**Spoiler alert. Runners tend to overshare, and I guess I’m guilty of being a runner who is all-too-willing to overshare. The post below might gross you out, but I have done you the favor of not including pictures.**
Haven’t written about running in a while, and partly that’s because, as I so often lament, there’s only so much you can say about running. But mostly that’s because it hasn’t been enjoyable.
The sardonic ones out there might say, with a guffaw, “WHEN IS RUNNING EVER ENJOYABLE?” And okay, yeah, sure, running is always a struggle, always an exercise (haw) in discomfort on some level.
But the discomfort of late has been above and beyond. Every step driving a tiny little spike into the bottom of my foot. Extra-padded shoes, hardly padded shoes. Ice by the bucket. Ibuprofen by the fistful. Spots of relief here and there, but never for more than a few hours.
Aches and pains come with the territory, but when something persists like this, you start to wonder if something is really wrong. So I took a few days off. Then a week. Then another. And still, every step felt like stepping on gravel.
I always feel awkward going to any sort of doctor. Like, this is my body, I ought to know pretty well what the fargo is going on with it and keep it in good shape well enough to go getting “professional opinions” on it. And going to the doctor for foot pain feels a little like going to the mechanic with a flat tire. Makes me feel dumb, is what I’m saying. Further, there’s always the possibility that when you go to the doctor, the doctor will tell you something is seriously wrong, and that’s not a thing anybody wants to hear. Particularly in this case, going to a foot doctor, I’m always afraid I’m going to hear: you need to stop running. But with a couple of months of pain in the bag and no end in sight, there’s little choice.
I make the appointment to see the podiatrist. But the last thing I want to have happen when I go to the doctor is to have him look at me like I’m an idiot and tell me “well obviously you have a blargle-wargle-gargle and you should’ve wobble-bobble-dobble.” So I research my symptoms. Best I can guess, I’ve got a swollen/pinched nerve in my foot. Incurable outside of surgery or a series of painful injections to literally deaden the nerve. Needles. Scalpels. Walking around on a numb or bandaged foot. Probably taking pills for months because this is America, why wouldn’t they prescribe pills?
I’m dreading the visit.
But I go. He asks me what’s ailing me, and I tell him, and he takes a look at my foot. Pokes, prods.
Doc: “Got a lot of callus built up there.”
Me: “Oh, yeah? Is that normal?”
Doc: “Probably not.”
All of which is said in that I don’t really have to think about it and it’s kind of silly that you did way I was sort of dreading. But he’s a nice guy, he doesn’t let me wallow in my stupid.
Instead, he reaches for a spikey-looking thing that looks like it could easily bring down an elk. Holds it aloft, then looks at the bottom of my foot as if sizing up a kebab for the skewer. I start to hyperventilate.
But it’s not a skewer, it’s a shaver. He starts shaving away at this thing. Flakes of dead skin sort of tinking into a metal tray.
He nods thoughtfully. “Take a look.”
I turn my foot around, peer at the sole like a monkey limbering up for a tree-jaunt. And there, right in the spot that I’ve felt but not seen for months, encased in a dead skin cocoon as it was, is this weird little blue-black speck.
A friend of mine in the third grade stabbed me in the knee with a pencil. Even today, I’ve got this discolored spot just inside the kneecap where (I’m assuming) the graphite sort of inadvertently tattooed the lower layers of the dermis. Blackish-blue and odd, just lurking below the topmost layer of the skin. Not painful, just there, and alien-looking.
This thing in my foot looks like that. And I’m thinking, what the hell is that?
So I say, “what the hell is that?”
Blocked sweat gland, he says. Gland gets plugged — bit of grime or dirt or whatever — and creates this little “core” thingy that irritates and calcifies, not entirely unlike a clam with a pearl. (“Seed corn” is one thing they’re called.) Except this “pearl” eventually becomes basically a rock embedded in the bottom of your foot. Which — no surprise — makes it feel like you’ve got a rock in your shoe, even when you’re not wearing shoes. No big deal — just shave away the dead skin, carve the bugger out, and off you go. Which he does. No X-Rays. No medication regimen. No surgery or impalement with needles. He just works with the elkstopper for another minute or so (I barely feel any of this, of course, it’s all just dead skin and callus) and then says, “all done.”
I twist my foot around again for a look. The speck is gone. In its place is a neat little indentation in the skin, as if a ball bearing had been pressed permanently into a memory foam mattress. I might feel a little discomfort for a day or so, he tells me, but nothing to what I’ve been feeling. Just the aftereffects of the tissue straightening itself out now that the obstruction is gone. He prescribes some ointment. (Breastfeeding nipple-chafe cream, it turns out, to help heal up the skin he had to shave away at. Seriously. My wife got a kick out of that.)
Still a little disbelieving, I ease myself down from the table (I’ve trained myself to ease onto my feet in every situation of late). Test my weight.
It doesn’t hurt. I try a few steps. Nothing. Dreamlike, I walk out of the office like I’m walking on bubble wrap. I stop at the store on the way home to buy some breastfeeding cream and spend the entire trip wondering at the fact that I’m walking pain-free for the first time in months. I get home and kick my shoes off, walking around barefoot on the hardwood and not having to step gingerly (I’d taken to wearing shoes or thick socks indoors like some kind of leper).
And because I’m an idiot, and there’s no sense not diving headlong into recovery, I lace up and go for a run the next morning. And it still doesn’t hurt.
It’s wild how we can become accustomed to the burdens we don’t realize we’re carrying. This tiny little speck had me walking like a man afraid to wake a sleeping baby (and I know a little bit about that). It made me give up running long enough to get good and cranky and feeling sluggish. It made me uncomfortable in my own home. I have to wonder if the speck wasn’t, in its own tiny way, responsible for a share of my writing misery of late: keeping me off balance, unable to relax, just sort of generally-being-off-kilter.
But all it took to fix it was five minutes and an elk-stopping harpoon. (Okay, it was probably just a tiny little scalpel.)
There’s a lesson to be learned in here somewhere, but I’m too busy walking on air (almost literally) to think of it.