Health · Memories

A rusty nail

Earlier this month I was caught up in vivid memories of the summer of 1982, time spent on a building site in Ickenham and at the Renoir Cinema in Russell Square watching Fassbinder movies, as described here. I had intended to write about a rusty nail, and I return to the subject now.

After our time in Ickenham had ended I was asked by a local builder to help clear out a couple of rooms in a nearby house, owned by an old Polish chap. I hadn’t met this builder before. His wife was a friend of my mother’s. He showed me round the upstairs rooms one morning and left me to it. There was a kitchen to be stripped out, fitted cupboards in one of the rooms, all to be dismantled and carried down several flights of stairs to the skip below. You couldn’t just take a hammer to it all, you had to break it up in a planned way and not leave too much mess on the way down.

If I were doing this now I would make sure that I had more suitable tools and accessories: a decent crowbar for a start, and builder’s gloves, and a proper pair of boots rather than my tennis shoes. I had not been able to return to Ickenham to collect the pair of decent working boots that my father had acquired on my behalf. These things came and went. One of my father’s lessons from the world of construction was never let on if someone stole some of your kit. Acquire someone else’s instead. If you let everyone know that someone had nicked your boots they’d be sure to accuse you if another pair went missing.

The lack of these three items affected my few days working at the house. I was using a claw hammer to remove nails but a crowbar would have been much more effective. I got a few splinters, no matter how carefully I approached the dismantled bits of timber. And, worst of all, at one point I was careless enough to leave a length of wood on the floor with a 4” nail sticking out of it. I stepped on it, the nail pierced my tennis shoe and went right through into my foot.

I took off my shoe and sock expecting to find blood gushing from it but the nail had gone deep and there wasn’t that much blood after all. This all happened in the early afternoon. I put my shoe and sock back on, finished my day’s work, and hobbled home at 5pm ready to administer some first aid.

I washed the wound thoroughly. There was an actual hole in my foot, caused by that rogue rusty nail, and my carelessness. There was a bit of blood, but the hole seemed fairly clean. I plugged it up with Savlon ointment and put a plaster over it. I worried about tetanus. My mother’s fear that we could all get lockjaw if we cut ourselves on rusty wire had been communicated to all of us often when we were younger. I wasn’t worried enough to go to A&E but for the next few days I wondered if something bad was going to happen to my foot. And I didn’t tell any of the family.

I kept plugging up the hole with Savlon for the next few days. About a week later, when things appeared to have healed, I told a friend of the family about it. She was a nurse and she told me that I had been very foolish. Anything could have happened. Fortunately, there was no lasting damage.

I don’t recommend this approach to wound care, but I have extolled the virtues of Savlon ever since. I didn’t play football that Sunday, but I was ready for our usual kickabout in Hyde Park the following week.


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