Losing Toes: A How-To Guide - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Losing Toes: A How-To Guide

Losing Toes: A How-To Guide

By Brian Brockmiller



The world can be a dangerous place. And no one knows that better than a 4-year-old in sandals.

By Brian Brockmiller

It was the summer of 1985, and all I could think about was The Black Cauldron.

I was four years old and already enamored with shows like Dragon’s Lair and the like, and of course, deep down the ’80s Disney childhood rabbit hole. Enter The Black Cauldron. The story of a boy having to save the land from an evil necromancer? I was sold, and before I knew it we were off to the mall to see it.

No one could have predicted the catastrophe to come.

We walked toward the entrance of the mall. My mom, eight months pregnant with my brother on my right and my stepdad, Ralph, on my left. We stepped into the entryway between the two sets of double doors. Now as luck would have it, that day there was a furniture expo in the center of the mall, with all your finest, high-end, overwrought ’80s styles selling like mad.

One of these pieces was being rolled our way as we entered the doors, an extremely large and heavy-looking dresser, topped with a slab of marble. Not having enough room to enter the mall with the workmen pushing the dresser through, we moved to the side to allow them passage.

Now comes the pain.

The pain and sensation of crushing pressure felt almost alien, and all I could do was scream in terror…

The weight of the dresser is making it difficult to push; the wheels keep catching on the lip between the doors. The dresser, oddly, isn’t strapped down to the moving platform, and with each shove is now starting to rock ominously toward us. 

The dresser rocks back to its limit and pitches forward at us. Ralph, seeing what’s about to happen, pushes my mother back and heaves his shoulder into it, sending it toppling backward and away from us. However, this does nothing to impede the aforementioned marble slab, which now slips fully into the embrace of gravity and comes plummeting down. On my foot.

And I was wearing sandals that day.


The pain and sensation of crushing pressure felt almost alien, and all I could do was scream in terror as the slab was lifted and my mangled toes were shown, three of them bludgeoned almost completely off, dangling by threads of skin. I was carried out to the curb, a massive crowd of onlookers already gathering. I remember there being hardly any blood, and that was so strange to me.

A bystander ran inside to the Big Boy restaurant and came back with ice, holding it underneath my toes. The shock of the cold brought the pain back to the front, and all I could keep asking was whether I’d lose my toes. The entire time this was happening, the workmen were there, apologizing in a rapid-fire style, almost as if enough apologies would undo what had been done.

Ralph had broken part of his foot, but having been fortunate enough to be wearing shoes, he escaped the worst of it. He tried admirably to console me, pointing out his quickly swelling foot and how he was hurt too, but to no avail. My mom sat by us, nearly overcome but doing her best to put on a brave face, thankfully uninjured in the incident.

After what seemed like an eternity, the ambulance arrived and we were off to the hospital. Being 4 years old, and hysterical from the shock and pain, I thought that I’d be fine once the doctors fixed me, not realizing what was coming.

At the hospital, it was decided that I was too young to be safely put under via anesthesia. Instead, I was restrained on the operating table, and after an agonizing series of shots to numb the foot, they proceeded to begin the reattachment process. Now I can assure you, having appendages sewn back on while conscious is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. The needle punching into flesh. The feel of the sutures being drawn tight. Screaming while being held down and told you’re disturbing the patients, which earned a savage rebuke from my mother toward the staff.

After what felt like a lifetime, they were finally finished. My leg was put into a full cast, this being before Aircasts were a common thing, and my weeklong hospital stay began.

While the cast was bad, the dressing changes were the worst. There were periodic visits to the doctor for this, which were always excruciating. It got to the point that I was becoming hysterical at the office, and again being told I was bothering the other patients, which again led to another verbal salvo from my very Italian mother.

The long process of healing continued. It was always hard to sleep, since moving around aggravated the injury. There was no playtime with friends, and no swim time in the summer was like a death sentence.

As with all things, though, it did heal. The cast came off. There was some relearning of how to walk right again, but luckily my youth helped me more than anything. These days there’s no pain. The toes look strange, as evidence of long gone trauma tends to do, but they work. I’ve loved telling the story throughout my life and getting squeamish looks in return.

We did make it back to the theater finally, and to this day The Black Cauldron remains the one movie I’ll never forget. Well, that and the knowledge that sandals are never very practical footwear.  

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