I have always taken for granted simple things like balance, mobility, independence and 10 toes and, as a raging diabetic, I am particularly obsessed with my feet, with the circulation in them, nail color and length, because diabetes is a disease that cancels circulation.
I dress from the feet up: If my feet aren’t supremely comfortable in my shoes — and this is a rarity — then “outfits” do not matter. As proof, I’ve turned into a 49-year-old sneaker head. Oh, there are all manner of other shoes and boots, but since about the seventh grade and those killer purple hi-top Chuck Taylor’s I blew my whole wad on at El-Bee Shoe Outlet in downtown Hamilton that I wore until the rubber soles came away from the fraying canvas, I have been seduced by sneakers.
I don’t count how many pairs I have. I only know that there are presently sneakers tucked neatly into two kitchen cabinets above the sink and dishwasher and more on display on a large, wheeled three-shelf metal laboratory cart my partner snagged at the monthly surplus equipment sale at the University of Cincinnati.
But now my sneakers mock me.
Since about Christmas week I have been wearing a laceless Lacoste chukka boot on my left foot and a suede-and-patent-leather Lacoste sneaker with Velcro closures on my right foot because it’s the only shoe wide and flat enough for my swollen and infected right foot to fit in.
The bottom of my right foot on the ball just below my big toe looks like a patty of raw ground beef and I am hobbled, a marked improvement over last week this time when I could barely stand or walk at all.
It all started with a hair.
In a flurry of compulsive holiday cleaning, sweeping and Swiffering, my Frye boots perched in the kitchen alongside my obnoxious Uggs caught my eye: They needed a good polishing even though I had no immediate plans to wear them.
So I pulled out my Kiwi shoe kit, the same kind my dad used when I was a young girl and he’d line up his leather boots like Army men on Saturday nights to give them a glassy shine.
I went to town on those Frye boots, applying the brown pasty polish, letting it dry then buffing them with the wood-handled brush.
By the time I was satisfied with the shine I was covered in the horse hairs from the brush, so I blithely brushed them to the floor where they’d soon meet their maker.
Barefoot, I rose from my chair to retrieve the Swiffer when I stepped on what I thought was a small piece of glass from a long-ago accident.
I lightly brushed the bottom of my right foot with my left hand and stepped again.
I rubbed my foot against my left leg and walked normally.
I could still feel a little something was there.
I looked and couldn’t see anything.
That was the week before Christmas; by the Monday night of Christmas week I removed my new baby Aspirin Orange Puma Suede sneakers and there it was.
A dark, raised, painful-to-the-touch bump big enough to prohibit me from putting my right foot down perfectly flat on the floor.
So began the limp.
I immediately adapted to my new foot friend by walking damned near on the side of my foot, “another problem altogether,” my podiatrist would later tell me.
This is where health insurance, poverty and quality of life all collide, because I, like many other uninsured working poor Americans I know, live foolishly in pain thereby neglecting our long-term health because we’ve been made to believe that we do not deserve care if we cannot afford health insurance.
So I suffered.
And I’m no martyr.
What I am is illogical.
At the time of physical calamity I wait to see if my body will auto-correct, and sometimes it does, but infections have nowhere to go except deeper inside and because I am a diabetic a foot infection could reach a bone and an infection in the bone could mean the loss of toes or even a foot.
I finally got my uninsured self to my doctor and the infection by then was raging.
My foot was hot and the area was darkening.
I could barely stand the touch of a sock.
She prescribed an antibiotic and sent me the next day to a podiatrist, a man whose hand is so steady and his manner so gentle he could be a tattoo artist, a brain surgeon, a dentist specializing only in root canals.
Regardless, the pain of having an abscessed foot wound lanced is unlike any pain I could have ever imagined except for maybe torture. The podiatrist and I have seen one another four times now — and counting — and each time there is increasingly more cutting (dead skin removal), lancing (opening up the wound to drain the infection) and layers upon layers of bandaging.
My antibiotics have been switched to a stronger schedule because the podiatrist detected a bacterial infection in my X-ray and the Vicodin has been stepped up to better dull the striking, searing hot pain shooting through my foot and up the back of my leg.
Mostly bedridden since Christmas I have had time to consider my feet and my toes, pulling back the covers to just gaze at them.
And I will cop to a few crying jags — mostly from the pain but also because I’m a realist and there have been moments when I imagined my life without part of my right foot, without perfect balance, agility and independence.
Still bandaged, I am now wearing a big black boot on my right foot that’s held on by a system of Velcro straps. For a week I’ve been proudly walking with a drug store cane, just happy to be standing upright and mobile.
Walking one foot kind of in front of the other.
CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: firstname.lastname@example.org