Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sisterly Advice

After crying, I cursed.  After cursing, I thought about my options.  My most productive thinking happened at 2 or 3 in the morning, as it is wont to do.  I thought about my mom's foot surgeries some years back, and the pain and diminished mobility those surgeries caused.  When Mom had her first surgery, those pointy-toed dress shoes went to Good Will, and I swore I would not let that happen to my feet.  For the past 15 years I have been wearing what I thought were healthy shoes.  I'll buy used, cheap clothing, but usually spend around $100 for good quality footwear.

So I was flabbergasted.  How could this happen to me, the sensible shoe person?

Then I remembered that last summer my baby sister was wearing those freaky new shoes with fingers.  And had embraced barefoot running.  She mostly ran on thin, handcut pieces of rubber tied to her feet.  I had sort of chalked it up to her weirdness.  My sister is always the pioneer, trying some strange new thing, sometimes inspiring me to follow.  But she had mentioned having the onset of hammertoes.  Now I made the connection, that perhaps this was one of her not-so-crazy ideas.  This might be my other option.

As it was an ungodly hour, I couldn't call Sis.  So I messaged her.  I checked the internet for exercises, shoes, and any alternative treatment for hammertoes.  And barefoot running, even though I'm not a runner.  Found the shoes, Vibrams, and several exercises to work the toe muscles.  I stretched the toes, as if for a yoga standing pose.  I did calf raises, moving myself up and down on my toes.  My sister messaged back the next day with a detailed summary of her foot journey, and loads of encouragement for me. 

I found a pair of Vibrams at a nearby healthy shoe store.  They were almost impossible to put on.  Took me forever to force my curled up, crippled little piggies into the individual toe spaces, while the shoe salesperson looked on.  Once they were on, I walked around the shop.  They felt so good.  Like having gloves on my feet.  That was my first pain-free day in months.  Was the lack of pain due to the exercises or the shoes?  I don't know.

That was three weeks ago.  Since then, I wear my Vibrams every other day.  My sister warned me to take it slow, to wear them only a one to two hours every other day.  I try.  But when I'm at school, focused on my students and my lessons, I forget to change shoes.  Sometimes I find myself driving home in them.  That's an 8-10 hour day, standing or walking about half the time.

I have to take extra time in the morning and evening to massage my feet.  Rolling a small ball under my foot is great, also pressing in the top of the foot with my thumbs, and pushing and pulling the toes.  I also wear toe socks often, and sometimes when resting wear toe separators; the ones used for pedicures.  I do get cramps in my feet and calves, and massage really helps.

As I can't walk as much any more, I'm so grateful to have swimming.  I swim at the Y 2 to 3 times a week.  And the spa is heaven.  Jets of hot water rushing through my poor little toes and sore muscles, mmm.


I finally saw a podiatrist about my foot pain.  I was proud of myself for finally contacting my doctor and insisting on seeing a specialist.  I've had this nagging pain in the ball of my feet, near my little toes.  First my right foot, but lately my left foot hurt even more.  And now it was time to get to the bottom of it, and get this problem fixed.

Boy, was I wrong.

I sat on the cushioned chair as the podiatrist examined my feet, straightening and bending the little toes, feeling the arch of my foot.  She had me stand up, and watched my arches flatten down to the cold linoleum. 

I explained that I had sent photos of my right foot to my regular doctor, and that she had suggested I might have metatarsalgia.  I had bought several pairs of shoes with a wider toe box, and orthotics with a metatarsal bump as the shoe salesperson recommended. I was trying to rest my feet as much as possible, which was not easy in my line of work.  I teach fourth grade, so I stand and walk on concrete floors at least 6 hours a day.  Sitting for long isn't feasible, because my classroom management would go out the window.

I have stopped going for walks, which I used to do frequently.  It's all I can do to get through the day.  Luckily I love to swim, because that's the only type of exercise that doesn't exacerbate my foot pain.

But even with all of these measures, the pain was getting worse.  I had come to the podiatrist to find out what they could do, what I could do, to make my feet get better.  Maybe I was wearing the wrong shoes, or needed different orthotics.

They had taken xrays of my feet while standing on a special platform.  Weight-bearing poses, to see how my feet looked at their most uncomfortable position.

But the podiatrist didn't even look at my xrays. She could tell what was wrong from just rubbing my toes and moving them around.  She said that I have the onset of hammertoes.  That unlike normal little toes, my little toes curled up when in a resting position.  They could easily be straightened by pushing on them, but  would curl up again when let go.  The muscles and bones in my feet no longer held up my arches, but let them go flat on the floor.  And the foot pads under the ball of my feet was moving forward towards the toes, and eventually would not provide much cushion at all.  She cut off the painful corn on the outside of my foot, but said that it would return because it would rub on my shoes.

I of course did not accept this. "What do I need to do to get better?  Physical therapy?  Massage?  Acupunture?  Exercise?" I asked.  "Wouldn't that be nice?" she replied, "Unfortunately, there's not much you can do.  We can order you custom orthotics to make you more comfortable in the meantime, but you can't change it.  You were just born with this kind of foot."  And then she proceeded to tell me what the future held: painful, cramped toes that don't uncurl, and surgery to straighten the toes and alleviate the pain.

I was stunned.  Extremely disappointed.  But seeing that I knew no other option, I took her prescription down the hall to the cast room, and got fitted for the $250 custom orthotics.  They would take 4 weeks to arrive.

What a shitty week.  I was so depressed about my foot future, and still in pain every day.  I wore my old orthotics faithfully every day, but my feet felt just awful.