Toe Worms? No kidding!

by martha on December 12, 2011

Before I traveled to Africa, I did get some comments from my nearest and dearest wondering “how” I planned to keep my borderline OCD under control under “those conditions.” There were also gentle queries regarding my “hypochondria.”

Now, both the OCD and hypochondria are NOT self-diagnosed (which seems, by definition, to negate both of those as true afflictions for me, no?).

These presumed conditions are attributed to me by people who love me, but who are also subject to my strong…


let’s just call it my “quick willingness to lead” and my “generosity with my opinions” and leave it at that.

A couple weeks down and so far so good. Doing well. No issues at all!

In fact, recently we met with a lovely woman from Colorado, who has spent almost ten years traveling to Uganda for months at a time to serve widows and orphans. She is amazing and having lunch with her was an enjoyable diversion on one of our “office days.”

She shared that she’d just come off a tough few weeks. She’d been suffering a staph infection and had to have a huge boil on her face lanced. There were a couple other minor afflictions and her attitude was so blasé, I don’t even remember the details.

I instantly became hyper-focused, though, when she casually uttered the the words,
.. .and then I got these toe worms.

You can’t be serious! I almost dropped my fork. I’m certain my mouth was agape. Toe? Worms? And she just kept calmly eating her salad.

I’m not sure whether I recovered quickly enough to keep her from seeing my look of horror, but it wouldn’t matter, because suddenly ALL I wanted to talk about were her toe worms:
How did she know she had them?
How did she get them?
How did she get rid of them?
How, again, did she know whether she had them?
How, again, did she get them?
What are the symptoms again?

I soon had to excuse myself to go pour rubbing alcohol over my own feet and change from my flip-flops into my boots. Over the weeks, I’d become a little careless about the whole boot thing. Despite dire advance warnings from our travel angel and my last-minute decision to bring only the pyrethin-treated boots and leave my field sandals at home, I’d started wearing flip flops.

I’d worn flip flops around Kenya, only putting on my boots when were going into the “real” field. I hadn’t thought twice about walking – in my flip flops – more than a mile along a partly muddy, partly dusty road to get back from dinner one night after a couple glasses of wine.

Now, I was certain that I had somehow contracted these toe worms and it was just a matter of time before they reared their ugly sub-toenail, sub-dermal black-and-white heads. (Oh…I wasn’t kidding about my information-gathering/interrogation. I have ALLLLL the details.)

Just knowing I most definitely already had them, soon I’d be forced, like our stoic and adorable friend, to perform toe surgery on myself with a safety pin and some rubbing alcohol.

Unfortunately, in a fit of generosity, I’d donated my one remaining unopened bottle of isopropyl alcohol to her earlier in the meal. I didn’t think it would be very humanitarian of me to request it back, especially considering how brave she was about her own bout with the wriggly little parasites.

Her companion, who admitted to taking a near-perverse pleasure in removing worms from other people’s toes, expressed his disappointment that she hadn’t saved the worms for him to help her.

That’s when he dropped the bombshell: people get those worms even when they wear shoes! Your toes don’t have to be exposed for you to get the toe worms!! (!!!)

Now I was beside myself.

They reassured me that it took her many years of frequent visits and a lot of time living in villages to finally catch them herself, but that hasn’t stopped me from bringing up toe worms several times daily since. I’m sure Jack has tired of the topic by now.

And, of course, I wear my boots everywhere, even though they apparently do not provide the 100% protection I’d anticipated. Nightly I douse my poor toes in the remaining drops of alcohol, even though I know that’s not gonna to kill ’em if I’ve got ’em.

Surprisingly, I’ve only had one dream about those toe invaders since. It happened last night. When I awoke, my right big toenail was aching and in my half-awake state I was certain it was a sign of infestation.

Though she hadn’t mentioned pain as a symptom, that made no difference in the wee hours, with my foot propped up on the bathroom sink for inspection with a flashlight held between my cheek and shoulder. The examination revealed nothing wrong with my toe, but resulted in more alcohol dousing.

You know, for good measure.

This is one of a collection of unpublished posts from my first trip to Africa last summer. If you’re wondering why I’m in Uganda for the second time since July, please visit the blog at to learn what we hope to accomplish. If you’d like to help save lives, please visit to donate today.

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