Modern Medicine is Magic (a running post in which you can see the inside of my foot and it looks like a horror movie)

So I’m a runner.

I caught this disease almost two years ago (no, it was earlier than that, but I date it from my first race which was on Cinco de Mayo, a “holiday” whose legitimacy it is not the goal of this blarg to explore) and have since embraced it, the way Rainman kinda leans into the skid and accepts that while he may never be a dashing, smooth-talking ladies man, hey, he can count the balls off some beans.

That is to say, running is not the best of hobbies to have.

Let me clarify that.  I call it a hobby because in a lot of ways it’s no longer about the exercise, it’s about the meditation, the focus it brings, and yeah, let’s be fair, it’s still in no small part about the exercise, but let’s push that aside for now, I’m going somewhere here.  Yes, hobby.  A hobby is something you enjoy doing, something that eats up a (often unhealthily [yes, unhealthily, shut up]) disproportionate amount of your time (money, thought, money, sense of a well-rounded life, money…), and as I’ve mentioned before, for a sport that professes to be about simplicity and an escape from big gyms and monthly fees and expensive equipment, you can drop a fargoing bundle on running gear. And it’s not the best of hobbies to have because it becomes difficult, when you have a (growing) family and a (beyond) full-time job and, let’s not forget, I also just took up capital-w Writing as another hobby (because I have time for that like I have hair on my head [spoiler alert: the key word is “shortage”]), to make time for Everything Which Must Be Accomplished Today.  Less so when you start out and it’s a twenty- to thirty-minute jaunt here and there, more so when you really lose your mind and begin running for nearly an hour at a time four or five times a week, and two hours on the weekend (because daddy needs his long run, no I don’t have a problem just GIVE ME THAT LONG RUN).

Anyway, there’s a problem with running and it’s this:

Dondraper it, let me try again.  There are some problems with running, and one of them is this:

Nope, still not there.

Running is a problem.

Here’s one reason.  We’re built to run, sure, great, fantastic.  The body and its legion of interconnected systems combine to make humans one of the kings of distance runners on our little blue slice of life.  However, most of us lazy Americans don’t give running a try until we’re old enough to know better.  Our lives of leisure and sedentary work and Law-and-Order marathons have caused those finely tuned systems to atrophy.  So we jump into running, and it hurts.  It fargoing HURTS.  Blisters, shin splints, sun burn, broken toenails, bloody nipples, ALL of these things can happen, sometimes within your first few steps out the door.  And a lot of people try it for a week and it hurts TOO DONDRAPER MUCH and they quit.  Hard to fault them.  Others think, “hey, this hurts, but it’s kind of awesome too,” and they keep at it.

Now, the body adapts fast.  It builds up resilience quickly.  And as any runner who makes it past, say , three months (I just made that figure up, but let’s go with it because this is my house) will tell you, once you get to the point where you can run a few miles, the rest is mental.  So if you didn’t drop out when it started hurting (which was immediately), you’re unlikely to drop out barring serious injury, and you’ll keep pushing up the mileage and the duration and you’ll find yourself smashing through your own boundaries and personal achievement and yay yay yay I’m awesome, running is awesome, the world is awesome, yay running.

Problem is, running is not like other sports.  You don’t take spikes to the knee making a tag at second, you don’t get a three-hundred pound linebacker smashing your brains into mush on every snap, you don’t take ice skates to the teeth when the puck does the thing with the hockey implements.  Okay, I don’t know a lot about hockey injuries, but I HAVE AN IMAGINATION AND ICE SKATES ARE DANGEROUS AND THOSE GUYS ARE BIG AND FAST.  Running injuries are subtle.  Like a fine wine (except that they crush your soul rather than bringing sweet, sweet music into it), running injuries develop over time.  Figure a conservative 1000 strides per mile times an average of 4 miles per run (my average in 2013)  times let’s just say I ran every other day last year and that’s a Holy Sharknado lot of steps you’ve taken, each one magnifying the entropy that your thirty-year old (indulge me) frame has slid into over the past YOUR WHOLE LIFE of not doing anything active outside of an occasional game of yard football.

So, my feet hurt.  And they finally hurt badly enough and longly enough (yep) for me to go see a doctor.

X-rays, poking and prodding, lots of questions.

Turns out that while I have no structural deficiencies (no broken bones or heel spurs or stress fractures or duck-feet), I do have a mild form of plantar fasciitis.  The phrase the doctor used was “you have a high arch, but your foot is behaving as if your arch is flat.”  I asked him what the haberdashery that meant, and he responded with words that may have been answers, but I still have no idea what he actually said.  Basically, I think what he said is that because I have healthy feet and because I have good running form, I’m overworking the plantar fascia (the tendons along the underside of the foot) and then they recede and shrink up like your business in a cold pool when I go to sleep at night, then they get extra stretched out again when I run again, wash, rinse, repeat.  (Healthy feet + good form, then, equals injury.  THIS IS RUNNING.)

The treatment?  Stretch it and ice it.  Seriously, that’s it.  He gave me a cortisone shot (I’ll come back to that) and some pills to take if I have more pain (the pills may cause a slight evacuation of my stomach contents, so, you know, USE SPARINGLY) and a see-you-in-a-month.

Two things bear mentioning from my little visit with my healthcare professional.

First, x-rays.

wpid-imag0945.jpgThose are goldfinger alien appendages.  Seriously.  From the above angle they look like the long, taloned claws of the grim-reaper dunked in phosphorescent goo (and, by the way, look at the big bone [the tarsal?  Go science yourself] just below the “toe joints” [yeah, SCIENCE] and tell me those don’t look like demonic slitted eyes gazing into your soul.  SERIOUSLY WHAT ARE THOSE).  And then…


If you’ve seen the first thirty seconds of Terminator 2, I need say no more.  If not, what are you doing here?  Go watch it.  Anyway, that’s a fargoing cyborg death-claw-foot, not a human extremity.

Second, the shot.  We’ve all had them.  Shot in the arm; if the doctor likes you he’ll tell you an amusing anecdote about fly fishing or his fourth-grader’s art project and you’ll be so bored you won’t even notice the needle sliding in, and then it’s over.  Dentist shots aren’t so quick or painless but at least you can’t see it happening so there’s that.

A cortisone shot is different.  First of all, the needle is longer than anything piercing your skin has any right to be.  My stomach did a backflip as soon as he uncorked the thing and I was literally unable to look away from it; all I could think was how it could possibly penetrate my flesh that much without causing searing, blinding pain.  The doc assures me that he’ll freeze the skin and I won’t feel anything except a little pulling.  Okay, sure, but I still can’t take my eyes off the thing.  He sprays a stream of this liquid at my heel and it feels like I’ve dunked the thing in a supercooled ice bath; the needle goes in and sure enough, I feel nothing.  But I see it.  The needle goes in and in and in, like a snake down a drain.  (Real or plumber’s, you decide!)  Then it stops, and he begins to depress the plunger.

Emptying the syringe takes him at least a minute.  Part of it’s because he’s deliberately going slow, which he explains is to allow the medicine to empty into the tissue without displacing things too rapidly, which would cause serious pain and discomfort.  The other part is that, its, uh, payload is dramatically big.  Again, all I have for reference are those doctor’s office inoculations, so maybe my scale is broken like the pollen count mechanism here in Georgia… but I won’t get sidetracked on that (tonight!).  3 ccs, he says.  Anyway, he’s sitting there pushing this clear fluid into the side of my heel and my eyes are just frozen to it like a five year old’s tongue to a light pole in winter, and I keep saying “uh huh, right, sure” to whatever he says in his reassuring voice.  It goes on too long, and my skin looks like one of those closeups of water that you see where the surface isn’t broken, it’s lifting up and sticking to the sides of the straw or string or whatever’s stuck in it, and I’m thinking of all that fluid oozing into my heel and oh my god, where is all that stuff going, it’s not my bloodstream because that’s not the point, and I feel myself getting dizzy.

Lunch almost comes up, but just like that, it’s over, the swordfish spike comes out of my heel, and he’s wiping it off with alcohol.  “All done,” he says, and I ask the question I’ve been afraid to ask because I’m somehow certain the answer will be no: “can I keep running?”

He laughs a little.  “Oh, sure.  I mean, don’t go running six miles on it tonight or anything, but you can return to your regular activities in a day or two.  Just keep stretching and icing.  Now the nurse will come in for your ultrasound.”

Thank crikey.  Wait, what?

The nurse comes in with this wand which makes no sound, not least of all ultra (okay, I apologize to the readers for the horribleness of that joke, but no, I’m not taking it back).  She slathers it with goop and rubs it all over my heel and the back part of the bottom of my foot for a good five minutes, explaining that this will distribute the cortisone all throughout the soft tissues of my foot.  Small talk about our kids (being a parent somehow makes small talk in odd situations so much easier than it ever was in the years BS (before sprout).  Then she’s done, she packs it all up, and sends me on my way, telling me to be careful the rest of the day and not take part in any strenuous physical activity because my foot is going to feel a little numb.

That clear fluid from the syringe, the cortisone, is made of fairy tears or unicorn pee or something.  I put my heels to the ground and feel nothing but a dull tingling in my ENTIRE left foot, like I’d sat on it funny for an hour and it has that pins-and-needles thing going on.  This feeling lasted for the entire rest of the day.  No pain, just that bizarre, stars-exploding-in-my-nerve-endings kind of feeling every time I take a step.

I wake up this morning and the sharp pain I’m used to feeling in my heel on my first steps of the day is just gone.  I rouse the sprout (okay, he was already roused and chasing his toy dinosaurs around his room) and take him downstairs – the stairs that usually intensify the pain in the heel, and again – nothing.

I won’t be running on it again today, but hopefully before school’s back in, I can take it for a spin and see how it’s doing.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: modern medicine is magic.  I learned this firsthand when my son was born with half his insides on the outside, and I’ve learned it again since this doctor was able to pull the evil out of my heel like sucking up milk through a straw.

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