My Right Foot

I have come to the conclusion that there are four stages to a person’s life. Each is defined by what happens when you fall and hit the ground.

The first is childhood, a time of playful frolic and skinned knees. Mishaps are frequent but seldom result in lasting damage. Maybe it’s because we are short and don’t have far to fall. Mom busts out the Bactine and makes it all better, at least that’s how it is in the commercials. I remember disliking the word “scrape” at the time. I thought my wound deserved something less trivial if I was actually bleeding, especially when the fall made me cry like a bitch.

The second stage comes when we kinda sorta grow into adulthood. We are at our physical peak and usually don’t fall over unless we are drunk. Memories of what made us fall tend to be hazy and we often pick a fight with the sidewalk when it comes up at us. This stage of life starts in our teens and lasts until we grow out of it or it kills us.

The third stage is also known as the “Life Alert” stage because when we fall down, we stay down. We’d like to get up. We just can’t. Unlike the previous stage, alcohol is optional. People are also less likely to laugh at us, at least not out loud. On the inside, they may be having a giggle fit. Falling down makes us look helpless and ridiculous. It’s kind of like crapping our pants but smells better.

In the fourth and final stage, a fall is a game-over event. I’m not talking about defenestrations, parachutes not opening, or swan dives from the Twin Towers on 9/11, but rather being old and brittle enough for a simple stumble to do us in. H.R. Giger, Katharine Graham, and Kurt Vonnegut are just three examples of people whose lives, though not exactly cut short, still ended abruptly from a fall.

On August 17, I experienced a fall that came on the cusp of stages two and three. There was no alcohol involved, but there was no reason why there had to be. I’m plenty clumsy even when sober. I also was able to get up. It just took a while.

I was walking back from Trash Muddy’s in the early afternoon on a Thursday, hating myself for being a fat fuck and hating those around me for getting in my way. In other words, my default mindset. One would think that a self-loathing misanthrope would not choose to live in a city due to crowding and reminders of our insignificance, yet there are so many of us who do.

Anyway, I was crossing 20th Street and grumbling at two guys up ahead who were walking slowly and talking about something stupid. My contempt held my interest more than where I was putting my feet and I fell forward. Well, most of me did. My right foot remained plantigrade and the rest of my body did a taffy pull on my Achilles tendon until it snapped.

The two guys ahead of me, whom I had loathed for no good reason, were very concerned with my well-being. They asked me if I needed help. I said I was fine. I wasn’t. There was no real damage to my knee or hands when I hit the edge of the sidewalk. It was just when I tried to get up, my right foot didn’t want to cooperate. I had to do some maneuvering to keep my balance while I used my left leg to stand up.

One of the guys asked me to wiggle my foot around to make sure it wasn’t broken. I did and it wasn’t. After assuring them I was fine, I walked home. That took a while as I had to stop and rest when the pain level got too high. I did not think I was significantly injured and it was probably just a sprain. Mostly, I was upset that I ripped a tear in the knee of my new pants.

I spent most of Friday on the couch, confident that I would be good as new with a little rest. By the end of the day, I wasn’t so sure. I know that googling symptoms opens a Pandora’s box of hypochondria (hello RBD), but in this case the search results seemed accurate. My inability to stand tiptoed on my right foot was evidence of either a strained or ruptured Achilles tendon. I made an appointment to go to urgent care the next day just to be on the safe side.

At this point, I should mention that Becca and I had a trip to Cabo planned for the following week. When I mentioned this to the nurse practitioner at urgent care, he rightfully suggested I should talk to a specialist before flying anywhere. But here’s the thing: medical specialists are not the Geek Squad. You can’t get their expert opinion at a moment’s notice. The best I could do was schedule an appointment with a podiatrist two days after our return. Going to Mexico was still a dumb decision, but at least I tried.

There were no major disasters while we were down there, just a few ouchies when my lack of experience on crutches made it difficult to navigate irregularities in the sidewalks. On the plus side, everyone down there was very accommodating of my mobility problems and I got to board my flights first with the war heroes.

I made it home safely and once again, consequence proved no match for the power of my dumb luck.

After two podiatrist visits and an MRI, I learned that I have a 3cm gap where my Achilles tendon used to be. The good news is that I won’t need surgery. Current medical wisdom is to go the immobilization route, even for significant ruptures, when the patient is an old fart and unlikely to engage in any athletic activity ever. Score one for being over the hill.

The one drawback is if I did have surgery, they would have grafted in the tendon of a cadaver. I could pretend that my donor had been executed for kicking a baby to death. In time, I’d discover that I could kick field goals from a record distance if I put a sticker of the Gerber baby on the side of the football first. I usually don’t care about athletic prowess, but that would be a cool skill to have.