On August 9th I had outpatient surgery to correct a hammertoe on my right foot. In November of last year I had the right great toe (the big toe) amputated and the development of the hammertoe in the second toe is not unheard of, as the remaining toes are working pretty hard to compensate for the loss of the great toe. The hammer toe developed over the course of two months or so. The surgery seems to have gone well. It isn’t perfect, but it is a lot better than it used to be. I’m also not a person who really expects any sort of perfection, so I am fine with that.
For the first two weeks after the surgery I wore a post-op shoe, as the swelling subsided and each subsequent visit to the doctor’s office resulted in a smaller, more comfortable bandage. After the last visit to the doctor I switched from the post-op shoe to a comfortable pair of Columbia sport sandals. If I’d have been thinking I probably would have made the switch earlier, since the sport sandal and post-op shoe are essentially the same design – a sole with straps. The sport sandal even extends beyond the edge of the foot to about the same distance as the post-op shoe did. Most importantly, it is a lot more comfortable. I was telling people that wearing one running shoe and the post-op shoe was a lot like wearing a running shoe and a flip-flop. With the sport sandal the level of foot support and the height of the sole is about the same.
Anyway, as a result of the surgery I’ve been walking slowly. I think, in general, I move around at about a third of the pace of everyone else. It has given me a strange perspective on the world and an interesting set of insights into my friends and acquaintances. Here are some of the things that I have observed and thought about.
First, when you walk slowly, you really see a different world. It is like I am walking in an alternate universe. I work in a fairly big building and the restroom is about fifty yards from my desk. Besides having to give myself plenty of lead time (there is no jumping up and dashing to the bathroom), I’ve become very aware of how bland the hallway is. It is possible to become bored just walking down the hallway because it takes a long time and there is, generally, nothing to look at on the journey.
Second, the most dangerous part of having a foot injury is the people who try to help you without announcing their intention. They reach out to steady you when they think you’re unsteady (and almost knock you over by pulling or pushing you off balance). They suddenly jump in front of you to open a door (catching you off guard and throwing you off stride as you approach the door). They “hover” by walking very close to you, with the best of intentions, but effectively throwing you off stride because they are crowing you.
Third, you can pretty much divide the world into people who are paying attention and people who aren’t paying attention. Quite often I’ve been in a store or restaurant and the help (the host or hostess, a floor clerk) with turn and take off, not noticing that you’re not following them at anywhere near the same rate of speed. I’ve had hosts/hostesses in restaurants dash all the way through the restaurant, arrive at the table and look around with a bewildered gaze when they realize not only am I not behind them, I am not anywhere close to behind them. I’ve had clerks in stores do the same thing. The people who are paying attention do the little things like walk slowly, or seat you at a nearby table, or offer to pick an item up for you if it is clear across the store. It has just been an interesting experience.
Fourth, you can also divide the world into people who ask and people who don’t ask. Then, you can divide the people who ask into those who express sympathy and words of encouragement and those who will insist on telling you some vaguely related horror story along the lines of - Oh yes, my Uncle had that surgery and then as he was limping around he was mauled by a pit bull who bit off the toe on his other foot.
Walking slow though, I have spent a lot of time studying the mechanics of walking, which are pretty fascinating. I’ve also spent a lot of time watching other people walking (usually as they are zooming past me in either direction). I’ve also just spent a lot of time…watching. I am an addicted people watcher anyway, so limping slowly through crowds or finding someplace to sit and watch has always been fascinating to me anyways.
The slow walking can be frustrating, especially here, later in the healing process, when I want to do things. I’ve pretty much had the ongoing process of simplifying my surrounds on hold, tackling only a few very minor things, because it does require the ability to walk – if for no other reason than to take out the trash. However, I do feel that I am approaching the point where I can start doing some minor movements, much as I was when healing from the earlier amputation. Over the weekend I organized my movie collection and moved in from a pair of metal racks into a single bookcase and arranged it in alphabetical order.
But, I counter-act the frustrations of slow walking by focusing on Zen walking – that is, being as entirely in the moment and act of walking as I can be. That is kind of an interesting experience as well. I have a follow-up Doctors appointment on Wednesday, for a check and possible removal of the stitches along the top of the toe, and they may remove the temporary pin sometime next week, which I am definitely hoping for. The approaching Labor Day weekend holds one of my favorite festivals – the Pleasanton Highland Games, and I am going to hate to have to cancel out of it if I am still in the sandal. But, it is important to focus down on it and remember that healing is always more important.