The Spaghetti Incident

We’d just finished dinner and were beginning our evening routine when I discovered that my wife had chucked the leftover spaghetti noodles back into the pot. Residual heat, left behind by boiling water, further cooked the noodles, so they stuck, in a gross cake, to the pot’s metal bottom.

I felt a rush of impatience. Each night after dinner, Lisa marshals the boys through their bedtime ministrations while I clean up the kitchen. Then we all meet back up for story time. My impatience was unnecessary. I could have soaked the pot and finished cleaning after story time. But I wanted to be done and decided to gauge just how struck the noodles were by giving them a quick scrape—with my fingernails.

I felt a sharp, stabbing sensation and stepped back, wincing. A shaft of pasta stuck out from under my fingernail. I scrambled and found something—I don’t remember what—to scrape the dried out pasta from under my nail, but the pasta broke. Only a small bit emerged. I bled a little, but focused on finishing the cleanup and being ready for story time. We read about pirates (Eli’s choice) and dinosaurs (Jack’s), and my finger continued to hurt. I could see a tiny discoloration, a dash of yellow, where the pain was most intense and took that to be the remaining splinter of spaghetti. But, I wondered, how could that possibly be a big deal?

The next morning I awoke to find that my finger was now swollen and painful. Really? I thought. I’m this stupid? I injured myself with a spaghetti noodle?

I half-heartedly tried to get in under my nail and remove the pasta. And I wondered whether to even raise the subject with my wife. Being aware of my own carelessness was painful and embarrassing enough. But it was another to tell someone else about it, particularly someone who counts on me to—at the very least—avoid infecting myself with dinner.

Silence remained the best option I could see till supper, when there was no longer any avoiding the topic. My finger had swollen to twice its normal size, and the spreading infection encompassed my knuckles. The pain was pretty much constant, a dull throb.

“I think I have some pasta stuck under my fingernail,” I said.

“Are you serious?” Lisa asked me.

“Yes,” I told her, and showed her the finger.

Much conversation ensued. First, how could this happen? When I explained, she looked at me wanly, then offered support. Deductibles were discussed. Options emerged. I could go to urgent care and spend several hundred dollars to heal my finger and codify in my medical records this lapse of reason. Or, we could find some other way.

I started Googling, searching “pasta” and “fingernail”. Sure enough, the top items were from people—just like me!—who’d suffered the pain and embarrassment of a severe pasta injury. Two clear paths emerged: I could go the traditional route and see a doctor, who would administer a pain killing injection by inserting a hypodermic needle under my nail. One woman, who posted her own experience, declared her noodle-associated pain worse than childbirth. But even rendered numb, I suspected, I’d feel the sting of self-recrimination as the doctor removed the pasta.

I didn’t like the sound of that, and my wife’s idea was no better. “Let me do it,” she said.

Her plan was to dig the pasta out from under my nail without any anesthetic at all. The procedure would certainly be cost saving but even more painful and uncertain than the doctor’s visit. I had no question, however, that she was totally serious—even eager. Her mouth curled at the edges into a gleeful smile. Was this a not so passive aggressive way of punishing me for attempting to use my fingernails to scrape burnt pasta from the bottom of a cooking pot?


My wife is generous in her forgiveness. But, lurking deep inside her, beats the cool heart of a natural born dentist—a person who is not only willing but enthusiastic about dispensing pain to effect a beneficent cause. She loves all stuff medical, and fondly remembers the time she spent during her first job, debriding wounds.

I declined her offer, and returned to Google.

One link held promise. A naturopath had posted her experience helping a friend deal with exactly my circumstances merely by soaking his finger, in alternating shifts, in hot and cold water. She wrote something about the helpful changes in blood circulation this would cause in the infected area. But all I really cared about was that this option promised less pain and embarrassment.

I told my wife, who slightly scaled back her hopes. “Maybe,” she offered, “I could just prick your finger with a hot pin?”

“Thanks,” I responded, “but I am gonna try this soak first.”

She sagged a little, but supportive to the last, suggested I include Epsom salts.

For about 45 minutes I stood with my infected finger dipped in water. Then relief arrived.

The infection cleared. And so did at least a little of my embarrassment. I’d impaled myself with a pasta noodle, but I’d fixed it. And I never missed a story time.