowded clinic.  Some people would find cause for complaint about such crowded and intimate conditions.  They might be right to, but this clinic is a walk-in place.  Everyone gets seen to (albeit it briefly) and I'd speculate that few people are there with very serious problems (which they probably take to the bigger hospitals).  

Anyway, toenail removal is far from serious and is really just a kind of inconvenience that I'm happy to wait shoulder-to-shoulder for just to get it sorted quickly.  But, yea, this clinic is super crowded and you do have to explain your bodily malfunctions in front of a crowd of people.

The doctor though, was nice to the point of heartbreaking.  At one point I thought he might give me a lolly for being so brave!

I'm not hoping for many responses to this, but anyone else had a toenail removed in Japan?

Oh, and I've not taken off the bandaging yet.  I can't do that until tomorrow.  Maybe I'll add a picture of what's underneath to this blog post!



Traveler, surfer, and scribe. Based in Tokyo for six years.


  • genkidesu

    on Nov 12

    Thankfully I haven’t had an experience like this, but glad they were able to sort it out quickly for you! Hope you’re on the mend and the pain is tolerable.

  • Tomuu

    on Nov 14

    @genkidesu Thanks. Yea, on the mend. I was going to add a picture of the aftermath to this post but have decided against it. It really is a bit disgusting!

  • genkidesu

    on Nov 14

    @Tomuu oh gosh I can only imagine! Glad you decided against it!!