July 16, 2004

The toe bone's connected to the…vagina?

By Stephen Gowans

I've been bedeviled by a host of minor physical complaints lately, the most recent of which is a nasty, itching and oozing rash on my right foot, between my big toe and its neighbor.  I discovered the rash about a month ago – about the time I hauled my sandals out of winter storage – and immediately diagnosed the angry blotches as athlete's foot.

I treated the condition with an over the counter preparation, which promised relief within a month. Over two weeks the rash promisingly evanesced then frustratingly recrudesced, then evanesced, then recrudesced again, convincing me I was dealing with something other than a fungus, or a champignon (translation: mushroom) my French-speaking friend called it. This was a disorder wrestling with an existential problem: to be or not to be.  Anything this indecisive couldn't really be a mushroom, could it?

I suspected it was something else, a suspicion strengthened by the fact that despite wearing sandals as much as possible – as advised by Dr. Griffin, author of The Complete Guide to Symptoms -- the more I wore sandals, the worse the condition became.

(As an aside, I almost always avoid consulting Dr. Griffin's guide for fear of setting off a bout of first year medical student's syndrome -- thinking you have the very disease you're reading about. After learning about STDs at the age of 14, I was convinced I was suffering from stage II syphilis, even though I had not, at that point, done anything that would even remotely put me at risk. It was like worrying about UV damage to the skin while living in a sewer.)

Hold on. Hadn't I had a rash between the toes, the year before? Hadn't I used the same nonprescription cream then, with no success? Hadn't I chalked the condition up to an allergic reaction to my synthetic sandals? And hadn't it gone away?

I remember buying new sandals – made of leather, an act, that, for me, required a fair degree of mental gymnastics, for buying leather footwear is hardly the kind of thing a vegetarian -- if he is a true, dyed-in-the-wool, tofu-scarfing vegetarian -- does. But it was the backside of Bossy my feet had been snuggling into, and still I had a rash.

Puzzled, I traipsed off to my doctor for the interminable wait – half an hour in the large public waiting room crammed with coughing, hacking, moaning, and grimacing patients, and another half an hour in the examining room, where you're sent half an hour before the doctor shows up, to lull you into thinking the interminable wait is almost over. Instead, you get a short course in what a solitary confinement cell would look like were it decorated with drug company calendars.

I'd only starting seeing this doctor recently – she was a replacement for my old physician, who was old as in "long in the tooth" and "let's put some leaches on that" and also old as in "former."  Her name, I won't disclose, save to say it began with "H" and is a synonym of ass, the perfect descriptive name for a proctologist. Sadly there's little call for the use of leaches in treating diseases of the rectum, so she never entered the field. I had only put up with her because she had an encyclopedic knowledge of Czech beers, which she'd occasionally share with me, knowledge, I was eager to imbibe, along with bottles of Pilsen and Czechvar.

In any event, my new doctor, a drab, lugubrious woman, whose manner resembled that of the depressoid robot in The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, declared my condition to be a mushroom infection after all.

"It looks like athlete's foot to me," she moaned, gazing at me with a look that said, "Life – don't talk to me about life. Here I am with a brain the size of a football field, and I'm looking at mushrooms growing between your toes."

Before shuffling off to meet her next patient, she handed me a prescription for an anti-fungal cream.  "Take this once or twice a day," she said dolorously. Once or twice day? Why the option? Should I compromise at one and a half times a day, or maybe four times one day, and none the next? I opted for twice a day. Why not? I might as well get twice the mushroom-harvesting power.

Six days later, the rash was worse than ever, and I was becoming as depressed as my doctor. "Troubles," I moaned to anyone who would listen. "Don't talk to me about troubles. I've got a mushroom farm growing between my toes. And by the looks of it, I'd say this farm's pumping out Portobello mushrooms."

So back I went to the clinic, only this time, the doctor I'd last seen was no longer there. Rumor had it she was parking cars at the restaurant at the end of the universe. This time, a young women, efficient, emotionless, and in a hurry, flew into the room.

"What's wrong, sir" she began, doing her best to out-Friday Sergeant Joe Friday.

"I was given an anti-fungal cream six days ago to treat athlete's foot, and not only has the condition not improved, it's markedly worse."

"Can I see it?"

"What, the anti-fungal cream?"

"No, your foot."

"Sure, it's right here, attached to my leg."

"No, can I see the rash?"

"Not unless you have x-ray vision. My shoes are still on."

"Sir, do you want me to take a look, or not?"

"Sorry," I said, slipping off my shoe, and peeling off my sock.

She bent toward my foot, tentatively, the edges of her mouth curling up in disgust.

"Hmmm," she offered.

"So what do you think?

"Hmmm," she said again.

"Hmmm," I replied.

"How many times a day do you use the cream?"

"Twice."

"Twice? You're only supposed to use it once a day."

"But the prescription said once or twice."

"Hmmm. Well, why don't you try using the cream once a day."

"Well, okay. But do you think it could be eczema?

"What?"

"Eczema. Could it be eczema?"

"It looks fungal to me. There are different kinds of fungi. Maybe you need a cream for a different fungus. I'll tell you what, I'll give you a cream for eczema and a fungus."

"Can you throw in some of that stiffy cream while you're at it. And maybe something for my  dandruff, too."

I dropped the prescription off with the pharmacist, and went home, intending to go back later to pick it up. My wife said she was going out, and would fetch the prescription for me.

A half hour later, she returned, prescription in hand. "The pharmacist was acting real weird," she said.  "She wanted to know whether you're a guy, and when I said yes, she seemed taken aback."

"Funny," I commented, forgetting the matter instantly.

"You can look this up on the Internet, you know, to find out what it is."

"Good idea."

I logged onto Google, typed C-L-O-T-R-I-M-A-D-E-R-M, and a menu of sites immediately filled the screen. I clicked on the first, Yahoo! Health Drug Index: Clotrimaderm.

The first thing my eyes lit upon was the drug's  US brand names. I lazily scanned the list.

FemCare
Femizol-M.

Funny names for an athlete's foot cream.

Gyne-Lotrimin
Vagistat

What!

Fem? Gyne? Vagi? Shouldn't this say Biff, Andro, Penile? Better yet, shouldn't it say Derma,  A-Fungi-But-You're-Better-Off-Without-Him, or Mushroom-Away?

Maybe the list of Canadian brand names would make me feel better.

Ecostatin Vaginal Ovules
MycloGyne
Gynecure Vaginal Ointment

Vaginal Ointment!

My God! I had a vaginal infection of the toe.

A psychological profile done on me years ago said I was inclined toward the feminine, because I liked baths and found little of interest in Mechanics Illustrated. Had I been asked me whether I like Jugs, or who I like taking baths with, the conclusion may have been radically different -- and a good deal closer to the truth. But this was going a little too far. A vaginal infection?

How could I possibly have a vaginal infection, even if it was between my toes? Was there a penile cancer of the lungs (that guys with a lifelong fellatio habit were susceptible to)? Was there an elephantiasis of the penis (an affliction endemic to guys named Mr. Thick-Dick)? If anyone knew, would they start accusing me of pussyfooting around?

In the end, I figured that a fungus was a fungus, no matter where it grows, and if a fungus that sometimes grows in vaginas was growing between my toes, well, so what? I'd use the cream.

I diligently followed the instructions: Apply three times a day.  Six days later, the mushrooms were still there.

But somehow I felt fresher, and more feminine.

...

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Stephen Gowans