Toe the line

Marcy O’Brien, retired Executive Director of the award-winning Struthers Library Theatre, is a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

It’s not every Sunday that I work at trying to cut off my big toe.  Just last Sunday.  I hope it’s not a new trend in my weekend activities.

I’ve never really thought of myself as clumsy.  I might have to revisit that opinion – maybe I can settle for klutzy.  Whatever we call it, I fulfilled the definition Sunday evening.

We had worked most of the afternoon in our overcrowded garage.  The piles are stacked and jammed with Christmas stuff, household stuff, unused stuff and overused stuff.  Dear Richard’s stuff, my stuff, the kids’ stuff, our deceased mothers’ stuff, and godknowswhat stuff.  We are culling out, trying to clear pathways for orderly storage.  I’m not sure I have enough years left to complete the task. 

But I digress.  I mention the afternoon’s chores only to illustrate that maybe I was too tired to make dinner.  At least that’s the excuse I’m using.

I was preparing oven-baked chicken. I had just read a recipe that had made my mouth water.  I was cutting up a package of chicken quarters on the big cutting board, dividing the thighs from the drumsticks.  I recently sharpened all my chef knives so I was comfortable that I had the right tools for the task.

The idea was to dip the individual pieces into the bowl of melted butter that I’d placed on the back of the cutting board and then roll and coat each piece in the dry mixture of parmesan, panko bread crumbs, garlic and herbs.  That larger bowl was just behind the cutting board. Everything smelled wonderful as I worked my way through the stack of chicken parts that I’d washed and dried.

Then I picked up the largest hen quarter in the pile.  I started to cut through where I thought the joint was but this big chick wasn’t giving up her drumstick without a struggle.  I kept feeling for the joint where it should logically be and gave up after three unproductive cuts.  I decided to wrestle this chick for her leg. I picked up the whole quarter, the thigh in one hand, drumstick in the other and twisted with all the strength I have left in my arthritic paws.  What happened next is still not clear.

Either the strong arm twist broke the joint or my hands slipped on the skin during my violent twist.  Suddenly my right hand slammed down on the cutting board which was over the edge by maybe a half-inch. The force sent the board and knife up in the air, along with the bowl of melted butter that landed face down on my chest first before running down my legs and bare feet.  But at the same time I felt the hot butter on my feet I felt a sharp pain on the right foot.  The knife had landed upright – like you’d hold it – blade down on my big toe and then was driven home by the heavy cutting board that followed it onto my foot.  There were too many sensations happening all at once.  Omigod.  A glance at the counter confirmed that the bowl of the crumb mixture had merely tipped over.  If it had also been on the board I would have looked thoroughly breaded, ready for the deep fryer!  A small blessing as it turned out.

I didn’t know what to do first so I hollered for Dear Richard on his way in from the garage. “Are you alright?” he yelled moving rapidly to my side.

“I don’t know,” I whined, “but I think I’m going to have a nice bruise on my big toe.” The bleeding hadn’t started and the knife was so sharp I hadn’t truly felt the impact.  Full disclosure: I do have some peripheral neuropathy in my feet so the complete sensation arrived a little late at the accident scene.  And then the dam burst and the red river spilled between my toes, and onto the sink rug . . . and the floor.

I couldn’t apply pressure while moving across the kitchen to sit down, leaving a broad crimson trail.  By then, the whole front of the foot was bloody and it took some quick swabbing to find the exact cause – a cut a bit more than a inch across the base of my big toenail.  Applying blood-stopping pressure on the newly smashed toe hurt even more than my damaged pride. 

“How can I have been so stupid?” I said to Richard.  When he asked what I had been doing I told him what I knew – up until it happened.  I still don’t know the cause, but the effect has been lots more than uncomfortable.

We couldn’t stop the bleeding.  A half roll of paper towels later, Richard, an EMT in a previous life, finally got enough of the butter washed off and the bleeding stanched to apply a dressing and tight bandages that slowed things down.  Actually, once the idea hit me that I had been cutting chicken with that knife, the excess bleeding seemed like one of Mother Nature’s good ideas.

I resisted a trip to the emergency room.  Covered with butter and thinking about a counter half full of raw chicken, bloody floors, all amidst the wanderings of a curious and dinner-ready kitten, I wasn’t eager to head for the waiting room at the hospital.

The doc the next day mused that stitches would have been an option, but the very thought, Sunday night, of lifting the bottom of my big toenail to work those stitches into a profusely bleeding laceration didn’t appeal.

We stayed home on pressure and bleeding patrol.  Richard finished prepping the chicken for the oven, cleaned up the disastrous counter, cabinets, carpet and floor mess, made the rest of the dinner and fed the cat.  And people wonder why I call him Dear Richard?  I took a pain pill.

For almost three days before this bloody mess, I’d had a bout of vertigo.  I was pleased that by Sunday I was composed enough to work in the garage, to accomplish something worthwhile.  Then came the Sunday Toe Massacre. 

My back went out Tuesday night at a fancy dress dinner.

 As I have said in this space before – at this age every day is just patch, patch, patch.  Stiff arthritic joints, bronchitis, paper cuts, tinnitus, UTI’s, allergies – just normal everyday stuff.  Toe stuff, vertigo stuff, back stuff – a veritable garage full of complaints. 

On the other hand, there are Dear Richard, an adorable kitten, a warm house, good friends, loving grandchildren, and oh yes, even oven-baked parmesan garlic chicken.  It was good. 

I guess it is worth putting up with all this aging crapola just to keep on keeping on. 

And patch, patch, patch.

Marcy O’Brien, a long-time member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, can be reached at