Would that it were something I could catch and then get over. Usually that's how it goes down. You get sick when you overdo it. Not me. Nah. What my body came up with is fancier than that: hallux rigidus, or osteoarthritis in my right big toe. Which doesn't sound like a big deal unless you have it, and then it is. As someone helpfully pointed out in a Facebook thread, "Hey! It's not cancer!" Which is true. It's not. It's something else, though.
I had it coming to me. I run every dang day. Or make that, I ran every day. I loved it so much. I got out there no matter the weather and I knew by the temperature and wind speed exactly which fleece or long-sleeved tee I'd wear. 51 and sunny? Short-sleeved tee and the gray fleece I got in a Woodward, Oklahoma Walmart, ugly but functional, perfect for running. 48 and misty? Long-sleeved tee and that same fleece. 34 and windy? Put the blue Nike jacket over the whole ensemble. And out I'd go and I'd listen to the birds and see who was singing and who had arrived or maybe who had just left and I'd come home and scribble down three or four haikus, every time. I'd have my morning to-do list completely figured out and I'd bite into the day like a hungry gator, spinning and twisting off big mouthfuls of my to-do list, gulping them down and reaching for more. That was running, and me.
When I was about three my dad was cutting a big tree in our yard in Kansas City Kansas and he misjudged how it would fall. It spun on its bole and came down right on top of me, standing safely with my sister way out and over to the side. I was freaking out and screaming because I wanted so badly to run away from that tree; I was terrified but my mom told my sister to hold me tight so I wouldn't get hurt and BAM that tree fell on me and smashed my right foot to jelly. I can only imagine what my parents felt as they lifted that huge limb off my back, wondering if they still had a youngest girl. They did. I had a stripe all the way down my spine where the bark had taken the skin off, and I had a cast up to my hip all summer but eventually everything healed OK. Marked by a tree. Not for the first time.
For 50 years, everything was basically OK. In the meantime in the late 1970's I was a contra dance gypsy for three summers and I piled in cars with a bunch of other young hippies in tank tops and long cotton skirts and felt crusher hats full of feathers and pins and flowers and we went from dance to dance all over New England. I had the smoothest swing of anybody and the pivot point was the metatarsal joint of my right big toe. I wore holes through my tap shoes and patched them with duct tape, right there under that big toe joint on my right foot. And my feet hurt after a dawn dance but everybody's feet hurt after a dawn dance. Especially when you've been leaping for the rafters in great balletic arcs in your talented partner's arms and landing on your right big toe.
Years went by and the dance gypsy became a renter and then a homeowner and along the way I dropped a refrigerator shelf I was washing, on edge, right on that same metatarsal joint and it hurt like hellfire. And then one night in the late 90's we were having a music party and one guitarist got excited and tipped over a tall CD cabinet and guess where the knife-sharp top edge landed? Yep. On my right big toe, neatly separating the metatarsal joint. I lay on the floor in a fetal position and bawled like a baby, didn't matter if there was a party going on or not. It was as if Fate had its fingernail right on that one toe of mine.
Enter running, two years ago this July, and in finding my bliss amidst the mist and the rain and the cold and the warm and the birdsong I finally wore out all the cartilage that was still left to pad that joint. And for the past week I have had exactly one night's sleep. The rest, nastily diced up by shooting pains in my big toe joint, pains like there is a crazy leprechaun with an ice pick and he's driving it into my poor old foot and the tears just roll down the side of my face and the leprechaun just laughs at 800 mg. of ibuprofen. He just laughs. And he saves it for the middle of the night, usually 11 pm to 4:30 am, go figure. I had no idea what was going on but by dawn of Good Friday by God I was going to find out. I found an orthopedic surgeon who would see me the same day and the kind nurse X-rayed my foot and said, "I don't see a bunion, but I do see arthritis." And the doctor seconded that, and showed me how the two faces of the metatarsal joint were not nicely rounded but flat against each other, banging together with each movement, and even looking at the X-ray hurt. There were some little bone spurs like shark fins which were to be expected, but he said all the pain was coming from that worn-out joint.
Do I walk? Do I slowly lose my mind? Do I schedule a surgery where they'll screw those worn, flattened metatarsal ends together so nothing moves? Do I borrow a bit of cadaver cartilage and have a surgeon put that in there? I pore through papers in the Journal of Podiatry and the surgeons are in total disagreement as to what to do with "young" active runny adults like me. Fuse or implant? The one thing they agree on: It doesn't get better. Well, I don't want to be around when it gets worse. Because that stank. It isn't cancer, but it stinks.
Just this evening (Saturday) I have gotten up out of my chair and have forgotten my toe ever hurt. Which is a beautiful thing, even if it's cortisone-induced. I don't know if I'll run again. I sure want to. It's already shot, that joint. Will running make it worse?