An essay about overcoming irrational fears.
| There is Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself (and Toe Infections)
It had been a month since I cut my toe at camp. When I cut it, I neglected to clean it out; I was at a campsite in Prescott and lackadaisically placed a band- aid on it to stop the bleeding. Little did I know that this small slash on the big toe of my left foot would cause me so much pain throughout the next month. As the weeks passed, I did little for this wound, occasionally putting a dab of Neosporin on the bandage, to make myself feel I was actively trying to reduce the constant redness and soreness. In reality, I let it get worse each day.
I began my first semester of college, on the vast campus of Arizona State University. Walking from building to building, over 4 square miles, became a painful chore. The pain grew unbearable, like a hammer smashing my foot, each time I took a step. My friends gawked in disgust at the oozing puss and dried blood, yet I refused to recognize the obvious. I would not accept that my toe was infected, and it needed to be cleaned out. It continued to get worse and as each day passed, and I worried more and more about my precarious toe situation. I needed to see a doctor before it got worse.
Each of my friends told me a different story about my toe. Every day I learned something new was going to happen to me. Sometimes I heard I would need painful surgery, while other days my friends said the doctors were going to have to amputate my toe. My anxiety grew with each tale. My friends begged me to visit the student health center, to clean it out, or to let them clean it for me. I decided on the last of the three, not ready to shell out 40 bucks to see a doctor to tell me my toe was infected. My strategy of ignoring the problem was not working; it was time for me to change up my game plan and end my anxiety.
However, I feared the pain from the cleaning just as much as the infection itself. Alissa, my over-zealous pre-med friend, said she had done this plenty of times, and although I trusted her, I continued to dread the worst. “I’ll do it tomorrow” became my mantra, but I eventually gave in to the peer pressure. On a solemn Thursday night, I decided it was time to overcome this fear, and clean my now alien looking toe. As I traveled across the hallway, I knew there was no turning back, no matter how hard I would try. My fear of this toe infection, as well as of the blood and pain, would be addressed that night.
Kevin brought the camera—my anxiety would win an Oscar. Carrie brought the music— to pump energy into our operating room (the bathroom sink). Cameron brought the neighbors— half the 4th floor. I, on the other hand, brought a blindfold. But like a train wreck, I had to watch, since my toe had become a test subject for Alissa’s future as a medical doctor. I flinched with every poke and prod, but eventually I gave in, and let her do her work. “Dr.” Alissa cut, dug at, and manipulated my toe, while I shouted at each touch, even though it didn’t hurt that much. When she doused my foot with hydrogen peroxide, I hollered so loud that someone could have thought I was dying. Eventually, I accepted that I was being ridiculous and my fears were hindering my safety and health.
By the end of the night, I was pain free. Although Dr. Alissa removed some puss from my toe, and I bled a little, no serious damage occurred. I decided that the next day I would go get my foot taken care of by a real doctor, and seven friends joined me for this two and a half hour adventure. I came away with an antibiotic, some Epsom salts to soak my toe with, and the realization that my fear of getting my toe fixed earlier could have saved me much pain and frustration. The end result of seeing the doctor was not terrible. He didn’t slice off my toe, painfully examine it, or hand me a death sentence. When I asked Dr. Cohen if I was going to die, he laughed and said yes, later explaining that everyone dies. His reassuring yet practical tableside manner influenced my thinking and calmed my nerves while making me laugh. Much of my “deadly” toe infection fear evaporated.
Fear is universal. Everybody fears something, something that haunts his or her daily life. Bees. Snakes. Clowns. Unemployment. Plane crashes. AIDS. Failure. Public speaking. These are just a few common worries. The particulars really don’t matter. Rather, the challenge is overcoming the particular fear to move on with our lives. When my friends gathered, gleefully, to watch me agonize over the pain I dreaded, I realized that we limit ourselves when we let our phobias control our actions. My fear of blood, puss, pain, sharp objects, and toe infections let my toe contagion deteriorate more than it should, causing unnecessary discomfort. When we accept the things we dread the most, we will grow because we learn to deal with situations that have made us uncomfortable.
To me, the toe infection is more than a contamination; it is a living symbol of fear. As I let the days pass, refusing to acknowledge the existence of my problem, I lived in fear. My friends, on the other hand, served as an antibiotic, assisting me in killing my infection and my fears. Whatever our fears may be, we must clean our lives of all of the unnecessary stressors that cause us pain and suffering, just as the Epsom salt cleaned my toe of the puss and germs that hindered how I walked. Finally, my slowly healing foot became the new me. I changed, became less nervous and more ready to live. Each day, my toe got better and each day, I outgrew more of my fears.