Nails, Hooks, and Parasites! Oh my!

Growing up is hard. I’m not talking about adulthood. I’m talking about childhood and the injuries that go with it. My brother, like my daughter, was crazy active, so he had all sorts of injuries. Mine were fewer and farther between, but I had a few memorable ones.

I was reading an article on about a teenager who went to the beach, got buried in the sand, and got a hookworm. Yes, hookworm. You can see the article here. If you’ve never heard of hookworm, you didn’t grow up in my house. My mother was a nurse, and she warned us regularly against going outside without shoes, saying, “You’ll get hookworms.” But how? She would tell us, “Hookworms climb up through your skin when you go barefoot outdoors.” Naturally, the article I read made me think of my childhood. Not many people can say hearing the word “hookworm” makes them think of their childhood, but I can. *For information on hookworm from the CDC, click here.*

The first big injury I remember as a kid was when I was three or four and walked outside where some workers had left some boards after finishing a project. I didn’t see the board with the nails sticking up. You guessed it; I was barefoot (against my mother’s warnings) and stepped on one of the nails…and it was off to the emergency room. That one ended with the doctor slicing open the bottom of my foot to get any rust out from the rusty nail…only to find there was no rust. Wow. And don’t ask how many medical professionals it took to hold me down while they did all that fancy “foot work.” Four? Five? I was stronger than I looked.

There were lots of bicycle wrecks and fingers slammed in doors after that, but nothing particularly memorable…till the “hookworm.”

And here’s where the hookworm comes into play. My next injury. Again, I disobeyed my mother and went outside without shoes. Before I continue, you should know there was a lake down the street from our house, and we occasionally went fishing. On this particular day, I ventured into the front yard shoeless. I had made it about 15 steps from the front door when I felt a stabbing sensation in my foot. I picked up my foot, looked down, and saw something sticking out of my foot, and it was shaped like a hook. Remember how I said my mother was constantly warning us about hookworms? Well, when you’re six years old and you’ve been hearing about hookworms your whole life, when you see a fish hook sticking out of your foot, you think it might be a hookworm.

I hobbled quickly into the house, calling my mother as I made my way into the living room, crying hysterically. She came running from the back of the house, and when she saw the hook sticking out of my foot, she said, “Sit down and don’t touch it! I will be right back!” As she ran to the bathroom to get whatever it was she needed to help me, I sat down on the sofa, took another look at that hook (hookworm, in my mind), became terrified that the “hookworm” would continue to climb into my foot, and I yanked it out. My parents had just had the living room re-carpeted…new green carpet; it was the 70s, after all. Mother came back into the living room, and I’m sure she couldn’t believe it when she saw I had snatched the hook out of my foot, and I was bleeding all over her new carpet. Poor Mama. She cleaned me up and took me to the doctor. They didn’t have to slice my foot open this time; it seems the fish hook was shiny and new (we must have dropped it recently as we were on our way to the lake), so rust was not a factor. On the way home from the doctor, Mother asked me why I had yanked the hook out of my foot after she told me not to. I responded, “I thought it might be a hookworm.” That’s when she told me, “You can’t see hookworms like that.” Ohhhh!

At least she didn’t make me clean the carpet. She never would have done that. She was a very nurturing mother. Not that it would have mattered if she had anyway, because soon thereafter, my younger brother discovered matches and walked through the living room with a box of them, lighting one match after another and dropping them on the new carpet. Fortunately, he didn’t burn down the house, but he did leave little black melty-looking holes all over the carpet. I have no idea where he got the matches…probably the same place he got the ballpoint pen he used to write all over the white vinyl backseat of my mother’s car. Yeah…she and daddy spent hours trying to clean it, but nothing worked. A week or so later, though, the ink marks disappeared…the sun bleached them out. My brother was lucky that way.

I think  we all have those childhood injuries that stick out in our minds. They stick in our brains, because they illicit emotions. That’s my theory, anyway. But here’s a lesson: be careful how you say things to your child. Children are very literal, and when they hear “hookworm,” they think of a worm shaped like a hook. Hookworm is a parasitic infection that can be very dangerous, because it can take a while to diagnose it and treat it, and it can wreak havoc on the human body. You don’t want it. You’re not likely to get it in the United States, but as the Today article illustrates, it’s not unheard of. God bless the young man who has it, and I wish him a speedy recovery.

Wear shoes.

person wearing black low top sneakers and black jeans

Photo by Nicholas Githiri on

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