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Claws for paws: nails for doors. Watch where you keep your nails!

I’ve got this thing about sharp nails.

It’s not a phobia exactly, but I am a bit obsessive about not leaving them lying around. It might have something to do with an early experience I had as a young Vet working in Burgess Hill.

We received a phone call towards the end of the day to say that a dog we had not seen in a while had a nail through its paw, and he and his owner were on their way down. We weren’t sure what to expect, but I certainly did not imagine the scenario that followed.
In walked an unkempt German Shepherd Dog with a rather smartly dressed lady.

What amazed me was that there was no blood,and my giant patient – 50kg of overweight middle-aged guard dog – was not limping at all. In fact, at first glance you might have thought that there was no problem, until you looked at his front paw. With every stride he was dragging along an enormous six inch nail!

Having established that my patient’s reputation as a guard dog was over-stated and that he was more of a teddy bear,I introduced myself to Rebel, and began a thorough examination. His owner had not exaggerated: the nail really was passing right through his paw. It was handmade, and looked incredibly old and rather rusty. I wondered vaguely why it was lying around and how it managed to perforate through his paw.

But more importantly I was wondering which of the many delicate structures inside his paw it might have penetrated, and how I was going to get it out without damaging them further. Also I needed to consider how to manage the likelihood of severe infection after it was removed.
The most delicate structures in this area,that cannot withstand a penetrative injury of this type without becoming deeply insulted, are the joints and tendon sheaths. Nowadays, if the budget stretches to it, I would arrange imaging that could precisely follow in three dimensions exactly which tendons, bones, joints and ligaments had been affected.

But back in those days I only had my hands,eyes, intelligence and x-rays. I noted that my lovely Rebel did not appear to be in shock yet and could walk on his paw without any tenderness. This tended to rule out fractures, which was supported by my palpation. The nail had passed through an area of the foot where there were in fact no joints, and only time would tell about tendon sheaths. I proceeded to operate and spent probably five times as much time lavaging the wound than it took to draw out the nail. A bandage, careful antibiotic cover and a little painkiller were he all needed to be allowed home.

Rebel and I remained friends, but I still wonder whether I should have put that nail into a museum somewhere. And I now am extremely pedantic about sharp objects left lying on the floor, as many a builder has discovered!

Published in The Mid-Sussex Times on Thursday 17th November 2016.

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