Pain in the Foot.
By Jennifer Sey
My left ankle is a disaster. I knew it looked funny. Puffy and distended and misshapen. Bulbous on the left side. And the right. Sometimes even hot to the touch. It has been this way for about 20 years and I had gotten to the point where I didn't think about it too much.
“That's just my ankle!” I'd say, palms to the sky mock sit-com style, when some new friend, someone unaware of my gymnastics history, noticed the monstrosity at the bottom of my shin. Perched atop a perfect stiletto, of course. Yes I wear heels. I like them. They look pretty. They make the legs of a 5'3” woman look long, the calves well-toned and they distract from a disfigured ankle. I feel pretty bad ass in a perfect pair of heels. I'm not giving that up.
I should preface all of this by saying, I was a gymnast (if you've read this column or my memoir, sorry to be redundant). An intensely competitive one. Towards the end of my career I sustained a mysterious, extremely painful and, what went on to be undiagnosed, injury to my ankle. The short and short of it: a bad landing in a competition, swollen to the size of unrecognizability, grotesque shades of purple, green and blue. I knew there was something terribly wrong. My doctor, who was in cahoots with my coaches, insisted there was not. And I went on to train and compete for another two years, winning a national championship in the process, all amidst the haze of steroid shots and enough pain killers to choke a horse.
A minor surgery to remove some bone chips before I went to college and I thought the whole thing was taken care of. Not so. A doctor friend recently got her hands on it. “This isn't right, Jen. You really need to get this checked out.” She did an okay job of hiding her dismay. But the worried look in her eyes prompted me to get to the orthopedist. Eventually. It took me another seven months. But when you are used to pain, it just becomes a normal state of being. Not an emergency.
After an x-ray and an MRI, I spoke to the doctor. He entered the office shaking his head. “It isn't good. There is no cartilage left, you have grade 4 arthritis (yes that is the highest, the worst) and the bones in the joint are rubbing together. You're bone on bone in there. That's what hurts.” Huh. I honestly thought he was going to tell me I had a few bone chips, he'd go in there and suck them out without any major cutting and I'd be good as gold. Ready for Iron Man. Not so. “I was hoping for some cartilage so I could use it to help you out with that joint. But there is nothing left. I want to try to get you through as many years as possible until I can replace it.”
Replace what? The ankle! You're going to replace my ankle! Are you fucking kidding me?!
“I do ankle replacements on occasion. They are much more rare than hips or knees. But I do them. I don't like to do them until the patient is 60 because they don't last forever. [chuckle chuckle] So I'm gonna go in there and clean it out and then we'll do a series of joint injections to blah blah blah...”. I kind of blacked out at this point.