Body Betrayal

I’ve been using this body for 58 years.  It’s been a perfectly acceptable, entirely serviceable body.  Not the physique of an elite athlete, to be sure, but good at sitting and sleeping and generally up to the challenge of performing whatever limited physical demands I might place upon it from time to time.

IMG_20151026_070052Lately, though, we’re starting to see a few disconcerting breakdowns.

Last year three of the toes on my left foot suddenly decided to curl into rigid, clawlike hooks that required surgery; they now are frequently numb, much less useful appendages that are home to steel screws that occasionally set off airport metal detectors.

More recently my right knee started to throb, as if the right side of the body has decided it now needs to stand up and be heard.  My doctor said it might be just a simple tweak or it might be the first signs of the dreaded A word — arthritis. Ugh.  Fortunately, an x-ray (when did x-rays become so ludicrously expensive, by the way?) seems to have ruled out the latter, so now I’m taking anti-inflammatory pills, and the doctor says I might have to wear an Ace bandage, too.

This doesn’t seem fair.  I haven’t made this knee run marathons or make sharp cuts on basketball courts.  This knee hasn’t held onto trapeze bars or absorbed hits from NFL linebackers.  In fact, this knee hasn’t even reached retirement age yet.  This knee has no right to start acting up and drawing painful, hot, throbbing attention to itself.  And even if the pills work, there is no going back. Having been betrayed by this formerly dependable joint, the trust level will never be the same.  The carefree days of casually taking a knee for granted are no more.

Hammertoes

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.