The Intrigue of Fingernails and My Story of Pleurisy

I keep a lot of tension in my fingers and have gotten rid of it by clipping my nails too short. I don’t bite them – I clip them. Habits like this are called onychophagia and they sometimes help people with anxiety. After 26 years, I’m ready to patiently, slowly, let this habit go. This summer I grew my nails out and painted them royal blue. Then I slipped and clipped them again! So now I am slowly growing them out for another try. Taking long deep breaths sometimes replaces this craving.

I find fingernails incredibly fascinating. My own fingernails are intriguing because my nail beds begin and end in unexpected and artistic places. I think male fingernails are especially intriguing and I love looking at them (discreetly). I specifically like the moon-shaped part, the lunula and think that big lunula’s are very healthy and pretty. The matrix, beneath the lunula, contains nerves and blood vessels; it works to produce and push out the hard keratin protein that is in the actual nail itself. I like fingernails because you can observe daily the progress they’re making. There are so many other body parts that you can’t examine regenerating.

(This post is about to get heavy; feel free to stop here and enjoy your day of beautiful fingernails. :))

I learned about my body regenerating when I got pleurisy freshmen year of college. Pleurisy is pure agony and misery and I wish it on no one. Between your heart and lungs you have a lining which makes it possible for you to breathe comfortably without these two organs scraping against each other. This lining acts as a cushion, but when you get pleurisy the cushion gets infected and vanishes. While your heart and lungs are thrashing at each other, the cells of this lining regenerate.

In 2005, mine became infected via pneumonia and for about two weeks my heart and lungs scraped against each other every time I tried to breathe. I couldn’t lie down and breathe simultaneously– I had to choose one or the other. I tried to sleep sitting up, but it was still difficult to breathe, and I developed horrific insomnia. Every breath brought a sharp deep pain, and since breathing supports basically every cellular function you have, your body goes into survival mode without it – panic attack after panic attack after panic attack. Every night felt like several years. I wanted desperately to escape my body. Eventually, in the ER, merciful doctors gave me morphine and I enjoyed the most delicious sleep imaginable.

After about two weeks and a lot antibiotics, I was walking around and breathing again. I didn’t get to watch it grow like my fingernails, but I knew my lining had completely regenerated, cell by cell. The mechanisms that healed these two organs were meticulous and relentless. The organs in my body rallied and worked in a combined effort, showing teamwork more sound than the 1995 – 1996 Chicago Bulls. I think of the nuclei in my cells trusting each other, thinking, toiling, communicating, utilizing vitamins and box-and-one defense to defeat impurities.

Once I was better, I loved and deeply cherished swallowing air — drawing it deeply into my body. It was so new and beautiful and clean. My bloodstream and my cells gratefully reacquainted themselves with this lovely thing. Air is the best.

I sometimes forget this monumental landmark of misery now. I take breathing, and the cleaning and growth in my body for granted, but covid has reminded me of it. I don’t like watching and imagining people who can’t breathe, and whose organs are apparently not reproducing in the way they are designed; there’s no way I could adequately address the ugliness of covid. I am glad that I can breathe and watch my fingernails grow, and my hope is that soon, everyone can go back to taking that for granted again too.

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