Unhappy toes

Sensation below the right knee hasn’t been normal for a long time now. There was nerve damage that hasn’t recovered and probably won’t, at least not anytime soon. When I feel odd things such as pain under the ball of the big toe, I’m told it’s nothing more than nerve damage and not to worry. Oh, and let’s not forget the “sponge-y feet” that sort of squish on the bottom when I walk. Odd but normal for neuropathy.

Now my toes have been acting up. They started curling under a bit in the spring of 2021. That triggered the MRI that finally sent me to a neurosurgeon. My right ankle is still frozen and I can’t flex the foot at the ankle, but I can finally move the toes up and down a little bit. They’re still curling under some and I’ve noticed they’ve been catching on the drain in the bathroom floor which is uncomfortable.

Except my middle two toes are not happy. I can’t feel anything wrong but then, I can’t feel much in the foot anyway. Today when I strapped on the AFO’s and started walking around the apartment with the rollator, those toes started screaming. I don’t know why they hurt but they do. I may need to buy another pair of shoes one half size up to give the toes more room. But I’m pretty sure that my doctor would just repeat that there is nerve damage making it feel this way.

Walking hurts, though, and it’s hard to make myself do much of it when every step hurts.

[Note – the picture is of happier toes when I could still wear my pink Birkenstocks, now alas in my past.]

Small Meltdown Over Shoes

I hate that it’s so damned hard to just put on my shoes. And that they are so ugly.

I loved to go barefoot in my house and to wear my beloved Birkenstock thong sandals year round. My toes don’t get cold, the arch is supported, and my feet can breathe. They are very wide, too wide to easily fit in local shoe stores, so I’ve bought shoes online for years. I had a good pair of New Balance athletic shoes in a men’s 8.5 4E that I wore to the gym, with soft flexible fabric that accommodated the occasionally swollen feet.

Alas, those days are no more. No more bare feet, no more Birkenstocks. No more cute shoes. Just expensive orthopedic shoes for diabetics with padded ankles, soft fabric uppers, and velcro straps. They’re ugly and I feel like an old lady wearing them. I’m too young to need old lady shoes! Except I’m not.

So I keep buying super wide shoes that should fit only to find that they actually don’t fit very well, or they fit one foot but not the other. That’s even without the AFO’s – and the new ones are going to be harder than the ones I have now, so I don’t want to spend pots more money buying shoes that should fit with AFO’s before they’re actually here, because if they don’t work, I still need to send them back. Which isn’t easy to do anyway when you don’t drive or have easy access to a car.

The OT spent her time with me today playing shoe store, pulling things out of the closet and then trying them out to see which ones I can get on by myself and how we make that happen. It wasn’t pretty and there was crying involved, but I finally did get two different ones on after about 15 min of trying for each one. The ones I have on now are black and ugly but they more or less fit, though they are two different sizes.

It could be worse; at least I have feet that I can cover with shoes. And if I have to, I can hire someone to put them on for me. In the scheme of things, shoes are a small thing. But I’m still waiting for insurance to approve wheelchair and AFO’s so something small becomes big because I can wrap my head around it even if I can’t always get the shoes on.

Image credit: Photo 47266077 / Big Feet © Yong hian Lim | Dreamstime.com

Making itty bitty changes

I’ve been home a month now, and have figured out ways to do some things I didn’t know I could do. Take laundry, for example. It’s quite entertaining watching me move the dirty clothes from my bedroom, across the living room, into the other bedroom, and then into the bathroom where the stackable washer and dryer live. And of course, moving them back again when they’re clean. Standing up to move the clothes from washer to dryer and out again is a bit wobbly but that will be remedied this week when maintenance installs another grab bar next to the laundry closet. But even with that limit, I’m really happy that I can do my own laundry in my own place. It’s a step towards greater independence.

My aide is still coming to give me showers and wash my hair and I love that, really love that. But she’s away this week so I’m coming up with other options. I washed my hair in the kitchen sink today, standing on slightly wobbly legs and needing practice using the sprayer – but it’s clean and I did it. I think I know how I would give myself a shower but I’m not really ready to do that and definitely have promised NOT to try it without her there. Part of me doesn’t want to give up having her help but realistically, I may not need it for as long as I originally thought. Which is also a good thing and will save money, too.

I can also put my own shoes on! Well, not with the AFO braces in them, but still, having shoes is better than wearing fuzzy blue gripper socks all day. I have more stability and confidence when I stand and manouver around counters warily doing simple every day things. I’m not doing much walking right now because I’m not sure how stable the left foot is without the stupid AFO that keeps falling down; I’m not wearing it for that reason and the therapists know and understand. I see the surgeon on Wednesday of this week (delayed from last week) and we’ll have a chat. I suspect he will tell me to have therapy decide what I need, and therapy will tell me it’s the doctor. So I’m hoping to get a referral to an orthopod foot person who can direct that part of things. I definitely have significant foot drop in the right foot and know that one needs an AFO, but maybe the left doesn’t anymore.

One of my friends helped me with banking this week, which is another step. I haven’t been to a bank since before my move in August and although I’m not spending pots of cash, I do need some. Instead of doing “cash back” at the grocery store or using an ATM, my friend brought me cash from her bank and I wrote her a check for the same amount. Not ideal, but generous of her and it made things easier for me. At some point, I’ll be able to go out with people, but probably not until I can use the walker, which is a lot easier to fold up and transport than a wheelchair.

This is still a year of waiting. It’s been three months since surgery and I have another nine to go to wait out the healing process, at least that’s what the surgeon warned me. I need to give my body time and not get impatient. The e-stim we’re doing in therapy is really waking up the nerves in the right foot and leg, sometimes painfully, but any return of sensation is a good thing. Those really big steps of the first weeks of rehab were dramatic and scary and wonderful, but they aren’t the only kinds of progress. These teeny changes add up as well.

Image credit: Photo 47326021 © Nilanjan Bhattacharya | Dreamstime.com

We Have a New Plan

My biggest problem for the last weeks has been my inability to put my shoes on myself. Since I can’t walk without them, or at least not safely, my walking has really suffered, and I’ve worried about losing hard-won ground. But now there’s a new plan.

Starting next week, my aide Jamie will be coming Monday-Friday from 6:30-8:30am after she finishes a night shift as a sitter for someone in assisted living. It means I’ll be working with her five days a week for 2 hours instead of twice a week for 5 hours. I’ll get more showers and most importantly, shoes on my feet every day. My time will be more free during the mornings to go to exercise classes – sitting Tai Chi and Yoga are tops on my list – and I can practice doing standing leg exercises using the rails in the hallway. Having shorter blocks of time will be easier for me since I’m not used to filling time for someone else, and Jamie will still help with laundry and grocery pick up as well as house projects.

And I’ll get my shoes on.

Image credit: Photo 25575020 / Have Plan © Karenr | Dreamstime.com

I’ve Been Home a Week

You probably noticed that I haven’t been writing a post a day the way I did in rehab. I’m in a different place with my recovery, getting settled with my new community, and sorting things out at home. And my world is shrinking – not forever, but at least for now.

I’m going to therapy three times a week but because my therapist was on vacation for part of last week, my three days were all in a row. I’m working with a new therapist who is using electrical stimulation (e-stim) on my leg muscles to help wake up the nerves as well as doing targeted seated leg exercises on the mat using weights, plus hand weights for arm work. Stim feels really weird but I’m glad we’re doing it. She has the stim up to full power on the lower right leg, which had the most damage from stenosis compression, and I can still barely feel it – but I can feel it, and that’s an improvement.

Yesterday at the end of my session, they created a little “teeter-totter” kind of deal with a weighted stick topped by a wooden sliding board on top for my foot. I was to push down with my toes, then pull the foot up to gauge movement in the ankle, which has been basically frozen for at least 18 months if not longer. Much to my surprise, I could see it move. Mostly it feels as though I’m moving those muscles but I haven’t been able to see anything, so this is promising.

I still can’t put on my shoes by myself, so I tootle around in my chair wearing my fuzzy blue gripper socks. My aide puts them on for me twice a week when she’s here, and I bring the shoes to therapy so they can put them on the other days. But I still have to find someone who could pop in to help. Lots of my neighbors here have helpers; I’m hoping one of them could spare a little time. But first I have to meet people, and I’m working on that.

Actually, the people here are very friendly and welcoming, and they all seem to know about the woman who was here 4 days then gone for 10 weeks. Last week there was a new resident orientation and delicious lunch, which was a great chance to visit with people as new as I am. Friday I went to happy hour and today is an amazing Sunday brunch. The food is amazing here, with generous portions that I’m splitting into two different meals so there’s very little cooking needed. I look at the stuff in my kitchen, already greatly pared down from my house, and wonder what on earth I’m going to do with it all. Life in a year could look very different, so I’m not going to let anything go just yet, but it does make me wonder.

Pictures finally went up on Friday and the apartment now looks like home. I’m slowly (very slowly) moving things around to make them work better. My wireless printer isn’t working properly which is annoying, since I’m a techie and figured this would be easy to do. Ha. I should have known better. Fortunately it’s not a top priority, so there’s time to get it sorted out. But everywhere I look I see piles of things that need to get put away or moved, and it frustrated me that I can’t just stand up and do it myself.

My world is shrinking, at least for now. I know that people with physical limitations travel, go to church, go out to eat, shop, visit friends, etc. But that’s not going to be true for me for a while, at least as long as I’m in the chair. I never really had any down time when I retired from Yale, moving straight from Connecticut to Texas to take care of my dad. I’ve been running hard ever since, and it actually feels good to just BE for a while without expectations except going to therapy. I’m tired and just wish I could sleep better but there’s always the chair with the cats wandering by to sit in my lap. Spending time with them, even in the middle of the night, makes me happy.