A hangnail is nothing to hang one’s hat on

I am suffering with a hangnail. Languishing would be a better word, and I exaggerate not! It’s been hanging on for a handful of weeks, stubbornly refusing to completely clear up and go away.

For the unenlightened, I should probably define what a hangnail is. Like pornography, I can’t necessarily describe it, but I surely know it when I see it, especially when it’s on my finger. For explanation purposes, let me cite from that urban oracle known as Wikipedia , which describes a hangnail as a “small, torn piece of skin, more specifically eponychium or paronychium, next to a fingernail or toenail.” That’s confusing because a hangnail is not a nail at all.

A hangnail in itself is not a problem, it’s when you get the bright idea to get rid of it by means other than a sharp, sanitized nail clipper that it becomes a problem. And it’s not the bright idea that actually leads a person astray, but the unconscious act of picking at the skin or unthinkingly gnawing like a rat on it that rolls out the red carpet for infection.

Why can’t we leave well enough alone? Why can’t we stop taking our fingers into our own hands and making things worse? Why can’t we wait for the right nail tools to cleanly remove a hangnail? Because we are impatient, impulsive and stupidly human. Hangnails are symbolic of the things we habitually don’t think about until we make the mistake of mishandling them, causing their evil properties to rain down upon us. They remind that something seemingly insignificant can cause extreme suffering. Especially to piano players.

According to a prudent source, the healthy lifestyle section at mayoclinic.org, we need to avoid the following behaviors that lead to fingernail issues: biting fingernails and picking at cuticles; pulling off hangnails; using harsh nail care products, such as nail polish remover, any more frequently than necessary. And oh yeah, ignoring nail-related problems, especially that don’t seem to go away. Duh. But I’m guilty as charged.

Biting nails and picking at cuticles can damage the nail bed and allow bacteria and fungi to enter, lectures the Clinic. Therefore, I gather that watching scary or suspenseful movies is a no-no, as they often incite nail-biting. Not pulling off hangnails is easier said than done. Typically, the hunk of dead skin you casually pull off is rooted in live tissue. Yanking out live tissue is any format greatly irritates the area from which it was extracted.

This can lead to the dreaded condition known as “paronychia” or infected hangnail. Doesn’t that sound extra special?! Try using that word to impress your friends the next time you’re dealing with this issue. Ongoing infection is where things get interesting for the paronychia sufferer. How do I know? I’ve been nursing that condition on my left hand ring finger for several weeks.

At the risk of sounding like a laundry stain-removal product commercial, I’ve tried rubbing it, soaking it and poking it, but the infection stubbornly refuses to leave. Such a small thing causes such a big annoyance. Anyone who has been there/done that knows what I mean. If you doubt the seriousness of my plight, please note the condition is real enough to have mention on the Cleveland Clinic website. So there!

According to that source, an infected hangnail area may throb and redden. Check. And the skin around the nail may swell. Check. Pus may collect under the skin in that area. Double-check. I should soak the finger for 15 minutes several times a day. Not sure how to achieve that while having to work. Having a doctor “lance” the area to drain the infection is recommended.

To save time and money, I went instead to youtube, where I found hundreds of physicians and laypeople happily demonstrating this procedure and capturing it in oozing glory on video. Thanks. I will never eat split pea soup again.

When that failed, I stumbled upon a mostly full, refilled bottle of antibiotics in the back of the bathroom cupboard. I desperately used my good hand to open it. Several days later, my paronychia was cured – until the next time I pick at a hangnail.


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