Friday, June 5, 2009


My wife and I caught the travel bug many years ago and our most recent trip was a month-long trek through the Middle East in March.

We saw pyramids, ancient ruins, and the Holy Lands on this trip but I’m going to focus on something much smaller and less dramatic – my left toe.

Now, the importance of a good, strong, healthy left toe is very much underrated and is often overlooked as a key part to the overall enjoyment of a trip. Like most people, I too had taken my left toe for granted for far too long and it came back to haunt me in Cairo, Egypt, in a way that is much worse than any bloody nipple of Luis’ could ever be…

The story of the left toe comes to a riveting climax deep in the labyrinth-like streets of Cairo. The story, however, begins at a sunny park in Southern California where I spent much of the last day at work running around and making preparations for my pending 30-day absence. In the process, I developed a very small blister on the top of my left toe.

A day later my wife and I were in New York where we spent a full day before heading overseas. We spent the day racing around the city trying to take in as much of Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art as possible.

My left toe made it through this day seemingly unscathed, save for very minor soreness.

The next day we were in Cairo. [Guest editor’s note: Unless you’ve ever been to Cairo, the words I use to describe it will not come close to doing it justice. All I can say is that there are more people, more cars, and more chaos here than anywhere else you’ve ever been. It makes LA seem like a small, quiet Midwestern town.] We dove headfirst into this megalopolis and spent several hours in the evening lost trying to make our way back to our hotel – which nobody had ever heard of – using our very limited Arabic language abilities.

My left toe made it through this day seemingly unscathed, save for minor soreness.

We spent the second day in Cairo exploring more of the city and its ancient bazaars and sites. Exploring requires an inordinate amount of walking.

My left toe made it through this day seemingly unscathed, save for a bit of soreness.

Let me start by saying that on Day 4, my left toe did not make it through unscathed, and there was a hell of a lot of pain and soreness…and tears.

At the end of Day 3, we took a side trip to the Sinai Peninsula to climb Mt. Sinai. We arrived to the base of the mountain at midnight, after a 7 hour car ride. We got there at midnight because it’s best to see sunrise from the summit of the mountain and this meant we had to start climbing in the middle of the night. We followed the Moses trail to the snowy summit and watched the sun come up in the morning for one of the most memorable sunrises in my life. After taking in the moment, we descended the mountain by a steep route consisting of 4,000 “steps” formed in the mountain.

By the time we reached the base, my left foot was throbbing. I didn’t have a chance to inspect the damage until we were back in the car headed to Cairo.

When I took off my shoe, the reason for the pain became obvious. The blistered area was covered in blood and my toe had swollen to twice its normal size. It hurt to move it, touch it, and look at it. The swelling had also spread to other parts of my foot and was heading toward my ankle.

I spent the next several hours of the car ride trying to figure out what to do. Near the Suez Canal, I finally built up the courage to squeeze the toe to try to relieve some of the blood and fluid. I think I had very limited success. Others may classify this as a failure.

After we made it to back to the hotel, we decided that I could not go on like this and that medical care was needed. Now, I don’t know about any of you but I have Kaiser Permanente at home and I often complain about their services. However, being in Cairo changes your perspective on things and now I am much more grateful for KP (Thrive!).

The hotel staff pointed me in the direction of a local clinic and my wife helped me hobble there to see a doctor. With the help of a friendly local we met on the street (“tell everyone in America it is safe to visit Egypt, my friend!”), I was able to see the doctor after a short wait and a small fee. Everything in Egypt requires a small fee or tip.

The doctor was a gray-haired man who spoke broken English but was still able to basically call me an idiot for walking on my infected foot. No tip required for that bit of advice.

The doctor examined my foot then he sent me into another room where he said a nurse would give me antibiotics.

I thought the worst of my ordeal was over as I headed to that room. I’m sure cattle feel the same way on their walk to the slaughterhouse.

I entered the room and was directed to sit on a treatment table by the nurse. Soon after I sat down, the doctor walked in and said a few words to the nurse in Arabic.

Then the doctor told me to lie back on the table with my leg extended. I did as told.

The next few minutes passed in a blur.

With my leg stretched out in front of me, the doctor pulled a bottle from a shelf and poured a cold, brownish liquid over my toe.

Then, he pulled out a pair of surgical scissors from his lab coat.

When I saw the glint of the metal, I looked over to my wife who had a frightened look on her face. I can only imagine what my face looked like to her.

I didn’t know what to do.

Should I leap off the table and hobble away? Should I shout “hallas!” (“stop!”).

I did neither.

Instead, I covered my eyes with my right hand and, sure enough, the next thing I felt was the cold metal sliding into my toe. Then, I felt him open the scissors to widen the opening. After that, he put my toe in a death grip and squeezed as much blood and pus out of it as he could. I swear he must have squeezed some of my soul out, too.

I had done a good job of suppressing any shouts of pain to this point. I looked over to my wife and she was crying on the other side of the room.

I’ve never fainted in my life and, as the scissors penetrated my toe, I wished that I would just pass out instead of having to feel that horrific pain (turns out the brown liquid he poured on me was NOT an anesthetic). It was the worst physical pain I’ve ever felt.

Once the doctor was satisfied with his work, he had the nurse bandage my foot and give me the first of five antibiotic injections I would need over the next two days (Side note: you have to tip the nurses in Egypt. I had to give her a small tip for the bandaging job and a small tip for the injections).

My toe regained function slowly over the next few days but I didn’t let this hinder our trip. The doctor told me not to walk on it at all for the following two days but I didn’t listen to him.

In fact, I spent the following day with my wife climbing inside the Great Pyramid at Giza and walking around the Sphinx.

- DB


Willoughby said...

What a memorable trip! I can't believe the doctor cut your toe open without numbing it first. Scary! Did you ever find out what the brown liquid was?

5thsister said...

Oh my! Horrors! Glad the cellulitis didn't advance and cause further difficulties. I'm with Willoughby...what was that mysterious brown liquid?

L.B. said...

I can only guess that the brown liquid was something to clean the area. I can't be sure because the writing on the bottle was in Arabic. Come to think of it, the writing on the injections was in Arabic, too, so I can only assume they shot me full of antibiotics. I guess the moral of the story is if you ever travel to Egypt, bring your own form of anesthesia...

- DB

Lissaloo said...

That sounds awful! I guess our health care isn't all that bad :)

Angie Eats Peace said...

AH! Why did I read this during breakfast?! Yikes!