The doctor identified the painful red swelling in my thumb as a felon or paronychia infection caused by bacteria sneaking in through a puncture wound. Sounds innocuous. The pain that shot up my arm was not.
According to The National Institutes of Health and the Cleveland Clinic websites, such infections generally are caused by one of two bacteria that sneaks in through a skin break. A felon infection is on the tip, while paronychia is around the nail and often linked to biting fingernails or hangnails or around ingrown toenails.
I don't bite my nails, but as I've aged, those nasty cracks around the nails seem to be more frequent and persistent each winter.
The doctor pointed out some barely visible punctures in the top of the thumb, a crack at the nail edge and maybe a sliver underneath. Wherever bacteria got under my skin remains a mystery. But the cure was not. The doctor drained the swollen thumb and ordered 10 days of an inexpensive antibiotic.
Fortunately, this was not the bacteria-resistant infection the federal Centers for Disease Control warned of almost hours after I took the first capsule. Nor did the doctor prescribe Azithromycin, sold as Zithromax or the "Z-Pak, an antibiotic the federal Food and Drug Administration last week linked to serious heart risks and sometimes used for skin infections.
But the announcements combined with my infection seem another clarion call for caution in antibiotic use. It didn't occur to me to ask if there was an alternative.
In the scale of medical problems, mine was relatively minor and inexpensive. But it was a reminder that as we age, we have to be aware of changes, even down to the increasing thinning of skin and slower healing. The prescription: caution and more awareness.
Perhaps I could have prevented a trip to the clinic if I started soaking the offending thumb in warm salt water when the pain and discoloration first occurred. It usually works with mild infections.
I eat plenty of vegetables and whole grains, limit meat, exercise daily and yes, I'm soaking the still-healing thumb.
Even my favorite doctor once told me, "Try to avoid doctors and hospitals." I'm trying.
Contact writer Evadna Bartlett at eva...@dailymail.com.