Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The sad record of fiscal austerity (Financial Times)

The ECB could have prevented the panic, says Martin Wolf. Tens of millions are now suffering unnecessarily.

2. The Lib Dems are not a serious national party (Times) (£)

Forget who said what to whom, says Daniel Finkelstein. Nick Clegg has failed to lead his MPs away from interest-group politics.

3. George Osborne hasn't just failed – this is an economic disaster (Guardian)

Coalition austerity has delivered depression and a lost decade, says Seumas Milne. Labour has to avoid locking itself into more of the same.

4. If Nick Clegg’s story won’t stand up, the Lord Rennard scandal could finish him (Daily Telegraph)

Even victory at the Eastleigh by-election will not put an end to the Liberal Democrat leader’s troubles, writes Mary Riddell.

5. Beppe Grillo's antics may yet shake the whole European system (Guardian)

From Italy to Eastleigh, the economics of self-flagellation have set off a wave of wildcat populism, with unpredictable results, writes Simon Jenkins.

6. Negative interest rates mean more pain for savers (Independent)

This suggestion by Paul Tucker, deputy governor of the Bank of England, may sound shocking, but it's a technical device, writes Hamish McRae.

7. Castro pledge is chance for change (Financial Times)

Lifting US constraints on Cuba will speed the regime’s demise, says an FT editorial.

8. Discarding Trident would not aid global nuclear disarmament; it would only imperil UK security (Independent)

It is imperative that discussions on the nuclear deterrent be driven by national security needs, not short-term political considerations, says Lord West.

9. Mr Clegg's voting system and the comedian who's exposed what a joke the euro is (Daily Mail)

Thanks to its proportional representation electoral system, the balance of power in Italy is held by a party whose leader is a stand-up comedian, writes Simon Heffer.

10. Britain's massive debt to slavery (Guardian)

Today the records that detail just how much the trade in humans benefited the UK will be made public, says Catherine Hall. 

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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