Thorn in His Flesh

Ever had an old person tell you a story, and you wondered, “Why are they telling me this?”

This is one of those stories.

Our story begins in the fall of 2018.  My neighbour’s maple tree had grown into my yard and it’s larger branches were dangerously close to my house.  My neighbour informed me he would take care of the branches.  He was just going to get a quote from a tree removal company.  After receiving the quote, he deemed it too expensive and decided to take care of it himself.

My neighbour is hardly ever home, so when he showed up wearing his Nike Airs and holding a reciprocating saw (with a nearly dead battery), I offered to give him a hand even though it was going to be dangerous.  We all have to die sometime and being killed by a large maple tree seemed like a very Canadian way to go.

I grabbed a pair of gloves and some rope and we hacked our way through two large branches which fell on my side of the fence.  A few close calls, but no one was hurt.

There was already snow on the ground, so I saved the removal of the branches until the spring.

Last week, on the Tuesday before the SkyDome miracle, I trimmed off all of the smaller branches and heaped them on top of my compost bin to deal with later.  A two-handed push down on the pile was effective at compacting the brush into the bin, but it came at a cost:

A sliver (or splinter) of wood embedded deep into my palm, despite the fact I was wearing gloves.

“FUCK!” was my reaction.  It hurt like hell and it was DEEP.

So I went to the bathroom and got my toolkit.  Tweezers, a sewing needle, and a pair of nail clippers.

What followed was a battle between common sense, information overload, fear, and laziness.

I like to take care of things myself without asking for help.  That’s why we attacked that maple tree with a reciprocating saw (aka a saws-all) instead of calling up my dad, who owns a chainsaw.

And so I did what I always do when I get a splinter (sliver).  I dug it out.  Only this time I could not get it.  I could see the little black piece of wood or whatever it was.  But it was too deep.

So I went online.  I already had a bundle of sliver/splinter-removal remedies in my head from years of removing splinters, but this one was different.  Google was really of no help unless I wanted an infection from putting banana peels and eggshells on my skin.

I was supposed to play the guitar that night with my jam partner.  I couldn’t see seizing and squeezing the neck of the geet with that little piece of wood grinding against my nerves.  So I continued to dig.

I made a hole.  I squeezed the skin behind the splinter(sliver), against the advice of Doctor Google, hoping it would slide out the hole.  I poured peroxide on the area, and as it foamed up, the tip of the sliver(splinter) got closer to the surface.  I did this for an hour and while I could see the splinter(sliver), it never got close enough to grab with the tweezers.

I soaked the hand in warm water.  The skin got soft.  I cut away more flesh.  I could still not reach the splinter(sliver).

I gave up.  I cancelled my jam session and bandaged my wound with Polysporin, hoping the sliver(splinter) would work its way to the surface while I slept.

It did not.

Doctor Google had more advice for me.  On one hand, I should get myself down to the emergency room where a doctor would cut this thing out of me, free of charge.  But did I really want to wait in emerg for three, maybe four hours?

On the other hand, I could let nature take its course.  My body would just expel this thing out of me and all would be good.  Right?

There was one problem.  When I was a teenager a man in my town came into my workplace to make a purchase and he was missing a finger.  His wife also worked there and she told me later he lost his finger due to an infected sliver (splinter).

The Polysporin had not done as I hoped.  Instead of expelling the foreign object, my skin had healed over the wound.  Now I had a 3 millimetre wide, itchy bump which I chose to ignore until the object came to the surface.

But I couldn’t ignore it.  All I could do was Google, itch, scratch, poke, and prod.  The events of the weekend of the SkyDome miracle were enough to keep my mind off it temporarily.

We returned home from Toronto.  I removed some of the dry, hard skin from the top layer of my palm, but I did not want to disturb the tender skin underneath.  The area around the wound was getting red and the area where the sliver(splinter) resided became a little pocket of pus.  It was squishy and tender to the touch.

I contemplated what life would be like with only one hand.

Then yesterday, eleven days since the sliver(splinter) embedded itself in my body, I ingested a THC pill from the local cannabis retail store.  About two hours later, I began to have an overwhelming sensation of worry about my hand.  I went to the bathroom and grabbed my tools.  I soaked the hand in warm water.  I removed the top layer of skin.  I couldn’t stand to have this thing in there any longer.

The warm water had softened the skin nicely and when I pinched behind the infected area, I caught a glimpse of what looked like a black object moving around.  It could have been a shadow, but as I repositioned my fingernails I saw it again.  It was the splinter(sliver) and it had moved closer to the surface.

More warm water and another small pinch and the object, now encased in a slimy, protective sheath, slid partially out of the hole in which it entered my body a week and a half ago.

I grabbed the end of it with the tweezers and pulled it all the way out.  Upon closer inspection, it was a small thorn.

I felt like I had given birth.  The feeling of relief that came over me was that overwhelming.

The whole thing brought up many existential questions:

  • Would the sliver have come out on its own?
  • Should my body or my brain get the credit for the safe extraction?
  • Would four hours in the emergency room be worth the countless hours I spent worrying instead?
  • If I hadn’t ingested the THC, would this have turned out differently?


There is one moral to the story.  If an old person ever asks you, “Have I ever told you about the time I got that sliver?” you should always say, “YES”.

Unfortunately, they might tell you the story anyway.

5 thoughts on “Thorn in His Flesh

  1. So, you got mildly stoned and then removed the thorn? That sounds like a good way. Reminds me of hearing about traditional dentists having a drum beaten to disorient the patient before they do a tooth extraction.

    I don’t know whether it would have infected and turned to gangrene, but I do know that splinters are often easier to remove after a few days because your body takes care of it.

    My husband once had a birdseed in his ear for six months. Then it came out on its own.

    I also once talked to a guy who wiped out on his motorbike on coral. He and his friend picked out from the wound all the coral gravel they could find, and the wound started to heal, and a few weeks later, a piece of coral they had missed came working its way out.

    I like reading about home medical stuff in theory, and writing about it. Instant drama. But when it happens to you in real life, it’s the scariest thing ever.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I couldn’t live in the age of dental extractions without anesthesia!

      My research led me to believe that biological slivers like thorns are much worse than say glass, due to fungus they may carry and their tendancy to break apart under the skin.

      Several weeks after my wisdom tooth surgery, a piece of tooth came out on its own. Same idea, I guess. The human body is pretty cool when it is working properly.

      I’m glad to have it out of there. Now I can ride my bike and play my guitar pain free.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I had barnwood shoved up under a thumb nail that stayed there for a month. The growth of my nail pushed it out. I couldn’t pull it out before that without wanting to scream.

    Be glad that you aren’t the guy who had a spider living in his ear or the woman with a few, tiny bees living in her eye:

    Your story reminds me of:


  3. When I was very young, my brother got a splinter and didn’t tell my mom about it (she was pretty free with the needle when given the chance). She noticed the infection days later and spent nearly an hour digging for the splinter while trying to ignore my brother’s screams. I remember when she finally squeezed it free…


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