It is a sweet Sunday morning, and I am out for a long walk, testing out the tender right foot. About ten days ago, I thoughtfully kicked the podiatrist’s Össur Compression Boot (with internal pump system) to the curb. In its stead, I have opted for the sleek, but firm-soled, Giro Rumble Cycling Shoe. Because of the Rumble’s stiff sole, my foot cannot move as it was accustomed to in the Keen Arroyo II Hiking Sandal. By comparison with the Giro, the Keen is a shoe with little more than a flapping hinge of a sole—far too flexible for a man in my precarious metatarsal condition. The selection of the Rumble is really a straight-forward choice, geared to acquire a much-needed structural integrity. And, in a fortuitous turn of synchronicity, a pair was anxiously waiting to be laced up just inside my closet.
Mechanically speaking, the Össur Boot held my foot in an unbendable pose so that the fracture could heal. It is my hope the Giro Rumble will perform in a like manner. The problem with the boot was that it also upset the already delicate muscular alignment within my body. Not only did the foot continue to hurt, but so did my hip, back, and neck. Additionally, I was unable to perform my job as IT Manager, hobbling around, as I was, with a concrete-block accessory strapped to my right leg. (If you desire to test the consequences of such a boot without actually having to have one prescribed for you, just duct-tape a 2″ x 4″ wooden block to the bottom of one of your shoes, then walk around all day. Presto! Hip, back, and neck pain. Guaranteed.)
Faced with pain—and the possible end of my AT journey a good two months before it even starts—I have been in hot pursuit of healing options. Over the past several weeks, I have sought resolution in a bevy of foot-related apparatus and alternative medical procedures. Below is a list of these recent efforts.
Hugh’s Healing List
1. Tried and abandoned: a cushy pair of Dr. Scholl’s foam inserts that the cashier at CVS swore changed his “bi-pedal” life. I have since learned from both my podiatrist and chiropractor that these retail shoe inserts do nothing more than provide a little bounce to the inside of your shoe. Maybe a little “cush” is all you need, but my right dog is barking for more. On a rating scale of 1 to 10, Dr. Scholl’s is basically a 1. Save your money (and don’t tell the guy at CVS I told you; it might hurt his feelings).
2. I am now wearing a professional strength orthotic that comes highly recommended by my chiropractor. A similar pair helped him overcome foot pain on his very own AT journey, just a few years ago. Unlike the Dr. Scholl’s cush pads, these actually do some good and, in combination with the right shoe, are a help.
3. I recently purchased (I won’t even tell you what these cost; I knew it was a long shot, but, hey, I am desperate), wore, and abandoned a patented inflatable shoe insert from an Italian inventor who sounds like he is really from the Czech Republic. Nikola manufactures each buoyant pair by hand in his garage in Los Angeles. These inserts look like a cross between a miniature life raft and a flat eggplant. Please take careful note: the inflatable sole has a small, red pump built into the bottom panel, and if you have a tendency to over-pump them, they will actually lift you clean out of your shoes! Son of Flubber has nothing on this guy.
4. When I haven’t been inserting weird shit in my shoe in hopes of a miracle cure, I have been driving to Palm Coast to visit my acupuncturist, Dr. Hu (not to be confused with Dr. Who). There may be something a bit masochistic in this type of treatment, but his procedures don’t really hurt—unless, of course, they do. In reality, there is virtually no pain, except when Dr. Hu or his attractive assistant Dr. Lee wiggles one on those 6” needles, while it is firmly implanted in a really sensitive chi point. I am not really sure why they do this, but usually a good Yowwwsa! on my part gets them to stop. Oddly, the upshot of being stuck with about 20 or 30 stainless steel acupuncture needles is that you have a tendency to nod off and drool. A lot. Logistically, I have been forced to pare down my alternate healing protocols to local providers only, so I haven’t been back to see Dr. Hu. I did however enjoy relaxing and talking trash with Dr. Lee.
5. I have now established a standing Friday appointment for chiropractic alignment from John Worz. John has been cracking me up literally and figuratively since 1990. My foot may not be getting any better but my neck feels great!
6. The same goes for weekly visits for deep tissue massage from Betsy, at Ocean Vibes Massage. This girl can open a tuna fish can with her bare hands, and my gastrocnemius muscle feels like it’s 21 again!
Okay, so back to the story.
As of Thursday, July 30th, I was basically in Shitsville. The sum total of all my healing efforts had yielded a big, fat goose egg. I was shocked that, after all of the inserting, needling, cracking, and massaging, I had to admit my foot was simply no better than before, and relief was nowhere in sight. To my surprise, I was secretly lured by the insistent voice of my podiatrist, “the man in the white coat.”
Maybe, the doctor is right, I said to myself. Maybe, I will just have to pull the plug on this entire hiking adventure. Until . . . well, until my foot doesn’t hurt, I lamented.
As I silently muttered those words, my entire expedition began spiraling hopelessly out of control. Regretfully, I was a willing participant in my own demise. I understand, now, the helpless feeling a hooked fish must experience as he makes one last valiant run for freedom, while all the while being hauled, crank by relentless crank, straight into a waiting net. It’s hard to do your best thinking when a hook is set in your mouth and a tight line is bent on reeling you in.
But I live in this linear world, and because I do, I have a tendency to take the predictable route under such stressful circumstances. Maybe we all do. I think it’s just human nature to put the mind on cruise control and follow the wisdom of the man in the white coat.
I am living in a linear world. Right?
As I drove home from work on Thursday, my foot hurt. “Throbbed” would be more accurate. I was dejected and depressed and, yes, if the truth be known, a little angry. Angry because I was feeling my mortality. One day away from my fifty-ninth birthday, and I was blatantly facing the fact that I was no longer a resident in a lithe and youthful body. I had the will to proceed, but maybe no longer the brawn. For a guy, even at fifty-nine years of age, having to acknowledge that fact really hurts. But as I slowed at the stop light in Hastings, I experienced an urgent tug in my gut. It was almost like a panic attack, but the sensation was lower. For a split second, I was confused and nervous, but then it dawned on me. It was a wake-up call! Like ring-a-ding, WAKE UP MF! PAY ATTENTION! In a flash, cogs moved and gears locked into place. Suddenly a small chute opened, kind of like the slot that appears when a bag of candy drops from a vending machine. A card fell out, and the message was clear: If you go to your scheduled podiatrist’s appointment on Monday, the Appalachian Trail hiking trip will be over. Zip, bam, boom.
Often, I take a while to comprehend things. This I understood immediately. I decided then and there to kick the podiatrist to the curb. Him and his boot. All of those years of medical school and training had not prepared him to see my problem with an outcome other than a compression boot and a pair of crutches. I was in need of positive vibes. And so, I laid my throbbing right foot on the brake and swung the Caddy into an empty parking space at the Kangaroo gas station and called his office to cancel my Monday session.
It’s strange, but I could swear my aching foot felt a surge of relief.
The dismissal was nothing personal. I simply felt as if I were falling into a trap. I felt suffocated and couldn’t breathe. I reached over and turned the air conditioning up full blast, hoping the cold air would dry the beads of sweat that had formed on my forehead. As others around me pumped gas, toted six packs of cold beer, and ate Cheetos, creating brilliant smears of electric cheese upon their lips, I watched a small but high definition video play inside my head. It was a French film, entitled Raison d’être (Reason for Being), about a small-town foot doctor with legions of hobbling patients. The starring role was played by a guy who looked remarkably like my own podiatrist, except that he smoked a big Cuban cigar and sported a pencil-thin mustache. The whole thing had the look and feel of a Charlie Chaplin silent movie, with frames whirring quickly, as the good doctor strapped huge iron anchors to his patients’ feet before pushing them out of his office and sending them stumbling into the street.
I sat there at the pump laughing to myself, the air conditioner blowing ice cold air across my cheeks, while I thought about what I was up to and what I really wanted in this world. I realized that I was getting old and had let things go for a long time. There were lists of things I wanted to do and adventures I wanted to complete. It’s funny. I never thought of any of them when I was in my twenties, thirties, or forties. It was only after I reached my mid-fifties that I formed a desire to ride my bicycle across America. And now I wanted more than anything to hike 450 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
Truth be known, I want to hike all 2,178 miles, but I can’t yet concoct a plan to come up with the six months of free time to make that happen—not without abandoning my wife and eighty-eight year old mother.
I suppose that is really what this is all about. Time or the lack of it. It’s also about fear and realizing my limits for the first time in my life.
I saw my chiropractor, John, on Friday morning, and he probed every pressure point on my body before announcing, “Hugh, you are doing good, really good, except for the fucking foot, of course! Let’s give the cycling shoes another week. Try walking on it. Let’s see what you can do. If you have to, maybe then it’s time for the boot.”
On Saturday morning, I saw Betsy, and she worked out all the grit in my legs and feet. She had tears of pain welling in my eyes, but it felt good, anyhow. I told her of my conversation with John and my plan to start walking. To test the foot.
It’s Sunday, now, as I sit at the counter at The Blue Hen Café on ML King Avenue. I am writing this post mostly on my iPhone, until I realize I have a lot to say, so I guess I will finish it on my laptop when I get home. I walked here. Distance: 1.43 miles. And after breakfast, I will take a different route home. Shooting for three miles today.
Easy does it. One step at a time.