Sunday, September 21, 2014

My Feet Journey - L'Avventura Dei Miei Piedi

Once upon a time there was a girl who was struggling to find shoes. Her mother was determined to convince her to wear nice, classy shoes. To help her achieve that, the Italian merchants, were always trying to squeeze her feet in smaller shoes - size 40 instead of size 42. Her feet were NOT happy. Yet she was always finding ways to continue to wear the most uncomfortable shoes on the planet, including a pair of small pointed-toe suede shoes with high heels, which she was wearing in high school. The girl was actually me.

I am going to give you hell, my left foot must have said one day. And hell came twenty three years later. 

Finding comfortable work shoes in size 41 in London was tough, sometimes impossible. Then I discovered the power of boots. Boots could be worn all year round. They look just enough dressy, sexy but not pretentious, comfortable and could be easily hidden under a pair of black pants. Thanks to them my feet were complaining less, at least not until the end of a long day (occasionally spent walking from zone 5 to zone 1, drunk, and bare feet, like every London girl must have done, at least once).

During the summer, the only pair of sandals I was able to wear  in London would inevitably turn into a piece of junk, with black dirt stuck all over them and I would be counting the days to fall, to when it would make sense to go back to boots. I tried other shoes: sneakers, sandals, flip flops, birkenstocks, crocs, everything!  Nothing ever felt as good as wearing those boots.
We were inseparable.

2007. Why on earth was I walking in a pair of super narrow Puma? Going to work in those at times felt a bit like tightrope walking. 

2008. I was in Boston for the summer, unable to find pain free sandals to wear for 4 months in the large streets of the American suburb (not quite the same as walking in London from bus stop to bus stop).

2009. After Tronk was born I found myself walking more. My shoes purchases skyrocketed. I was buying new shoes, hoping to find a pain free solution, almost every month.

2010. I tried all brands: Ecco, Clark, Keen, Timberland, Merrell, the dorks' brands, last but not least, the bulky shoes you see the elderly wearing in white! All attempts to make peace with my feet failed miserably. Foot doctor: you need arch support! Simple.

2011. I purchased many shoes with arch support: Naot, Dansko, Sanita, you name it. Arch support, arch support! I kept asking for it but my feet were still not happy and the worse had yet to come.

One beautiful day in October I tripped into the curb, while I was trying to run to catch a bus.

2012 Three months in a cast with air pressure were enough to make me forget what it was like to feel both feet on the ground and to walk normally. I had a purple foot and a purple leg and I was struggling to put my left foot down. Toes swollen, almost every day. I could not bend my big toe and the sesamoid bone was broken. Probably an old fracture. Impossible to find pain free shoes. I felt I was in a dark tunnel with no light at the end.

I will never forget the joy of discovering, at some point, that I could actually wear a pair of Merrell sandals without too much pain; I ended up wearing them all summer.

Then the winter came. I was not able to wear any shoes (not even a pair of slippers) without pain. Every day I had a different toe swollen and my foot would not fit in any shoes.  The discovery that my summer sandals were still pain free was reassuring. I remember looking at the snow storm outside the window and, occasionally, at my frozen purple toes sticking out in my summer sandals, with relief. Thank to them, I  was still able to walk. Frozen toes was a small price to pay for that.

2013. I added arch support insoles inside my Keen shoes, as suggested by a third foot doctor, who was working at one of the most prestigious hospitals in the world: Mass General. Not quite the results I was expecting: at some point in February not only I was unable to bend my big toe but I could no longer feel the ground under my foot without excruciating pain in the arch support area. I was told to take anti-inflammatory drugs in large amounts to kill the pain. I remember dragging both feet with pain to take Tronk to the playground without knowing whether I could take him back home or not.

The cortisone shot WAS NOT the answer. It actually made the problem worse: my posterior tibial tendon had become so sensitive I could not touch my foot with a feather without feeling pain all over. A fourth podiatrist looked at my foot and said: arch support, arch support!  Then he taped my foot to correct my gait. Two hours later, I was screaming. The pain was unbearable. Luckily, an orthopaedic foot surgeon told me I had complex regional pain syndrome. The cast I had been put in was to blame for that. His diagnosis was not far from the truth. Try Googling CPRS and see what you get.

After two months of PT, in May, I was still unable to walk. Once again, I was told to purchase sneakers with extra padding and with more support! So I ended up purchasing three different types of arch supported trainers, hoping to find one that I could actually wear. None of the three worked. The shoes that got me back to walking were the Merrell sandals, which didn't have much support at all.

I didn't want to give up and let the complex regional pain syndrome win. So I pushed myself to walk, despite the pain,  as much as I could and I got through the summer, despite I was convinced I would never be able to walk normally again. I was living with a permanent bruise on my ankle bone and I wasn't able to stretch my foot without pain and without weird clicking noises. This is what my foot looked like after six months of PT.

You haven't made enough progress with PT. Perhaps we should put you back in the cast!... said my physical therapist a year ago, one week before my trip to Italy (postponed from May to October).

I decided to stop listening to the "foot experts".

I stopped wearing American sneakers with padding and arch support and moved back into a pair of European like black leather boots, similar to those I used to wear in London but more spacious inside, and in size 43, half size up my actual size. Although I was experiencing my usual complex regional pain syndrome in the ankle bone area, I was finding it easier to walk.

2014. I continued to look for flat shoes, narrow but spacious in the ankle area, which were not touching my foot and I managed to find sox with minimum texture. Winter came. I was walking in the house bare feet. I managed to get through the winter without having to wear another cast. Nor I had to cancel the trip to Italy in spring, although walking was still painful and I had to continue wearing Licodaine patches on my ankle at times but, at least, I was able to go to places. I was hoping that my posterior tibial tendon would heal at some point and that in the non distant future I would be able to look at my foot without having to see an explosion of dead capillaries.

Then we went to Italy and the unexpected happened. I was in a large department store in Turin. John came to me and said: Why don't you try these? You mean... Superga sneakers? You must be joking, these are NOT going to work, I said with confidence. Remember what happened after I tried the Converse All Stars? I was bedridden with plantar fasciitis for four days!

Actually, there is a size 43; they have a narrow fit and are lightweight. Mmm, should I try them on? Oh my God, I can walk. Question: will I be able to wear them in a week without a lot of pain?

They are unisex, in size 43 they don't look like men shoes, can be worn with skirts and they are Italian, as Italian as they can get. I'll buy them.

While I was paying for the shoes, the above image was back in my mind, together with the fond memories of those good old days, the days when I was living in my loft in the historical center of Turin and I was working at the ad agency of Franco Turcati, the photographer who took this beautiful photo.

I ended up wearing (and buying Superga) all summer long. I can always wear them even when my foot is swollen. I am now back on my feet, I started to love walking again and this is what my foot looks like these days.

Promise me you will never add arch support to your shoes. Grazie, Superga.