I worked hard to break Taylor of the typical nail biting stage most kids go through. But when Zack started chewing his, I just said “Thank You, Lord.” Why? Because he would have claws otherwise. He doesn’t have the small motor skills required to use nail clippers and his tactile defensiveness never allows me within range to trim his fingernails.
Unfortunately, he cannot reach his toenails to chew them off, too. OK, that would be disgusting. But it would be worth it.
We have tried (and I still try) to approach Zack’s feet with various cutting instruments. He catches on immediately and gives a strong kick in protest. Obviously, this summit is not a solo expedition. One time we took advantage of Taylor being home on school break and Stanley coming early for his shift as a respite provider. We had both of them, along with Jay, sit on Zack and hold down his arms and legs while I stood by, ready with the clippers to snip away.
It seems impossible to imagine, but one person fighting for their life—and toenails—can be incredibly strong. They couldn’t hold him still enough for me to proceed without injury to myself or Zack. We finally gave up, defeated.
From bad to worse
The situation was at its worst when Zack was 17 years old and began a running program at school. Because of pressure against the front of his shoes, he developed an ingrown toenail. We soaked his foot, had him wear open-toed sandals, dabbed it with alcohol and antibiotic ointment. When that didn’t work we went to his pediatrician, and then to an outpatient clinic. Neither could help. We spent at least six months trying to remedy the situation—with the toe looking better sometimes, and swelling with puss at others—and Zack often moaning and pointing to his toe as he said, “Ouch.”
Finally, we went to Seattle Children’s Hospital for some cleaning and repair work. Knowing Zack’s history of resistance, they brought in reinforcements as I stood by his side. They gave Zack a sedative and began working on his toes with eight physicians, interns, helpers, perhaps even a secretary or two, holding my boy in place. Even so, the moment they touched his foot, he pushed through the drowsiness brought on by the drug, sat up straight, and fought them all off.
Times like these are why Jay and Taylor laugh at me when I worry about Zack being kidnapped. He is Samson, without the fatal flaw of Delilah. His muscles may not bulge with power, but they are quite capable when called upon.
The eight-on-one procedure at the hospital ended with a scheduled surgery two weeks in the future. We went home, annoyed at both the team and, yes, darn-it-all, Zack; and we waited.
Sedation affects Zack differently than many people. I remember when he was two and they gave him some for an MRI or some other invasive procedure that required him to be still. Instead of falling asleep, Zack began to wobble around and wipe at the walls of the hospital room as if he was painting them. We had to go home that day, as well, and wait for another day to complete the test.
Then there was the time our pediatrician gave us some Valium to calm Zack down when he went to the dentist—always a nerve-fraying experience as Zack was invariably put into a Velcro body wrap, which he continued to fight with all his strength. Listening to his terrified wails thinned my blood, making me light-headed, as the dental team inspected his mouth and applied fluoride, taking less than five minutes from start to finish. The administration of Valium at home should have put him in a sleepy state so when we arrived at the clinic he could be carried into the dental office and treated without incident. Instead, he slept for 15 minutes on the way to the clinic and woke up as we were turning into the parking lot, fully capable of taking on his arch enemies once again.
The operation and a boot
Back to the toe issue. We went into the hospital at the crack of dawn and waited. Somebody came into our room eventually and gave Zack a shot of sedative to prepare him for anesthesia. They left and he nearly ripped an enormous handful of hair out of my scalp. The room was spinning for both of us by then, and Zack began to weave. I guided him to the hospital bed and kept my distance as his arms flailed in every direction, trying to make sense of his experience.
Before long, he was wheeled away and given the real-deal-anesthesia while I was given a pager and sent away for an hour or two.
Because of who Zack is, I get to be in the recovery room with him far sooner than most parents. I waited there as he was wheeled back, and I watched him slowly wake up. Sticking out of the end of the thin sheet that covered him was an enormous bandage. I don’t remember many details, but I know from a journal entry that the recovery from anesthesia was rough. That means he threw up and cried a lot. We found shows on the overhead television set to distract him, but without a rewind button he was not satisfied.
Despite this, one of the nurses told me that Zack made her day with his sweet and cheerful personality.
We got home at about 8 p.m. that night with Zack wearing a huge boot that went up to his knee. He hobbled around on it quite easily, actually, for two weeks, and then was able to wear sandals for the rest of his recovery. The doctors had cut away part of his toenail to—hopefully—prevent them from growing inward again. No guarantees.
Four years later and I still keep watch on those toes. There’s no explaining to Zack that letting me trim his nails could prevent this from ever happening again. There is only laughter and a firm brushing away of my hand when I try. And there is a new game. It is “Zack squeezing Mom’s big toes” whenever I am barefoot, always accompanied by a laughing sideways glance.
I recently worried out loud to Jay about Zack’s increasingly claw-like big toenails. A few days later, they were short. Neither of us knows how it happened, but we suspect our son took matters into his own hands and ripped the long nails off. Though the thought of it gives me the same sensation as fingernails on a blackboard, it may prove to be his most effective strategy yet of protecting his toes, and that’s good problem-solving.
What makes your child feel like they need to fight for their life? How have you learned to deal with tactile sensitivities?