Two days after I got home from the beach, a white pea-sized blob appeared on the side of my big toe. Canned pea, not fresh, because it was flattened a bit. Hmmm, it looked like it could be a wart. But it appeared so quickly and warts start tiny and grow slowly over weeks. Plus, it was a bit softer than a wart, and bleeding a little bit. And there was a strange black spot right in the center.
Then I thought, maybe it's a spider bite. And it's infected. Yeah, that's it. I could wait a few days and it would clear up if I kept it clean.
Two weeks later, it was still there and looked exactly the same. Memories wriggled into my mind--memories of coworkers who came home from Costa Rica with insect eggs buried under their skin that hatched two weeks later.
Meanwhile, I was reading this memoir by a young American woman who lived with the Maasai for a year. (Here's my review from the Goodreads website.)
My Maasai Life by Robin Wiszowaty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The author's experience as an American university student living for a year with a traditional Maasai family in a remote village in Kenya was really interesting and she presents lots of information and stories clearly. But her writing is nothing special. Competent enough to get the point across, but nothing imaginative or original. The book even contains several grammar mistakes and incomplete sentences. But overall, worth reading if you're interested in knowing more about the Maasai.
View all my reviews
Halfway through, she describes a white blob appearing on her foot. She followed the same line of reasoning that I'd just been through, starting with wart. And ending with her Maasai host telling her, "That's a jigger. We have to cut it out."
The next day, my travel companions from the beach trip, Cynthia and Shanette, were in town and we met for lunch. Lema, Cynthia's Tanzanian husband, was there, too. At lunch, I asked Shanette if she knew of any sea creatures that caused this white bump. When we were at the beach two weeks ago, she was very knowledgeable about all kinds of sea creatures, so I thought she might know. Since she supervises a medical lab, she is totally unfazed by grossness, so she said, "Can I see it?" So I took my shoe off right at the table. At least it was outdoor seating in a casual setting. Shanette didn't know exactly what it was, but thought some organism had for sure burrowed into my toe.
Then Lema said, "Can I see it?," and came around the table for a look. "That's a jigger," he said. "You have to cut it out." Just like in the book! He told me it's caused by an insect that has laid eggs under the skin, and that if I didn't get it cut out of my toe, it would start shedding worms. And that it looked like it was pretty far along and getting close to the shedding worms stage. Gahh! He also said that if left untreated, the victim can lose a toe. It turns out to be a sand flea and is common at the beach, where I spent the whole day in flip flops in the sand. If you want to know more about the sand flea and don't mind disgusting pictures, go ahead and click here. Shanette offered, a little too enthusiastically, to take care of it for me. At least she has medical training, and it would save me from another trip to the hospital.
But we didn't have time to take care of it that day, and got home late. I slept restlessly with visions of worms gestating in my toe and wriggling around my bed. But things are always brighter in the morning, and I woke up with my toe still intact. Shanette was in the guest room, so soon after feeding her a quick breakfast, I dragged her out to the supermarket to collect our surgical supplies.
We set up on my front porch, because if worms were going to come spilling out, I didn't want them inside the house. Shanette was really excited at this point, kind of like a kid with a new toy. At Mkadini Beach, when she was in full marine biologist mode, I wondered whether to call her a science geek or Miss Caribbean. Now I know it's definitely science geek.
Although I have to admit this jigger sand flea does have an interesting life cycle and reproductive strategy. It had encased hundreds of eggs in a capsule built just under my skin. Shanette cut expertly around the edges of the capsule with a disinfected razor blade and was able to remove it all in one piece. I didn't feel anything.
And the science geek in me overcame the squeamish patient enough that rather than being terrified (as a reasonable person should have been), I was actually kind of interested in the biology of it all. That's when you know the surgeon has a good bedside manner! Inside the capsule were many, many eggs, and some miniscule worms. If they were bigger, we could have seen them waving their head ends around and heard them howling at us, like in "Aliens." Lucky they were so tiny.
One remaining point of concern--there was a tunnel boring straight down into my toe. We wondered if a worm or the adult flea had gone deeper, but Shanette did not want to dig around with the razor blade to be sure. I was ok with that. She asked if I'd taken my worm medicine yet this year. I said, "Huh?" She told me everybody who lives here should take albendazole twice a year to kill whatever worms have accumulated. Although it's intended for the digestive system, it would kill any worm anywhere, including anybody left in my toe.
This whole operation was so painless that I was able to put on my hiking boots and go for a six kilometer walk around Lake Duluti with Shanette a couple of hours later. When she asked me at the trailhead if my toe hurt, I said, "I can't feel a thing." Then I noticed her look of concern and added, "Not like nerve damage or paralysis. Just like there's no pain. It feels normal." We saw a couple of monitor lizards and a couple of fish eagles. I'll tell you all about it in my next post.
My toe is almost healed already. And Shanette really needs to go to medical school. She's a natural!