Spock on My Shoulder and Bones in My Ear

I fractured my toe a few weeks ago. It hurt like heck, but I didn’t run to the doctor to have it looked at. Like most people, when I have a problem — any problem — I turn to the internet first. Where else can you find expert medical advice without making an appointment, figuring out where you put your insurance card, or having a doctor actually look at your injury?

That’s when Bones and Spock showed up. I guess I should explain. You know how when you have a moral quandary to sort out and an angel appears on one shoulder and a devil shows up on the other one? That’s what happens when I get sick or injured. Except instead of an angel and a devil, I get Dr. “Bones” McCoy and Mr. Spock from “Star Trek.” I wish I had somebody else on my shoulders whispering in my ears — trust me, I’d take Brad Pitt and Russell Crowe any day over these two sci-fi characters — but my imagination has a will of its own, and it came up with Bones and Spock.

So when I knew my toe was messed up, these two showed up with their typical, conflicting advice on what to do about it. Spock, ever the rational one, tells me it’s just one toe – not the whole foot. And that whatever the doctor does is sure to cause me a lot of pain. Then he reminds me that the last time I went to the doctor was when I had that strange lump in my throat. I had Googled my symptoms, diagnosed the problem — a condition known as sialolithiasis, caused by a blockage of a submandibular gland — and even determined the treatment: drink more water and apply a warm compress to the area several times a day. “Spock’s right,” I think, “I should look to the collective intelligence of the internet for the answer.”

Bones challenges Spock’s advice, loudly proclaiming that neither Spock nor I am a doctor (and that he, on the other hand, is a doctor — and not, dang it, a mechanic, coal miner, bricklayer, botanist, bartender, dragon-slayer, or any number of other specialists). He whispers that I need all my toes in tip-top shape for my foot to be healthy, and in turn, my leg, torso, and the rest of me. “It’s not just the toe you should be worried about,” he says, “Your entire foot is counting on you.” Then he calls Spock a pointy-eared hobgoblin and says that I’m just a writer with virtually no medical training. I tell him about my EMT certification from the 1980s and my Wilderness First Aid certification from three years ago and he glares at me like I’m some kind of imbecile.

Spock steps in to remind McCoy that, against his own better judgment, I did go to the doctor about that throat lump, and after an initial check-up, a drive across town for an X-ray, another drive across town for an ultrasound, and a follow-up appointment, the doctor concluded that I had a calcified stone in one of my salivary glands — basically, sialolithiasis. She recommended (after I had spent four hours and hundreds of dollars to confirm my initial internet diagnosis) that I drink water and put warm compresses on the thing. “So there,” says Spock. Or something like that.

Bones isn’t having any of it. I could have had a thyroid problem, or a tumor, he says. Heck, a Ceti eel, like the one in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” could have crept in my ear and was roaming around inside my jaw, preparing to invade my cerebral cortex. You know, like it did to Chekhov. That’s what turned him into a pod person. I look at Spock, who’s sitting on the opposite shoulder with his arms crossed, and get that steely, emotionless stare. Yes, of course he’s right. Bones isn’t a bartender or bricklayer, but sometimes he’s kind of an idiot. I could figure this out on my own.

So I turned to the internet. By now the injury was a week old. Based on that, and the somewhat mangled appearance of the toe, the worldwide wisdom of the web offered two options: (1) surgery; or (2) “buddy-tape” it to another toe, keep it elevated, and let it heal. Since so much time had passed, it would probably heal crooked, but it would still work just fine.

Spock gets in one last jab, “You might live long, but you’ll never prosper if you keep shelling out all that cash every time you stub your toe.” He has a point, and not just on his ears.

I don’t know what made me change my mind. Maybe the fear that it was something worse than a fracture. Maybe that desperate, pleading look on Dr. McCoy’s face. Or maybe because deep down, I worried that a Ceti eel had burrowed into my foot and was eating it from the inside out. I turned off my computer and drove to the nearest emergency care center for a check-up, an X-ray, and an ultrasound. The doc buddy-taped my fractured toe and an hour later, I was home with my feet up.

Spock and Bones didn’t hang around. They never do. But they’ll be back the next time I get a sore throat, a rash, a lump, bump or bruise. And while I could have taken care of the toe myself, I’m glad I boldly went to see the doc. Something tells me that the one time I don’t listen to McCoy, I really will be sicker or more injured than I think and have to suffer the consequences of my own pointy-eared stubbornness.

I need all of me — from head to toe — to be in tip-top shape, no bones about that. In this case, I thought, putting my feet up and wiggling all 10 toes, the needs of the many outweighed the needs of that one toe.

This blog first appeared as a column in the October 8, 2019 Gazette Woodmen Edition.

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