Feet, and What They Stand For

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At the base of it all are my feet.

They hold the whole human endeavor. They carry the burdens of human life. They see us through long waits, hurried errands, pregnancies, striding runs, overweight years, posing just so, standing, and shifting back and forth….and waiting and waiting.

I only think of them when they hurt and when I was young, I don’t remember them hurting…except perhaps when I bought a pair of shoes that I thought were so pretty. Two days later I was sorry, but I didn’t know. I thought it was that way for everyone. I assumed that everyone had the same problem. Anyway, we girls kept buying pretty shoes… and felt just like everyone else or momentarily special, perhaps a little better than everyone else.

Any sensible child would have had maybe 1. 2 or maybe even 3 pairs of shoes at the bottom of the closet. I think my collection grew larger. It would have been useful to have an adult or slightly older friend say to me: Do you really need those?”

And then I went to college and probably dragged all my shoes with me. And then I got married and certainly dragged all my shoes with me. Along the way I collected more. And of those a certain percentage never quite fit.

I was in my early 20s then. Sneakers were only used in sports and I was not sporty.

We moved to Israel and then, I and my daughters moved to the kibbutz. The shoes came of course, with everything else I brought with me. That was the time and place when I wore espadrilles. Those Mediterranean peasant shoes are not known for giving much support. I loved them. I wore them all the time and everywhere and they went with nearly everything I wore. What does one wear on a kibbutz, after all.

When did the foot pain begin? It’s not the kind of thing I would’ve put in my diary. And I didn’t have a diary anyway. When do things start to go wrong in our bodies? We don’t keep track of that. There comes a time, and I think I am there now, when we get old and when we have so many ailments or issues that we have to write it down. We need to be able to report to a doctor. How do I remember that my bowels were off the other day…Oh, it was when Jonathan came to dinner, so it must have been Monday night.

I feel I am shifting my weight back and forth between my left and right foot. I’m hedging. I am digressing.

I think it must have been some time in my 50s when the pain in my feet became disruptive enough that I started thinking about going to see a podiatrist. But it was not until a decade later that I actually made an appointment and went. Another world, another specialty. I felt had gone to some voodoo doctor. I don’t know why I say that exactly. He must have had a medical degree, but I felt like I was dealing with somebody who is more like a shoemaker. Shoemaker’s are real healers. Oh, that was a pun and here is another fitting one: shoemakers fix souls. Surely if “cleanliness is next to godliness,” then well-fitted shoes make for contented souls.

I was a shoemaker for awhile on the kibbutz. Rather, I was a shoe repair person. Looking for a place to store all my no-longer-useful-bookbinding-tools, I was steered to the former shoemaker’s atelier. He had died and shoes were now collected and brought to a local town for repairs. The tools seemed similar and I volunteered for the task. They laughed at the administrative offices but relented when someone recalled that a kibbutz down the road had a woman shoemaker. Gender was the issue! I took a class or two and restarted the shoe repair industry on my kibbutz of 800 members.

The podiatrist has interesting tools: heavy-duty clippers and scissors, an electric dremel, and tiny scalpels. They sit at my feet on a low stool like the shoe salesmen of yesteryear. More like a service industry then a medical specialty.

My first podiatrist died shortly after my first visit. The second one was offensively like a salesman pushing some surgery as if were the latest fashion. The third one lost me half way through his plans for orthopedic inserts when I had to deal with cancer surgery and chemotherapy instead. The forth one was so awful, I actually left the office in mid-session. Recently, I cautiously but with serious curiosity accompanied my husband to the free podiatrist available through our town’s Senior Center. Out came the large hand clippers, the tiny scalpel, the dremel. He did his work on my husband’s feet. He seemed okay, so I allowed him to look at my feet and even do a little treatment. The foot stand he used to prop our feet was made of wood and old brown leather. It might have looked at ease in an old shoe store or even a shoemaker’s shop. He did not wear a white medical jacket; he might have just been some handy guy who came in off the street. I went home and looked carefully at his work. Not so impressive close up; not sure that I will return…not now. Maybe when I can’t take care of myself…when I have lost my independence.

I cut my own hair and have since my early 20s. I do my own pedicures on the bathroom sink. I have learned how to deal with painful ingrown toe nails and all the other indignities of aging feet. Often, as I prop my foot up on the edge of the sink, I wonder how long I will be able to do this. What happens when I can’t bend so well, or see so well, or handle the clippers so well? Well, there is the Senior Center guy.

In truth my first podiatrist was my father. When I was little, he cut my toenails. He was very good at these kinds of things. He took superb care of himself. I remember accompanying him to his barber at The St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan. I can still see the bent over woman on a stool at his side giving him a manicure. I assume he got a pedicure, too. He supervised my toilette, making sure I was always well-groomed. I groomed my children too, but I, personally, never went for pedicures, manicures, or hair cuts.

Since the chemotherapy, I have peripheral neuropathy. I had never heard of such a thing. Since 2014, I have learned to live with it. The harsh chemicals that kill cancer cells affect negatively the nerve endings in the peripheral parts of the body. Not everyone experiences this, just as not everyone loses all their hair or fingernails and a few other unpleasant things. My feet had to relearn what the floor feels like, how to perceive what part of the foot I am leaning mostly on, whether my body is properly balanced over my two feet. At first it was like walking on massive cotton balls. Now it is my new normal. I learned that coldness will invade my feet and stubbornly not leave; they will be so painful in a whole new way I had never conceived of. Like some caricature of an old person, I work at keeping my feet warm now. Many people with diabetes suffer this; and goodness, there are plenty of people—old and not so old—with whom I can commiserate and exchange anecdotes.

Today I went for a treatment called reflexology. The practitioner fits somewhere between a masseuse and a podiatrist. I have no idea how it is viewed in the medical world and hardly care. If the medical profession can endorse what I have seen in the world of podiatry, I don’t value their judgments on whatever reflexology is or isn’t. It was wonderful. She spent a long time “thumb walking” up the bottoms of my feet, massaging and pressing every part of every toe. When I left with my two sets of socks and my heavy boots, I could feel—not feet, but rather toes—ten of them. Asked later how I felt, I quipped: like multiple orgasms in my shoes.

I don’t buy shoes that pinch or deform the foot anymore. That damage has been done. I live with it full-time. My shoes are now mostly sensible. The few high heel shoes I have kept are stored away in a little-used closet. I keep them just to be sure that I have something to wear with those dresses that do’t go with espadrilles, clogs, sneakers or boots.