Yesterday I got the pins removed from the three middle toes on my left foot. It was a curious, almost mechanical exercise. The doctor grabbed a toe, worked the pins back and forth while pulling, like he was freeing a cork from a bottle, and ultimately the pins popped out of their respective, former hammertoe bones.

It smarted a little, but I was happy to endure the discomfort to reach the ultimate result. Because I don’t have to worry about bending the pins any more, I can actually put weight on my left foot again. That means I don’t need to use crutches any longer.

IMG_1886I’m still supposed to avoid putting weight on my toes, so for now I’m a heelwalker. My gait looks something like Walter Brennan’s hitch step in The Real McCoys, or the dragging undead shamble you see in Shaun of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, or just about any zombie flick. I don’t care. After three weeks of hobbling around on crutches, being able to stand steadily on two feet is just about the most liberating feeling you can possibly imagine.

Today, for the first time in three weeks, I was able to make and pour my own cup of coffee and glass of orange juice. It’s just not possible to tote a cup of liquid when you are on crutches. I did the dishes and helped to straighten up around the house. I can easily carry and move things once more. I finally feel like I’m pulling my weight again, rather than being a dead load around the house.

I’ll be heelwalking for a few weeks, wearing a special shoe that will keep my toes straight. It will beat crutches any day.


This week I learned I have “hammertoes” on my left foot and that I’m going to need surgery to fix the problem. It was not a highlight of the week, obviously.

“Hammertoes” is an embarrassing name for an affliction. Even worse, the name always make me think of the “Hammer time” passage in M.C. Hammer’s U Can’t Touch This. It refers to a condition in which the muscle, ligament, and joint of a toe become imbalanced, causing the middle joint to bend permanently. In my case, the second toe of my left foot has not only become arched, but has twisted and is overlapping with its neighbor, my big toe. This makes wearing shoes a painful exercise. Even worse, the next two toes also have begun to curl over, and their twisting and torquing adds to the discomfort.

The result is a left foot in which only the big toe and little toe are normal, and the middle three look like gnarled, freakish deviltoes that need an exorcist. If I were barefoot on a beach in this condition, mothers would grab their young children and flee. It’s weird, too, to see the toes on a x-ray, where the skeleton beneath the skin is exposed in all of its monstrous deformity.

Hammertoes can be caused by a number of things. In my case, the doctor says it’s genetic rather than being caused by wearing shoes that are too tight. I don’t know of anyone in my family, extending back several generations, who had this problem, but I’ll accept the diagnosis because it means I’m not personally to blame. It also means I’m going to need to keep a close eye on my right foot, to see whether I can detect the telltale signs of new toe betrayal.

As health problems go, hammertoes is small stuff. I’ll have outpatient surgery in which the muscle, ligament and joint are restored to their proper alignment, pins will be inserted into the rebellious toes to keep them in line, and I’ll have to gimp around on crutches and later in a walking boot. I won’t be able to take my customary morning walk for months. Instead, I’ll be sitting in a chair, with visions of M.C. Hammer in his funky pants dancing in my head.