Fragile (must be Italian)

I just went back and reread my last half dozen or so blog entries. Goodness! A lot has happened in the past four months since that first physical therapy visit! There have been numerous times when I’ve had news to report and even started constructing the blog in my mind but obviously never got around to actually doing it. As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” and once I got somewhat mobile again, and the fall semester started, my life really took off and I hit the ground running.

I naturally experienced a number of incremental steps (pun … somewhat intended!) since late July—and they weren’t all moving forward. There was week three of PT when, according to my surgeon’s prescription, I was now able to put 100% weight on my left foot (after 50% the first week and 75% the second – BTW, how the heck is one supposed to know when they’ve reached 50 and 75%?!). I asked the physical therapist if that meant 100% while still wearing the boot, certain shoes, any shoes, or barefoot (preferring the latter, of course!). Not sure, he called the surgeon’s office to ask, leaving a message on his voicemail. By the time I got back home the PT was calling me with the word he had received from the surgeon’s PA: “You’re good to go!” I was a little dumbfounded. “REALLY?!” “Weight bearing is weight bearing; it doesn’t really matter what’s around your feet, the main thing is that your foot is now vertically bearing all your weight.” Alrighty then! He didn’t have to tell me twice. I couldn’t get that boot off fast enough!

I gingerly took a couple of barefooted steps down my hardwood hallway. It felt a little weird … and a lot wonderful. Free at last! And yet my gut told me that it didn’t completely make sense to go from 75% weight bearing in the boot directly to normal barefooted life. So I decided to wear my Birkenstocks as slippers around the house. Throughout the afternoon, my left foot went from being fine, to having some slight discomfort to feeling more pain to then being so painful I could barely stand on it to massive swelling – and this was just from minor walking around within my tiny 5-room apartment. Oh s#!t … I’ve really messed things up! It was after office hours at that point so I got the crutches out again (grrr!), went back to my bed, iced and elevated my foot and stayed off it the rest of the night.

First thing the next morning, I left a phone message at my surgeon’s office. Heard NOTHING from him that entire day (double grrr!). The following morning I called again, still having to leave a message. About three hours later his PA finally called me back. I explained everything that had happened since my PT visit and when I finished she said, “Well, I think I’m the one who called your physical therapist—your name sounds familiar—but I’m a little confused about the boot. You’re supposed to continue wearing the boot until your next appointment with Dr. Campbell in four weeks. So I’m not sure where your physical therapist got that it was OK not to wear it … or to go barefoot.”

Well, I didn’t either – and neither did he because I had an appointment with him the next day where I told him what I’d been told and he, of course, took no responsibility either. It boggles my mind how that could have gotten lost in translation when the ONLY reason he’d called the PA to begin with, the ONE question we needed the answer to was, “Do I still need to wear the boot?” Unbelievable. Her instructions were for me to go back to 50% weight bearing for a few days and then if there was no pain to try 75% and hopefully in a week’s time I could be back to 100%. This ticked me off because it now meant that I’d have to take (and use!) my crutches while at the annual Festival Gathering of the Network of Biblical Storytellers, where I’m always schlepping lots of crap across the grounds of the conference center and where there is a significant amount of walking between the buildings where the meals are, the meetings are and the beds are (GROWL!).

Well, if there were ever a group for me to be lame while in the midst of, it’s my beloved Network of Biblical Storytellers. Folks were more than accommodating; I was lovingly cared for the entire nine days I was there. And it’s a good thing, too, because the PA’s proposed timetable didn’t end up matching my reality. I still felt pain a few days after the setback and even minor discomfort a week later. So it took a full two weeks to get back on track. I MIGHT have been able to ditch the crutches a day or two earlier but figured, “Why risk it? Why not take advantage of all the helpers I’m blessed with and give my foot a couple extra days of pampering?” So that’s what I did. And the day I finally did put the crutches away, I was even able to go on a small hike at Linville Gorge in NC – still wearing the boot, of course!

The end of August I was given permission to start weaning myself out of the boot (which took me about a week). Classes had started and I didn’t want to have to perform—or even teach—while wearing it. At first, my foot would get tired and achy pretty quickly so I’d spend some time teaching from a stool. Eventually I was able to go the full two hours without sitting—but I was still wearing shoes throughout. Finally the day came when I was able to teach barefoot and that’s how it’s been ever since.

I’m still not quite 100% healed; I’d say I’m around 98%. Interestingly, the remaining discomfort isn’t with my heel but with the rest of my foot “waking up” after a two-and-a-half/three-month vacation. All those atrophied muscles and ligaments and tendons and nerves have to remember what to do and how to work together again. Someone in the know told me that that is a slower process than the 3%/day atrophy process. In fact, it might take nine months to a year before I cease to have any discomfort. A couple of weeks ago I was getting a little impatient. I felt like I’d been stuck at 95% for several weeks and just couldn’t clear that hurdle. But then, when I really thought about it, I’d remember numerous things that I hadn’t been able to do just a week earlier or that had been somewhat painful a few days before that were now not an issue. Progress WAS happening; I just had to view the larger picture and not get bogged down in any given moment’s frustration. When I did that, I’d realize that I’d actually come a long way, baby!

So as a daily reminder of that bigger story (and as a tribute to one of my favorite holiday movies, now that “the season” has officially begun) I decided to do something more with that old boot than simply shove it to the back of a closet.

It now adorns my office, the room where I spend the vast majority of my non-traveling time. It’s the place where I’m most likely to get impatient and to stress (and stress about!) the DOING of life, that relentless march of accomplishing tasks, most of which are geared toward paying the bills.

The disproportionate amount of time I’ve spent in this “state” over the last 14 years has led to a major imbalance in my life that some wise folks have suggested has prevented me from being wholly grounded or rooted in a healthy lifestyle (are you picking up all of the references to potential foot problems here?!) If I’ve learned nothing else from the past six months it’s that life is a fragile balance and it takes perspective, intention and patience to achieve (and maintain) any sense of equilibrium. May my healed heel provide the stable foundation from which I can now venture forth and experience just such an existence, one that the Italian’s might describe as la vita è bella.