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Polish, Postmortem?



Who thinks about toenails, and more specifically, toenail polish, postmortem?

Admittedly (0ddly!), I do.


I can see your face, that quizzical look taking over. Let me explain….

About twenty-five years ago, while taking an A & P class in college, I was invited to participate in a visit to the local chiropractic college, where we’d have the opportunity to examine cadavers. First thought: Ugh!  Second thought: Fascinating! Count me in.

cadaver lab in a medical school

Entering tentatively, I remember the smells of preservatives (formaldehyde?) filling my nose as draped bodies lay lifeless, an experience that stays sharp in my mind, in my otherwise sketchy memories. It was, at once, fascinating and unnerving.



credit: images

As we examined the cadavers, I remember noticing small things that stuck with me, one in particular that often tickles my brain when I least expect it:  a deceased woman’s feet, with flesh still on parts of her toes, her bubblegum-pink toenail polish peeling and chipping. I remember thinking, “Poor woman. This is how she’ll be remembered…. with peeling polish.”

Yep. That was my takeaway…. the travesty of peeling toenail polish and how it would be with her in eternity… Really, Rob? Sadly, yes. Weird, I know.

But wait. It gets better.

A gazillion times since that visit to the cadaver lab, I’ve looked down at my own peeling toenail polish and thought, “Dear Lord, don’t let today be the day. My nails are a mess! I don’t want to be remembered this way.”

chipped, peeling toenail polish

This crazy, recurring thought haunted me recently, as my Cabernet-colored, long-worn polish hung on with defiance – peeling, cracking, chipping, and generally looking hideous. Oh no! What if today is my day?!?

toenails by the pool

Enter my friend, Natine, who coincidentally was also thinking about her own toenail polish, but (thankfully) in much more positive (and pretty!) way. She, like me, describes herself as ‘not particularly girlie-girl,’ so when pretty toes prevail, it’s something to celebrate! (I didn’t  know this about my dear friend, until I read her post, Decorated Digits).   Believe me, the absurdity of two intelligent women, both admittedly not girlie-girls by nature, but both worrying about the state of their toenail polish, was not lost on me! Dear Lord, what have we come to??

Then there was this….

For those who’ve read my blog a while, you might remember that I often talk about ‘signs’ and look for them. Be careful what you look for!

Recently, while reading comments on another blog, I stumbled on to Jots from a Small Apt, a blog penned and illustrated with colorful words and images, and guess what I see?  You got it:  toenails!

Imagine my surprise – serendipity.


watercolour: toenails in a bathtub


It’s the oddities that make us who we are, I suppose.

Let’s make a pact:  If we end up beside each other in the morgue, I promise not to look at your toes if you’ll agree to do the same. And if, by chance, my toenail polish is peeling and you do notice, promise you won’t tell.  😉

Speaking of morgues, want an interesting read? Check out Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, a 2003 nonfiction book by Mary Roach. I started reading it when I was still teaching in our local high school… my students were fascinated, to say the least.

Book cover: Stiff, by Mary Roach


Go ahead. Take a look at your toenails.

Are they ready?

Have a great day!



  • Carrie Rubin

    I’m suddenly glad I don’t paint my toenails! Well, I do in the summer, but when they start to peel, I just slab on another coat. Very low maintenance. But now I’ll be worried the state of my eyebrows on the day I kick the bucket. 😉

    I have the book “Stiff” on my shelf and haven’t read it. It’s been there for a few years. Guess I’m a bit behind in my reading… Then again, I spent months in an anatomy lab as a med student, so the topic isn’t too foreign to me. But I’m sure it would still be a fascinating read.

  • Natine

    I’m not sure what surprised me more in this post: a connection between toenails and cadavers or seeing my post referenced! I don’t think I will ever again see polished toenails without thinking of cadavers. An excellent reveal into the amazing (and yes, strange) mind of Rockin’ Robin. 🙂

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