Thailand is an excellent country to relax and get away from it all. If you are planning a visit and are going to be going to a fish spa, however, you might want to rethink your itinerary.
Fish spas, sometimes known as fish pedicures, have been very popular recently. That popularity has been increasing, even though they have been banned in multiple states because of health and animal welfare issues.
In Thailand, business is still going strong and some people are getting amputations as a result.
That is the case with one unlucky traveler, who paid a severe price for her fish-pedicure more than five years later.
It began with a piece of broken glass.
Victoria Curthoy of Perth, Australia was 17 years old in 2006 when she got a cut on her big toe from a piece of glass. She didn’t have feeling in her foot from birth so she didn’t notice that something was wrong with her toe for a while.
Unfortunately, she ended up developing a bone infection and doctors had to amputate the top half of her big toe.
After that partial amputation, Victoria seem to be recuperating nicely. Four years later, she took a trip to Thailand in 2010. That is when fish spas were first gaining in popularity.
A fish pedicure involves soaking your feet and lower legs in a tank that is full of Garra rufa fish.
Those fish, also known as ‘doctor fish’, are freshwater fish from the middle east. They eat the dead skin from the feet and lower legs so they have been a popular way to get a pedicure in some countries.
It may seem like a good idea on the surface but some of the fish spas aren’t all that hygienic so it causes problems. If you have owned fish before, you realize how often the aquarium needs cleaned and before it is cleaned, the fish must be removed.
It is unlikely that frequent cleanings would take place in a spa because they are so busy. The fish continued to be reused on one person after another and as they removed the dead skin from the patrons, the risk of getting an infection increased.
Victoria understands those dangers very well now. She wasn’t concerned, however, about the health risks associated with the fish pedicure at the time.
“When I was in Thailand I decided to use a fish spa. I thought nothing of it as I’d watched the owner set up the system and it looked very clean, but how wrong I was.”
When she returned from Thailand, she started getting sick and her doctors couldn’t explain it. It took the doctors more than a year to diagnose the condition accurately. It was a rare yet severe infection of the bones.
“I ended up getting another bone infection in my big toe and it took doctors over a year to figure out what type of bug I had. By the time they’d realised what it was, my entire toe bone had been eaten away and I’d been suffering from sickness the whole time.”
The liquid from the fish spa had entered into the old surgical wound from the 2006 amputation.
“Another year later, the doctors decided that the rest of her large toe would be amputated.
They eventually decided to take the big toe off completely. I felt relieved I could go back to my life without being sick all the time.”
Unfortunately, another year passed and then Victoria discovered she had another infection. It was on the next toe and she had that to amputated as well. Another two years later and she ended up sick again.
“This time, the doctors took the second toe and left me with three toes. I was healthy for another two years, I thought I was very lucky to still have my foot and carried on with my life. But then I started to get sick again.”
In the morning Victoria would be vomiting and suffering from a fever even though the infection couldn’t be pinpointed.
That is when a podiatrist ordered blood samples taken from Victoria to get an accurate diagnosis. When he received the results, he found she was suffering from a third bone infection and had a very high white blood cell count.
At that point, Victoria had another surgical procedure to remove her third and fourth toes in November 2016.
Victoria now only had one toe left so it was painful for her to stand or walk. A year later, she realized that something was wrong with that toe as well.
“Last year I noticed my small toe wasn’t looking very happy and there was some liquid on my sock, but I couldn’t see any cuts. After a few blood samples and more X-rays, they discovered another bone infection, so they finally took the last toe in November 2017.”
Victoria now has all five toes amputated and she is getting used to doing without and helping others to do the same. She posts pictures online of her feet regularly to help build her self-esteem and prove that there is nothing to be ashamed of.