Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sure, I'll volunteer to break my own foot ... why not?

Once upon a time, I was finishing my sixth week of college when I noticed a strange lump on the side of my right foot--it didn't hurt, but it didn't fit into shoes that well and I was really confused about how it came to be. One day, my left and right foot looked the same and then the next day ... the right one just looked different. I'm not sure who identified it as a bunion ... maybe it was my friend Jesse who had already developed them on both feet, or maybe it was my dad or his sister who had been plagued by them for several decades at that point.  I had just really gotten into a major routine with running, and everybody blamed my new condition on this.  Basically if I had listened to all of the free non-medical advice I received in the year following the bunion's appearance, I would have permanently retired to a wheel chair and bought several pairs of orthopedic shoes.  Luckily, I didn't listen to any of those people (especially the people who told me to quit running--very glad I didn't listen to any of them) and just ignored the damn thing.

Walking to the pool


(Anyone with a bunion has an "until" in their story.)

UNTIL. Ron and I went to Paris in 2006.  I had just finished my first semester of graduate school which required a daily run up and down a poorly maintained train platform every day.  Honestly, my PhD is in philosophy, but I have an unofficial graduate degree in SEPTA with a concentration in sprinting across parking lots and down North Berks Street to catch trains.  So anyway, I was in Paris on day one of our trip and we had wandered about 36,784 miles away from our hotel when I realized that I made a major miscalculation with my shoes.  I wasn't wearing heels--I was wearing these borderline-old-lady black flats that were ANYTHING but chic but not totally ugly.  I packed them in my suitcase because I honest-to-God believed that they would be good for walking 10-15 miles a day without actually looking like they were from the "American-tourist-sneaker-collection."  Holy crap.

Shoes with no sides! The best ever!

We were walking along the Seine and the Eiffel Tower looked like it was getting further and further away even though we were technically walking toward it.  I finally stopped Ron in a total panic and said (ok, SOBBED), "There's something really wrong with my foot. REALLY wrong."  Basically, the shoe was rubbing against the tendon (ligament?) that hooks up my big toe to my foot (yeah, bunion people: you know what I'm talking about) and my attempts to ignore it had backfired.  It was Day 1 of our big trip to Paris, and I was terrified that I had seriously injured myself in less than three hours.  You know when that voice in your head goes, "Ok: This is bad"?  You don't want to hear that voice while on vacation.

When I woke up the next morning and my foot felt worse instead of better, I knew that this (whatever "this" was ... I had no idea) was really REALLY bad.  I limped through that whole trip--it was awful.  The city was AWESOME, but I saw everything against the backdrop of my seriously pained foot.  I just limped through the whole city in the one other trusty pair of shoes I had brought and made the best of it.

By the time I came home, my foot was seriously MESSED UP.  I had to wear sneakers for ... I don't know ... two months? three months?  In addition to running for trains, I also worked retail at the time.  I basically wore black pants with the same "sporty" (ie, completely PATHETICALLY dorky) black sneakers to work everyday during that time.  Sneakers were against the dress code, but my managers felt so bad for me that they didn't say anything.  Even those shoes totally killed every time I took a step--it was at least three months before I could walk, let alone run, pain free.

During that time, I went to see a podiatrist.  There were maybe eight other people in the waiting room that morning, and I was the only person there under the age of 70.  So depressing.  The staff took some X-rays, the doctor put the films up on the light board, and he goes, "So when do you want to do the surgery?"


Him: "Well, if this hurts as bad as you say it does then you should probably just get rid of it.  But that requires surgery."

Me: "I don't have TIME for surgery.  I'm in graduate school: When I'm not in class, I'm on the train. When I'm not on the train, I'm on my feet at work. When I'm not at work, I'm writing papers.  SURGERY?"

Him: "It's your right foot, so you can't drive for four weeks because you'll be in a boot.  Maybe you can handle the train after 8 weeks ... you'll have to consider a leave of absence from your job.  That foot needs to stay elevated for some time ... It's a two to three month commitment for a healthy recovery."

Me: "No way. I mean, this thing will heal, right?  Are there alternatives to surgery?"

Him: "Sure, I can get you custom-made orthotics for all of your shoes, but you'll have to just work around the bunion as long as it's there.  My feeling is: Do you want to do the surgery now? Or do you want to do it ten years from now when maybe you got a five year old and three old running around? See what I mean?"

Me: "I'M TWENTY-TWO YEARS OLD! I'M DOING A PHD. WHO'S TALKING ABOUT KIDS RIGHT NOW?"  [Seriously, I'm surprised he didn't call in a shrink to run the appointment with him.]

Him: "Yeah, I know: You're twenty-two right now. But you'll be in your thirties with a bunch of little people running around in the blink of an eye.  Mark my words."


I wore these for Erin's wedding. Jesus, does this beg the question "Why bother?" or what?  At least my left foot's pretty.

I spent the next seven years ignoring my right foot ... and yet it had a funny way of taking up a lot of space in my head.  In general, my foot didn't hurt much once it healed from Paris.  I could run whenever I wanted, and everything felt fine.  Walking felt easy ... whatever I wanted to do usually went fine.  Fine fine fine ... everything was fine.

The compromise I had to make was wearing flat shoes nearly all of the time and immediately taking action whenever a new pair revealed itself to be a bad idea.  I cannot TELL you how many pairs I've worn twice or three times and then donated because I can tell they're trouble. Hundreds of dollars worth of flat shoes--not heels and not pretty or "cute" either.  Such a waste.

About two years after Paris, I was walking down the hallway at school and I nearly tripped on my face when a horrible pain shot through my bad foot. It felt like a sharp stone was stuck in my (flat) boot and I had stepped on it.  I went back to my office and shook out my boot to find the stone.  It took me two minutes to realize that there was no stone--it was new problem spot on my bad toe. (Isn't this a lovely story?)  It HURT like a whole-bunch-of-stuff-I-can't-type-here-because-my-mom-reads-this, and it didn't go away--it just stuck around and got worse.  And I continued to ignore it.  I did notice over the years that it hurt more in the winter (closed toe shoes) and all but disappeared during the summer (sandal season).  But, every fall I dreaded it's return.  And without fail, it always came back.

(FYI, it was later identified as a bone spur ... I always just referred to it as a "nubble."  Because that's EXACTLY what it looks like: a nubble.)

Granny shoes? yes. Do they hurt? never.

Notice the REAL pattern at work here: I kept "ignoring" it, but really I thought about the damn thing EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

That being said, I've always been aware of how freakin lucky I am.  Are the bunion and nubble annoying? Yes ... but I can step out my front door and go run four miles and feel better afterward--not worse.  I can run up my steps--multiple times--and not get winded or think to myself, "Damn, my knees/ankles/hips hurt."  I live * knock wood KNOCK WOOD KNOCK WOOD * a virtually pain-free life.  I don't even like typing that out loud because I'm superstitious and I'm afraid the gods will hear me and spite me just for a laugh.

A life free of physical pain.

How many people do you know who can say that? REALLY say that?

It's REALLY apparent in my running socks.  Pretty gross actually.

You know how I power through a hard-core hour of cardio everyday without fail? Because I think of all of the people who would commit MURDER to be able to run 100 steps on a treadmill if it meant not being in a wheelchair for two minutes, and somehow that thought turns my workout into a luxury instead of a chore. Mobility is my most favorite gift that I have in this lifetime, and I'm only too aware that it can be taken away from me in a blink of an eye.  Faster than a blink of an eye.  Every day that my legs and feet do their jobs without pain is a good day (even though I complain about a lot of other crap all the time ... generally, I'm still aware that 99% of mobile days are GREAT days).

These shoes are a podiatrist's worst nightmare: NO support whatsoever.  But the elastic stretches around my giant misaligned metatarsal and avoids the part that hurts the most so ... on they go.
So that's why there is NO ONE more confused than me that this is my current view of (a very non-mobile) reality:

With ice

Without ice--the ink on my ankle says, "Yes," as in "THIS foot for the surgeon ... not the other one."

I finally signed up for the surgery that I swore I would never do.  I made up my mind back at the end of March: During our last day in Rome, a very familiar pain began creeping back into my bum foot.  It was bad enough that I got that old panicky feeling in my stomach: "How bad's it going to get?  How many days/weeks will it take to go away? Can I make it back to the hotel? Should we get a cab?"  Luckily, it didn't get too bad, and then I was sick as a dog the week I got back so I didn't walk on it much anyway.


Image from Real Simple

Two weeks after Rome, I went shoe shopping with Leslie. I HATE H-A-T-E HATE shoe shopping (obviously), but Leslie needed to pick out new dress shoes to go with all of her new suits for work.  So whatever--I can do that.  I had just spent ten days sleeping off the flu on the couch, but my foot was STILL messed up from all of the walking in Rome.  You know what it's like in DSW: there's 10,000 things you want to try on just for fun ... and I couldn't fit into ANY of them. When everything hurts and NOTHING freakin fits, shoe shopping becomes a total nightmore.  I suddenly just started to panic--most of the heels I tried on didn't fit my foot and the ones that did hurt so bad.  All I kept thinking was, "I'm 29 years old ... and not a single shoe in this store works for me?? What's it going to be like when I'm 40? When I'm 60? When I'm EIGHTY? Nothing fits RIGHT NOW!!!"  I must've looked really upset because Leslie started to look upset and she quickly suggested, "Ballet flats! Come on!  Something over there will fit."

Image from O Magazine

And none of them did.  Not one.  They all hurt. Badly.  I honestly couldn't believe it.

And then: I got pissed. REALLY pissed.

Leslie looked me straight in the face and said very quietly: "It's time."  And I said, "I know."

I was back in the same podiatrist's office by Thursday.  He remembered who I was.  "How long's it been?"

Me: "Seven years."
Him: "You're done?"
Me: "Done."
Him: "Ok--let's see what we got ..." and then he proceeded to explain to me how he would chop off various bits and pieces of my first metatarsal and pin the whole thing back into place to heal properly.

Image from Real Simple

To be clear, I didn't sign up for this because I have grand plans to wear five inch stilettos all day/every day once I'm healed.  I just want the average shoe TO FIT ON MY FOOT.

All I can say is: This better be worth it (not that there's any going back at this point).  The only other surgery I had before last Friday was my wisdom teeth in 10th grade.  Let me be clear: Getting your wisdom teeth out is NOTHING compared to this.  Luckily, I had NO IDEA that was the case before Friday or I wouldn't have shown up for surgery.  For my wisdom teeth, I got to keep all my clothes on, my jewelry, whatever.  They wheeled me in, put me to sleep, and I woke up two hours later.  Recovery was awful, but the procedure was so laid-back.

I showed up at the surgery center on Friday, and the nurse tossed a gown at me and told me take my clothes off.

Me: "Take my clothes off?"

Nurse: "You're here for surgery, correct?"

Me: "Yeah, but it's on my FOOT."

Nurse: "That's what I thought: clothes off, gown on."

I'm standing there thinking, "Hold up: This is TAKE YOUR CLOTHES OFF surgery??? What happened to Oh, We're Working on Your Extremities, So PLEASE Keep Your Clothes ON Surgery???"

I had the hair net, the booties, everything.  Once I realized it was REAL surgery I suddenly got this funny feeling that I didn't know what I had signed up for.

Too late.  The only good part was when the surgeon reviewed everything he planned to do, and he pointed to the nubble and said, "This is coming off, right?" (He has to ask me that so I can't sue him later when I claim that I had no idea what he actually planned to do.) I answered with a very emphatic "YES!" and he laughed and away they whisked me to OR #2.

I want animal print shoes SO BAD.  Maybe one day?


Anyway, so I'm off my foot for a month. And running? Yeah, MAYBE I'll get cleared for that in 12 weeks (no promises ... and nothing ambitious permitted either).  No swimming for a month, and the bandages can't get wet AT ALL--not even in the shower.  In the meantime, this thing helps me get around:

It's called a knee crutch--you rest your bum leg on the seat and push around with your good leg. I actually really like it.  Crutches have to be worse.  The crappy part is that it's heavy and Ron has to bring it upstairs for me at night--otherwise, it's just easier to scoot around on my butt everywhere.

The pain is far better today than Friday and Saturday, but the idea of accidentally putting weight on my foot is terrifying.  I can't even imagine it.  Here's how I spent Saturday:

Today was much better, but the days do go by really slowly when you can't do much of anything.  My aunt (who's done this procedure TWICE--once for each foot) swears that it picks up once you get used to your limits. I hope she's right.

I sit all day, but Ron hasn't sat down once.  He runs around getting me ice, refilling my water, keeping track of how many Advil I need to take and when (Percocet didn't work out too well for me) ... Don't tell him I said this, but if engineering hadn't worked out for him he would've made an amazing nurse. Nothing freaks him out and he custom makes the most incredible ice packs.  I'm really being serious.  He would be so great in a hospital where people are freaked out/sad/scared/lonely.  How did I not notice this years ago?  He could've gone into healthcare and been so GREAT at it, especially with the old people.  He's so fabulous.

Marshall's has had these designer ballet flats for months--first in the most perfect beigy-ballet pink and now in this nude color.  They feel great on my left foot but they give me Paris flashbacks on my right--they REALLY hurt.  Maybe they would work in six months?

So that's why I haven't updated anything here in two weeks. I knew that I would be sitting for a month, and I couldn't bring myself to sit in front of a computer during my last weeks of freedom.  I wanted to be ANYWHERE except in a chair.  And now, here I am.  I have a whole list of crochet projects to do and pictures I want to organize ... I've got no place to go, so I may as well get to work on them.

Here's what I want YOU to do: I want you to sprint up and down your steps THREE TIMES today just because you can; I want you to pay attention to using both feet when you walk and marvel at how easy it is; I want you to appreciate how EASY you can get on and off of a chair because you're using BOTH legs to do the sitting/standing motion (and not to be gross, but say a little thank you for this when you're in the bathroom too ...); enjoy a shower standing on both of your legs (I had to take a bath tonight with a giant plastic bag on my leg--bleh); go run circles around your house for no other reason than because the house is there and you can go around it; park as far away from the front doors of wherever and then walk the distance to the doors; drive around and not worry about whether or not your pedal foot is working; run the vaccuum and clean everything your way because you're perfectly able to do it ...

... I could go on and on. Get the picture?

I volunteered to break my own foot when it already worked pretty well.



Anonymous said...

Oh Heather! I hope you have quick recovery! Have fun Crocheting! I can't wait to see what you make!

Jo Harper said...

Thanks!! All I keep thinking is, "Please don't let any of my friends with kids accidentally break an ankle/foot/leg/wrist/arm during the next 18 years! How do you care for kids when you only have three limbs??" Hopefully I'll see you soon??

Laurie said...

Beautiful shoes are over-rated. I have decided to stick with J-Crew flip-flops, Toms, and Uggs for the rest of my adult life :) Let me know if you're up for coffee one night. I can pick you up, Miss Daisy.

Jo Harper said...

Can you carry me into the Starbucks or should I bring my scooter? ;)