Morning Call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers

1. David Cameron's Tories are a one-man band that's playing out of tune (Daily Telegraph)

Simon Heffer doubts whether Cameron's shadow cabinet will stand up to the scrutiny of an election campaign.

2. The election of a lifetime: maybe not. But the stakes are too high to tune out (Guardian)

Jonathan Freedland argues that the election will be a far more ideological contest than most commentators suggest. Labour and the Tories have utterly different conceptions of the role of government.

3. Labour has no cure for its binge hangover (Times)

Alice Thomson says that the government's latest action plan will again fail to reverse the damage done by 24-hour drinking.

4. Naval nostalgia and edgy kit are no basis for sane defence (Guardian)

Simon Jenkins argues that the head of the army, Sir David Richards, is right to dismiss the navy and air force as strategically obsolete.

5. Objections I never heard in 2003 (Independent)

The Labour MP Denis MacShane says that many of those who now excoriate Tony Blair over Iraq nevertheless supported the invasion at the time.

6. Kraft's takeover leaves a bitter taste in the mouth (Daily Telegraph)

Tracy Corrigan predicts that investors in both companies -- and the British economy -- will lose out in the US food giant's takeover of Cadbury.

7. How smoking shines a light on pack loyalty (Times)

Daniel Finkelstein says that group identity is just as important as economic incentive to the way we behave.

8. Beijing has seen the future and knows it must be green (Guardian)

Isabel Hilton argues that while China is investing in clean technology, debate on climate change in the US remains stuck in the 1950s.

9. Muslims know a fatwa can support peace rather than terrorism (Independent)

Shahid Mursaleen says that the latest edict against terrorism proves that suicide bombing is unequivocally un-Islamic.

10. A simpler protest than Billy Bragg's wheeze: switch banks (Guardian)

John Harris suggests that opening a Co-operative account is a far better way of taking action against the banks than withholding your taxes.

 

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter

Getty
Show Hide image

A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear