Simple Joys: Shoes!

After nursing this foot injury and exercising every last muscle of patience in my body for six months, I finally had my breakthrough step yesterday: no crutches, scooter, wheelchair, or boot; two sneakered feet hitting the pavement. I was shocked, and slightly disheartened, by how strange and difficult it felt to freely move both ankles and walk unencumbered by a big, heavy, rigid plastic boot. I felt wobbly and unsteady, and yet so light. I told Ben the feeling could be modeled by making a stick figure out of uncooked spaghetti and then just dipping the ankles in boiling water, turning them into wiggly noodles. But that model would fail to capture the deepness and endurance of my smile. Like a baby, my whole body beamed while I walked. Although I can probably count the number of times I have cried from happiness on one hand (it’s just not a reaction I get with that emotion), tears of joy welled up as pain-free steps took me further down my road. It took nearly ten minutes of a slow, steady, somewhat braced gait to gain confidence in my stability and ability to walk without any accoutrements, and I didn’t want to overdo it, but by the time I had completed my loop and was back in the driveway, my body felt more like a graceful gazelle (or at least a well-adjusted deer) than a newborn fawn. My mind, however, retained all of the qualities of the newly birthed animal, full of wonder, thrill, pride, and elation. I lifted my arm triumphantly upon my arrival back inside, like when I would win something as a child.

And that’s exactly how I felt: like I won. I beat my mental demons telling me I’d never walk again without at least a boot, I beat the pessimistic prognosis from negative doctors, and I beat the intense anxiety I had preventing me from lacing up the shoes and trying for the past week or so, too afraid the pain would still be there or I’d set myself way back again on the road to healing. My smile lingered until bedtime and it cropped up a few times in the night too, when pain-free steps carried me to the bathroom. I feel good this morning as well; it doesn’t feel like yesterday’s short excursion see me back!

Image may contain: shoes

I’m not out of the woods yet and I still have a long way to go towards full recovery, but these literal steps were a huge figurative one. At physical therapy the other day, we measured the atrophy in my calf. We compared it bilaterally (to my right leg) and also to my measurements back in February when I first went, before the orthopedist told me I needed to be fully non-weight-bearing. Compared to its original circumference, my calf has shrunk almost 3 centimeters, which is more than an inch. It’s also about an inch smaller than the healthy right leg. Most striking was the change in ankle size (and corresponding strength and stability). Compounded with my SPD-induced poor proprioception and balance and my connective tissue disorder-related joint wobbliness and instability, I have a lot of work to do to rehabilitate this ankle and restore safety and function. Yesterday, I finally got to start. Since I wasn’t cleared to do any single-leg work on that side, I haven’t been able to even attempt many strengthening exercises, let alone stabilizing ones. It’ll be a slow process, with bumps and setbacks along the way I’m sure, but this hurdle I’ve cleared fills me with so much more hope, confidence, and genuine happiness that I think it restored my bone-dry patience tank enough that I’ve got the mindset and mental fortitude to be positive and patient, the two critical ingredients to get me where I want to be as quickly and healthfully as possible.

 

Update on the Foot Saga

There are conflicting opinions about my foot. The doctor I’ve been seeing since February about it thinks it has not healed at all. Last Monday, in what can only be described as a bizarre and upsetting appointment, he told my husband and me that there is no evidence of healing and that surgery now is no longer an option. It was as if he was completely reneging on his prior assertions that surgery would be the only way to get it to heal, now he was saying because there was no healing, he was not going to do surgery. This paradox and contradiction completely confused both of us. Ben took the mature higher road and tried to ask very basic clarifying questions to ensure we understood his flip-flopped opinion. I sat there melting down with tears and sobs fretting that “I’ll be in a boot until I’m 40!” The surgeon completely ignored me and only shrugged at my husband’s questions. Ben, seeing that I was unraveling, said, “yeah so I mean if it doesn’t heal in another year or two you still wouldn’t do surgery to fix it?” He stopped shrugging, paused, then said, “maybe after another year.” Then he said he’d see us in another eight weeks and walked out. 

Like a barnacle on a sea rock, I clung to Ben and wailed about my frustrations and that the doctor didn’t want to help me. Although my response was emotionally over-dramatic, the stress of the appointment, diabolical nature of the doctor, and his unwillingness to answer our straightforward questions met at an overwhelming head. Even calm, cool, and virtually unperturbable Ben said, “this guy isn’t our doctor. He wouldn’t even explain anything.” Then like a mother duckling, he led me out of the office, trailing behind in residual sniffles and tears. 

I spent the rest of that afternoon trying again to find other viable specialist in the area. I made a couple of appointments and tried to table my anxiety and frustration for the rest of the day. Not easy. As usual, I could barely sleep.

I received a phone call from one of the offices I had contacted by Tuesday afternoon. She had a cancellation on Friday in Connecticut, a distance I felt reluctant (but able) to drive. Friday, I drove myself down and met with the new doctor. He had a vastly different opinion and equally different mannerisms. He took the time to explain things to me, actually evaluated my foot with clinical tests instead of solely relating on imaging reports, and a contrary treatment plan. “It’s basically healed,” he asserted. “There’s still some residual swelling in and around the bone but it’s essentially undetectable.” He encouraged me to start weaning out of the boot and resuming low level activities. He even said he thinks I could be back to running within a month, quite a contrast to the other surgeon’s prognosis which was, I wouldn’t be running again for a year or so, if at all. After all, he didn’t think running was a healthy activity for anyone. Armed with a more optimistic prognosis, I headed home in much better spirits. 

Unfortunately, that night while lying in bed, my foot had a more pronounced ache than normal. I had not even removed the boot for walking yet and it already seemed worse. As anxiety consumed my thoughts, we called the answering service (something I never do). To my pleasant surprise, the operator connected us with the doctor right away who assured me this is somewhat normal because he “really firmly manipulated it to assess the function and clinical symptoms.” He recommended icing it, taking anti-inflammatories, and keeping it in the boot the next three days and then resuming his purported plan. This made sense to me since we did do aggressive assessments after the conservative evaluation revealed nothing painful or abnormal. With the connective tissue disorder I have, it’s also normal to have tendon and ligament dysfunction coupled with extremely tight muscles, so he hypothesized that some of the calf raises and foot mobility against resistance had merely aggravated my muscles and tendons in the area.

I am optimistic about the treatment, care, and plan and delivered by the new doctor, but at the same time, my hesitation to remove the boat and start walking is rational. Not only has it taken so long to get to this precarious point of potentially healing, but the blatantly contradictory advice begs the question as to who is right and whom to trust. The answer lies within me. It is my responsibility and within my control to carry out whatever I deem best. It’s my foot and I’m the one who is experiencing the injury. More so than ever, I must listen to my body and pay close attention to my symptoms and needs. I plan to try carefully weaning out of the boot as instructed all while directly focused attention toward the area to monitor the physical response. I must strike an informed balance between heeding caution and restraining my anxiety so it doesn’t pollute my assessment. I pray that it has healed and can handle incrementally more sneaker time, but I am mentally prepared to dial it back if need be. This entire injury has been one of the most trying exercises of patience, maintaining faith and hope, and discipline. There have been more than many moments where I was ceded that I’d never walk again, let alone run. The future is still enshrouded in mystery, but the ominous gray cloud that used to conceal the bleak outlook portended, now looks lighter and brighter. My fears and worries are not gone, but they are better balanced by optimistic hopes for restored function, painless miles, and endless smiles.