If the Shoe Fits, My Podiatrist Deserves an Oscar!
Elegant gowns, ruby red plush carpet, sparkling gems, flawless skin, and exploding fireworks of flashing bulbs. Since childhood, I’ve enjoyed entering the world of make-believe while watching the Oscars. I never fantasized about wearing one of those backless/strapless dresses though. Even in my youth, I was realistic enough to restrain from envisioning myself wearing anything that revealed so much skin. I didn’t practice an Oscar acceptance speech in the bathroom mirror either. Not once did I wipe away the steam from the shower, stare at my reflection and say, I would thank all the ‘little people’ who helped behind the scenes. Nope, I was a practical dreamer…. I focused on the sliver of the Oscars that was marginally within my grasp – the shoes.
Buying a new pair of shoes used to be one of my favorite things to do. The unsightly red spots; Telangiectasia which are generously sprinkled all over my body limit what clothing I choose to wear. Anything backless, strapless, sleeveless, or low-cut is immediately ruled out. Being that I am not by nature a conservative person, or Amish, having scleroderma sort of sucks the joy out of shopping for clothes. But with shoes, the sky was the limit.
Though scleroderma impacted nearly every aspect of my appearance, it had thankfully left my feet alone. High heels, platform shoes, open-toed sandals, flip-flops…..no shoe was out-of-bounds for me. Aside from adhering to a reasonable budget, nothing stood between me and whatever shoes (translation-knock-off brands) my heart desired.
That all changed in April of 2006. After the healthy birth of my daughter, I suffered grave complications. What began as an infection, spiraled out of control and led to a 218-day hospital stay. During that time I endured eight major surgeries, the loss of two organs, ICU Psychosis, and temporary paralysis from the neck down.
I’m thankful that ten years later, I’ve made a remarkable recovery. After years of physical, occupational, speech, and respiratory therapy, people only see a slight limp now when I walk. What they don’t see is the searing pain; neuropathy, that was caused by severe foot-drop and massive deconditioning. In addition to neuropathy, my toes never fully uncurled after my long stint in the ICU. This leaves me highly susceptible to developing calcium deposits on my toes that my podiatrist scrapes off during my monthly visits. Although my feet are in far better shape than doctors initially predicted, my shoe-shopping sprees died a decade ago, along with the nerves in my feet.
I know nobody is whipping out their violin for me- this is a small price to pay considering what could have been. But man, do I miss shopping for the perfect pair of pumps. I long for the days when I used to walk into any local shoe store, select a pair of shoes, try them on, and buy them. The whole process could take under 30 minutes.
Now, getting a new pair of shoes means adhering to the following protocol:
Step 1- Visit my podiatrist and ask him to write a prescription for me to see my Certified Pedorthist
Step 2- Visit my pedorthist so she can examine my feet, study my gait (this involves me walking on paper with ink pads beneath them so she can see where extra pressure is being placed), make plaster molds of my feet, and determine what shoe might best meet my needs.
Step 3- Flip through the orthopedic shoe catalogue and try to select a pair of shoes that might not make me look like I am 90-years-old.
Step 4- Wait to get a call from the pedorthist’s office letting me know my special order shoes have arrived.
Step 5- Go back to see my pedorthist, try on the shoes and determine if they will work. If they will, my pedorthist will custom make special inserts for both shoes to accommodate my foot-drop and other issues she’s discovered by examining my gait and foot molds. If they won’t, we go back to step 2.
Step 6- Wait to get another phone call from the pedorthist’s office letting me know my custom inserts are ready.
Step 7- Go back to the pedorthist’s office and try on the new shoes with the new inserts. If all the stars align, I walk out with a pair of ugly orthopedic shoes that my pre-2006 self would never have considered wearing.
I’m quite fortunate to have found an incredible podiatrist who takes his time with my feet, fashions me hand-made toe buttresses, and enjoys talking about last week’s episode of The Goldberg’s while he carves ulcers off my toes. My pedorthist recently retired and I fear I will never find anyone quite as patient, devoted, and skillful as she. These two professionals are the ‘little people’ who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure people like me can walk. We don’t walk down red carpets and they don’t get gold statues, but thanks to them, we get from point A to point B.
I fully recognize there are fates far worse than having to wear orthopedic shoes prematurely. I also acknowledge the fact that I am walking out with a new pair of shoes – something doctors told me I may never do again. When I look at my shoes through the lens of gratitude, I know I’ve got nothing to complain about. But when I look at those same shoes and consider how much they cost, I woefully mourn the fact that with the money I spent on the world’s ugliest shoes, I could have bought a closet full of Oscar- worthy Pradas!
*A version of this article was originally published on Scleroderma News