The toe: What nearly swallowing an amputated toe taught me about thinking things through

The bartender plopped the severed human toe into the shot of whiskey before me. “You may drink it fast, or you may drink it slow,” she instructed, “but your lips must touch the toe.” I stared at the gnarly body part resting at the bottom of the glass. The jagged toenail was particularly off-putting.

Welcome to Dawson City’s Downtown Hotel bar in Canada’s Yukon Territory: home of the Sour Toe Cocktail Club. The rules for becoming a member of the unusual club are straight-forward enough. You simply have to drink a shot of whiskey with a human toe in it, and let the toe touch your lips. Yes, the toe is real. And yes, it’s as disgusting as it sounds.

With the drink in front of me, there was no turning back. There was also no way I wanted anyone to doubt that the toe had indeed touched my lips. To prevent any potential debate, my plan was to pour the entire toe into my mouth for the briefest of moments. So I threw my head back, opened wide and did my best not to gag.

However, once I got the wretched thing in my mouth, I realized I had a problem.

There was no way I could spit the toe back out into the glass without also spraying whiskey everywhere in the process. And I certainly wasn’t going to attempt to swallow the whiskey first for fear I’d swallow the toe as well.

That left me with one option: manoeuvre the toe with my tongue, get it lined up in my mouth, and push it through my pursed lips like a fat, fleshy pasta noodle — all while keeping the whiskey from spilling out. As I moved the toe into position in my mouth, all I could think was, “please don’t let my tongue touch the raggedy, severed end of the toe.”

Of course that’s exactly the end my tongue touched. The toe slowly slid out from between my lips and dropped from my mouth, the toenail making a faint clanking sound as it hit the empty glass.

My Yukon misadventure reminded me that it’s easy to get excited about an idea and hard to resist the urge to dive right in. Perhaps you see your dream house for sale and make an offer before really crunching the numbers. Maybe you snatch up a job offer with a fancy new title before calculating the hidden costs like more time away from your family.

Or it could be you have a burning desire to take a baseball bat to your neighbour’s over-the-top Christmas display without thinking about how that might affect things when you want to borrow his weed-whacker next summer.

Spontaneity is great. But sober second thoughts can help you avoid all kinds of sticky situations. That might mean seeking out second opinions from friends and professionals. Or making a pros and cons list. Or even just getting better at saying, “I’ll think about it.”

It’s not about being overly cautious. It’s simply about taking a moment to think things through before rushing into something — like having an exit strategy for when you dump whiskey and a severed human toe into your mouth.

More stories from the Overcoming Obstacles Handbook


Lessons learned from leukemia

More life lessons

Cancer reminded me that life is the greatest teacher of all. The following stories share obstacle-busting lessons from some of life’s other awesome and absurd moments — from sleeping in a barn to multiple run-ins with Bill Clinton’s bodyguards to nearly driving a car off a cliff.