One Foot In The Grave


I love to walk.

I grew up in Brooklyn, where I spent the first 25 years of my life on foot.

In my first job, I rode a delivery bike for a butcher shop and took subways and buses everywhere else to schools, jobs, Coney Island, ballparks.

When I took a newspaper job in Los Angeles at age 26, the editor was astounded when I arrived and told him I didn’t know how to drive. As my first assignment, he sent me to driving school and the paper co-signed on a lease for a car.

I still own a car but I prefer to walk whenever I can. These days, I walk a half-mile to the Long Island Rail Road station for a train into Manhattan to work. Then I take a subway and a bus. Then I walk all day.

I have one of those health apps on my phone that keeps track of how many steps I take a day and how many flights of stairs I climb. Some days I walk six miles and do almost 14,000 steps and 13 flights of stairs. Sometimes three miles. I average four miles and 10 flights a day.

So, it really bummed me out six weeks ago when I awakened with a severe pain in my right heel. It made me hobble to the bathroom. I felt like someone had sewed a pebble inside my heel during a blackout drunk. Problem is, I don’t drink.

The pain got a little better as the morning wore on, especially after three Aleve. Like everyone else, I Googled the symptoms. I self-diagnosed myself with something called plantar fasciitis.

I knew I needed to see a foot doctor, but I was on set shooting an episode of “Law & Order: SVU” that I’d written called “Murdered at a Bad Address,” which was to air on Halloween. It seemed all too appropriate because the pain was a total horror.

Suddenly I was walking like Ratso Rizzo in “Midnight Cowboy,” and started to envy all those around me who could walk pain free.

I had to leave for work 15 minutes earlier because I missed one train due to my aching foot. I just couldn’t run to catch the train.

In the half-hour I waited for the next train to the city, I found a new admiration for my father, who lost his left leg at 24 and wore a wooden leg for the next six decades, raised seven kids in a top floor walk-up tenement, and worked standing up all day in an electronic factory.

How the hell did he do it?

I popped three ibuprofen tablets three times a day for the next month, trying to find a podiatrist that took my insurance who was also open late during the week or who had Saturday hours.

I went to a “comfort” shoe store and bought sneakers that look like they were designed by Herman Munster for $300 that were specially made for people with plantar fasciitis. It helped.

“Do not take your shoes off when you come home from work and walk barefoot,” the shoe salesman advised. “You should also buy the special insoles for $30 apiece. Keep those shoes on until you go to bed at night.”

The first Saturday I could get an appointment with a foot doctor, I hobbled up his stairs thinking, “Why doesn’t a foot doctor have an elevator? Or a ground floor office?”

His receptionist told me my co-pay was $50, cash.

The doctor took one look at my foot and pressed his thumb into my heel.

I screamed an F-word that was not foot.

“Hurt?” the doctor asked.

“No, do it again, Doc, just for kicks and giggles,” I said.

“Uh huh,” said the doctor.

I added, “It felt like a crucifixion.”

Then he pressed his other thumb into my arch.

I levitated off his examination chair screaming the same F-word several times, only louder than when he tortured my heel. At that moment I would rather he dug his thumbs into my eyes.

“Okay, you have plantar fasciitis,” he said.

“News flash,” I said. “Hold the presses. What we gonna do about it?”

“Take ibuprofen,” the doctor said. “Three tablets, three times a day.”

“That’s it?”

“You walk too much.”

“For my heart and health and I get this?”

“No treadmill,” the sawbones said. “Only low impact exercise. No power walking. Go slow.”

“That’s it?”

He X-rayed my foot and said I had a very small spur that should go away.

“What else?” I asked.

The doctor took out a numbing spray and sprayed it on my heel and then took out a needle like the ones I used as a kid to inflate basketballs. Then he jabbed that long needle into my tender heel and my mind became a white-hot pinwheel as a constellation of stars danced before my eyes. The pain was so intense it was hallucinogenic.

This is what it was like to have one foot in the grave, I thought.

“The reason why there’s so much pain from the cortisone shot is that it is chalk based,” he said. “The body fights against it as it enters the bloodstream. So, there’s a mini war raging at the moment in your foot.”

“It’s Little Big Horn and I’m General Custer,” I shouted.

Then, in a movie-like dissolve, the pain dissipated. The sun came through the clouds and I felt instant relief. In that magic movie moment, I was transformed from Ratso Rizzo to Gene Kelly in “Singin’ in the Rain.”

I laced on my right Munster sneaker and did a little jig around the office. The doc sold me two insoles for $30 for my dress boots. I wanted to jog home. I made an appointment for two weeks.

“If the pain returns, we’ll have to take a mold of your foot and make orthotics,” the doctor said. “Don’t think the pain will return.”

I couldn’t believe I was as pain free as everyone around me.

Three days later, the pain was back. Only worse.

I have been hobbling since and will for another week before I revisit the doctor.

If you’re walking pain free, stop complaining.

You’ll be putting your foot in your mouth.

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