Seriously, Malaysia Takes Ingrown Toenails Seriously

I’ll put it out there from the start- I tend to minimize all illness/injuries. I’m pretty sure most anything can be walked off and there is no need to miss a day of school or work unless bodily fluids are running or you are in the hospital. In the last year though, I’ve started to think maybe my medical philosophy has steered me wrong. It was due to these stringent “rules” that I wrote a literature paper and worked for three days, all while blind in my left eye. Just when I was thinking it was time to rethink my “suck it up and stick it out” thought process, Malaysia has reiterated that overly cautious and slightly wimpy is not the way to go.

How did this rethinking of my thinking come about? An ingrown toenail.

That’s right. I would like to officially retake my stand on illness and injury. Pull it together and do what you need to do.

You see, I have had problems with an ingrown toenail on my left big toe since March. It all started when we went to Tioman Island to do our SCUBA certification. I stubbed my toe hard on something and it broke the nail down fairly low. As it grew in, it grew *in.* Since March, I’ve just dug it out occasionally as it pushed into the skin. It hurt a little, but was never something I couldn’t fix with a pair of nail clippers and a few winces of pain. (Keep in mind, this was the same SCUBA trip that took place a week before my sudden left-eye blindness. Maybe SCUBA is the death of me in a way I never imagined!) Lately though, the home remedy was no longer sufficient. Last Friday night, after a fun farewell dinner for one of our local staff who has worked at Embassy KL longer that I have been alive (seriously), I sat down to do a little self-surgery. As I took the clippers to the edge of skin, basically the skin folded back on its own, leaving a strangely gaping hole and no nail to dig out. (Gross, I know. Sorry if you are eating breakfast as you read this. But if you are eating breakfast, thank s for starting your day with In Search of the End of the Sidewalk !) Thad took one quick look at it and announced we would be going to the walk-in clinic first thing Saturday morning to have it cut out by a professional.

Since the toe was red and pretty painful by this point, I relented and off to the nice, shiny private hospital in KL we went. I assumed that the clinic would be able to cut it out and then send me on my way, but boy was I wrong. This is where the drama of a single ingrown toenail begins.

Saturday we went to the clinic. They wouldn’t cut my toe, instead made me an appointment with an orthopedic doctor for Tuesday and gave me a bag full of prescription drugs- anti-inflammatories, pain medication and antibiotics. They sent me home to wait for my mid-week appointment.

Tuesday rolls around and off I headed to the doctor. I took an hour off work, figuring my 11AM appointment would have me back at my desk by 1PM. Boy was I wrong!

My first meeting of the day started with the doctor giving me two options: do nothing or cut into the nailbed, forever changing the shape of the nail. When Thad asked if there was a middle-of-the-road option, we were told no. So, we opted for the second, as doing nothing was not going to be useful. The doctor then told us he could do it December 18! What? I thought it was going to happen today; that’s why we had the appointment. The doctor got all kinds of surly and told us that is not the way it works and that he had to be at the airport in two hours to catch his flight to India, so there was nothing more he could do.

After asking a few questions, which he interpreted as arguing, he finally referred us to another orthopedic doctor in the same building. (Those of you who know me know that I am not an arguer- especially in that kind of situation! I am not sure why he interpreted it as such, but needless to say I was less than impressed with his entire bedside manner.)

Doctor #2 on Tuesday was a much better fit. He actually examined my foot (something the first doctor did with a mere glance) and said he could remove the toenail and let it grow back in on its own, suggesting the more radical option be saved and used only if the toenail didn’t return correctly. He also said he could do the surgery today. (He kept calling it a surgery. I kept calling it a procedure. Little did I know how correct he was!)

We scheduled for 2PM in the day clinic for the procedure (I was still sticking with that term) and showed up a bit early to check in. Upon giving my name and passport and removing every piece of jewelry I was wearing, I was escorted to a curtained off area where I was handed a dressing gown, a pair of disposable underwear (?!?!) and a hairnet.

Suddenly, this all got a whole lot more serious. Why do I need all of this for a toenail?

I changed and Thad tied up the forty-seven ties on the back of my gown, not even trying to contain his giggles at the ridiculous disposable granny panties and hairnet I was rocking. Then, they made me lay in the bed and off I was wheeled to, yes, SURGERY!

I was actually taken to a surgery room where I was transferred onto a surgical bed and hooked up to a variety of machines. Covered with a blanket which had a magical layer of warm air being blown into it and with the huge ceiling lights all aimed at my foot, it was time for the doctor to make his grand entrance.

Again, we are talking about an ingrown toenail here!

Not being able to contain myself by the time, I blurted out, “Doctor, this is all a little dramatic for a toenail, don’t you think? In America, we would have cut it out in a walk-in clinic.”

He laughed a bit and then went to work, numbing most of my foot with four injections that made not very nice words tumble out of my mouth in a murmur or two of pain. He told me he was giving me the American dose of numbing injections rather than the Asian. Did he just call me fat??

All the while, as he numbed and cut and clipped (not painlessly, I might add) he wanted to talk about the visa waiver program! Are you serious? I should count this as work hours! So, while I had a minor (VERY minor) operation on my big toe, I did a bit of simultaneous consular section outreach.

The numbing and cutting and clipping took about half an hour and then I was wheeled back to where Thad was waiting. The nurse suggested I rest for another half an hour, but I said I was probably all right to go. There is nothing lying there would do for me, so she handed me my sack lunch (Yes, I am serious. I got a sandwich, two orange juices and a water. Sadly, no cookies.) and off we headed to pay my bill, get my new drugs and head home.

All in all, my ingrown toenail is going to set me back about $800 and a day and a half of work. (Luckily, we have very good insurance, but I am still not sure how to register the claim. I think I am going to look up the medical terms for ingrown toenail and make it sound super fancy, otherwise, it is ridiculous!)

And this, my friends, is why I am reverting to my previous beliefs about medical issues. If you aren’t seeping bodily fluids and you are not prone on a hospital bed, you are fine. Who would have guessed a single ingrown toenail would become so much drama and ridiculousness? Not I, I proclaim as I lay on my couch, trying to type with the computer on my lap and my foot propped up above my heart level. I guess they take their toe problems seriously in Malaysia!

Lesson learned.


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11 thoughts on “Seriously, Malaysia Takes Ingrown Toenails Seriously

  1. Please excuse my ignorance, but because you are in a foreign country all of your medical bills have to be paid immediately and then you get reimbursed from insurance? What would happen, knock on wood, if something serious happened and you did not have the funds to make a payment, then what is the procedure, if I may be so bold? Oh, yes, hope the toenail sorts itself out ok!

    Liked by 1 person

    • So our insurance is geared towards living abroad, which helps. But, overseas, we always pay upfront and then reimburse. *IF* we were to be hospitalized for more than 24 hours though, the embassy signs a promisory note and then they pick up the bills with the hospital. After that, insurance would pay them back. It is a nice safety net. (This does not work if you are not admitted though, so when I went to Singapore in the spring with my eye issues, all of my appointments were out-patient, so I had to pay the whole thing on my credit card. That was NOT pretty.)


    • Recovery was okay. I was home for the rest of that day and the following day and then back to work. I did wear a sock around the office for a few more days to protect it, but no problems at all. (It did look gross without a nail for months!!!)


  2. Hi there, may I please know the name of the hospital you had your ingrown nail surgery done in? I am desperate for a good orthopedic doctor (namely the Doctor#2 you mentioned) for my ingrown nail… Please help. Thank you!


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