“Sure I’ll take a walk in the park.”
A special girl invited me to Parque Lage in Rio a couple days before I was set to leave the city. I prefer nighttime outings as they have a higher chance of ending up in sex, but I agreed because I didn’t want to appear so one-dimensional.
During the hottest part of the day we took a little stroll up one of the park’s hills near a pleasant waterfall. We climbed some more for a nice view of Lagoa and the surrounding mountains, and halfway through our slightly romantic hike we sat down to eat a sweetsop fruit (tasted like pineapple). It’s then I felt something around my right ankle. Was it the syphilis flaring up again? I looked down and saw four little specs of blood where I was bitten by insects. Sloppy mosquitoes I thought, to let all that blood go to waste. I wiped myself off and then it was time to take smushy-faced camera phone pictures with my date.
When I went to bed that night I counted sixteen bites around my right ankle. I got out the hydrocortisone and every two hours I scratched myself awake and slathered on some cream. It was itchier than a normal mosquito bite and reminded me of when I got attacked by bedbugs two years prior. I assumed it was a tropical Brazilian insect I hadn’t encountered before, but in the end it’s only bug bites so I’m not going to freak out.
I freaked out the next day when I noticed my ankle turned into a cankle. It didn’t have a normal range of motion because of all the liquid jammed in there, and I felt a little jiggle with every step I took (I don’t know how you morbidly obese people do it). Later in the day I squeezed into my shoes to pick up my laundry I had left two days before.
The laundromat fucked up my load and three shirts had weird pink stains, including a nice shirt I had just bought at Zara (thankfully I saved the receipt). While arguing with the incompetent staff I’m furiously scratching my ankle and not realizing it. I left the laundromat without paying and looked down at my ankle to see blood streaks going into my shoe. I went next door to the pharmacy and bought an antibiotic cream with anti-itch steroid mixed in.
For the rest of the day the holes in my ankle oozed a yellowish liquid that crusted over. Pain set it and walking became difficult. After some googling on my symptoms I concluded that I was bitten by fleas and developed an allergic reaction. This didn’t surprise me because I’m allergic to bee stings and bedbug bites. I just had to wait a few days until it would clear.
The lease on my favela room expired and I left Rio with the swollen ankle. I made it to a little town in Minas Gerais called Tiradentes. There the swelling moved down into the right side of my foot. It was red and warm to the touch and I was feeling chilly and slightly weak. Because I was in a town that didn’t have a hospital, I had to visit a very old doctor who worked out of a worn leather bag. I couldn’t understand his Portuguese accent very well but I felt confident when he examined my ankle and nodded up and down. He prescribed me antibiotics (tetracycline).
Five days later my foot was still swollen. Now little red lines underneath my skin snaked down to my pinky toe, where a boil was developing. Every eight hours I took Advil to deal with the stubborn fever. Walking remained difficult. I returned to the doctor and he gave me the address of a private clinic in the next biggest town about 45 minutes away (São João del Rei). There they stabbed the boil and out exploded a pink combination of pus and blood. I showed them the tetracycline pills I was taking and they prescribed me something different: cephalexin.
The tetracycline already fucked up my stomach and this one would add to the problem. I wouldn’t shit for the next four days. During that time the swelling went down around my ankle and foot, but my pinky toe was changing color from dark red to light purple, as if it was starved of oxygen. It felt cold and was painful to touch. The boil didn’t seem to be healing so I went back to the clinic.
They sent me to a hospital where finally I was seen by a doctor who spoke English. He told me that the infection I had was “obviously” resistant to the antibiotics and looked like an MRSA infection. They immediately extracted some fluid from the boil, which was beginning to swallow my pinky toe, and told me to sit tight for the lab results.
Four hours later he said, “I’m afraid it’s MRSA.” I noticed he put on gloves and a face mask.
He said the only drugs left to treat my infection are a combination of vancomycin and teicoplanin, but they must be administered by IV. I had to come to the hospital every twelve hours for the next five days, my bill slowly increasing to god-knows-what. Before I left he popped the boil on my toe again and this time the juice color was purple. The toe began to shrink like a raisin and have a mummified appearance. For the first time I was afraid.
After three days of treatment my pinky toe didn’t improve. It pretty much looked dead.
The doctor shook his head and said that there is a serious risk the infection will spread and enter my bloodstream. If that happened, he said, there wasn’t much he could do for me. He wanted to amputate my pinky toe immediately.
The first thing I wanted to know was how much it cost.
“Oh it’s cheap,” he said, excitedly. “Cheaper than the antibiotics. We just use local anesthesia and cut it right off. Takes only ten minutes.”
“Will this eliminate the infection?”
“80% chance it will.”
“And how about if it doesn’t?”
“You’ll have to go to a hospital in Rio or Belo Horizonte for more options. But if we don’t do this now I’m afraid it will spread.”
“Can I think for a couple minutes?” I said.
I cried like a little girl. I wanted to call my family but I knew they would’ve freaked out and made me more nervous. They only knew about the allergic reaction and nothing else. I wanted to call my doctor but I didn’t think he was going to give his medical opinion over the phone without knowing all the information.
I tried to imagine life without a pinky toe. The doctor said that I’d still walk normally, but I was afraid I’d get laid a lot less if I only had nine toes. How could I pull like a champ with a very obvious deformity? But I can’t get laid if I’m dead, so I told him to take it off. This was four days ago. The procedure cost $760.
Right now I have a little bandage on my stump, but the doctor says leathery skin will grow over it. The infection seems to be gone as there is no discoloration, pain, or boils, but I have to visit in a few days to undergo one final test. In addition to everything else my total medical bills cost $2,823.76. I know it would be a lot more in the States, which is why I stayed in Brazil for treatment (possibly risking my life in the process).
It’s very weird to look down on my right foot and see a missing digit, but honestly I’m not too bummed about it. The only time people will notice is when I’m at the beach or pool, but I’m wondering when I should tell girls that I’m missing a toe. Do I have to tell them before sex as if I had herpes, or can it wait? Or maybe I should not say anything until they find out? I don’t think it will be disgusting, but then again I would be freaked out if I discovered missing toes on a girl in the bedroom. I’m shallow enough to where that would be a definite dealbreaker.
It’s times like this I’m thankful for my Buddhist studies. Sure there is real pain, but suffering is optional. Life goes on without a pinky toe, and I don’t have any regrets about the choices I’ve made. I rather have nine toes than watch have my soul defeated in some office job where I fantasize about killing myself. I just hope that I can still pull those hipster girls for one night stands when I come back home.