It was nearly eleven years ago that I had tendon transfer surgery on my right ankle. I ruptured that tendon in a school hallway, colliding with a kid. I spent seventeen weeks on crutches and felt profound sadness, especially when looking down a stairwell and knowing that for the forseeable future I was an elevator guy. So much pain, so many drugs, so immobile. I just felt old and decrepit and depressed.
Once the cast was off and the air boot was on, I got a chance to look at my lower leg. Parts of it were black for awhile and then morphed into a rust colour. But what struck me the most was the swelling, pretty much up to the knee. Jody and I laughed about my “fatty foot”, but the smile didn’t move up to my eyes. That long thing on the end of my body just couldn’t be me. “That’s not the Bruce I know. I refuse to accept this.” And the thing was, it never went away. For many years, I woke up to a fairly normal looking leg, but by noon it would be all puffed up. My refusal to let it be caused great emotional distress.
In the spring of 2012, I woke up one morning to find that I couldn’t stand on my left leg without huge pain. A few hours later, tests showed that I had a blood clot which went from my groin to my calf. Untreated, I could have died. Happily I got the blood thinner medication I needed, and I’ll be taking it for the rest of my life.
My right leg was still swelling up after the 2003 surgery and now my left one was just as bloated. Part of the treatment was to wear compression stockings which stretched almost to my knee. I picked the blue ones. I now had two huge legs cleverly disguised by the nerdiest socks I’d ever worn. And so sank my self-esteem some more. I just couldn’t get that these physical changes didn’t touch the essence of me.
In August, 2012, Jody and I jetted west to Alberta to visit her brother Lance and his family. There was no way I was going to wear those compression stockings, so I left them at home. People would stare at me. I’d look about a hundred years old! So I went hiking in the Rockies with bare skin down below. One day, we were descending a gradual sidehill trail towards a lake. I got partway down and stopped. The pain was too much. I stood there like a stricken statue, agonizing over my apparent disability and remembering my years of travelling off-trail in the mountains. Jody had to come back up and help me. Oh, my. How can this be happening? Such overwhelming woe. There were no more trails for this guy that summer.
Back in Ontario, there I was: swollen legs and feet hidden inside nylon and Spandex, only to expand to their abnormal size once I took the stockings off in the evening. I went to the beach in my blues, and if ever there’s a double meaning, that was it. I watched people watch me. I swirled within a collapsing self. Heck, I was just plain sorry for myself.
How, I ask you, could I let my well-being be reduced to folds of flesh and tight lengths of fabric? So stupid (or perhaps so human). I hypnotized myself into letting it happen.
There’s a strange ending to this story. From late 2012 until October, 2013, the feet and the legs continued as before. Then Jody was diagnosed with lung cancer, a collapsed lung (twice), and blood clots in her chest. And … my fatty feet disappeared, not overnight but within a few weeks. I haven’t worn the compression stockings for months.
Do I understand how life works? Do I comprehend the mystery? Not really.