The Floor Beneath My Feet

Heather A. MacLellan

© Copyright 2002 by Heather A. MacLallan


The story I am about to tell is a true one to the best of my memory as details, dates, and times tend to fade away with each passing day because the story I am going to tell is not one a person wishes to remember. I am not an eighty year old woman who has lived a long and prosperous life, nor am I a fifty-five year old woman who is about to retire from a long hard career. Nor am I the thirty-two year old woman who has just had her third child and is beginning the next stages of her life. I am twenty. Twenty years old. I am barley clear of being a teenager, and I have Rheumatoid Arthritis. Everyday I wake up hoping that my first steps of the day will be pleasant ones. I wake up, lie in bed and wiggle my toes and feet around the bed to get a feel for how much my feet hurt. Then I sit up and place my feet on the floor, giving myself a minute to determine how much more my feet are going to hurt once I place my full body weight on them. And then, I stand up and take my first few steps. By the time I reach the bathroom, which is directly across the hallway, I am usually pretty sure that it is going to be a good day. On occasion it takes me longer to get the creeks and pops out of my joints, usually by the time I get downstairs; sometimes I go through an entire day feeling every step, and counting the minutes until I get to sit down. The story I am going to tell is mine and my story is one of courage, stubbornness and victory.

It happened when I was just fifteen years old. It was October ( I know this because I was going to be getting my learner’s permit to drive almost two months later)and I broke three toes on my left foot. I was swimming at a local public pool with my mother, sister and boyfriend. The diving board opened up and I wanted to jump off of it. So I did. Not a smart move. As I was preparing to leap off the board into the water I slipped and fell forward catching my left foot on the end of the board. I didn’t realize it at the time but I had just snapped the three middle toes on my foot. I came to the surface of the water and felt a sharp pain running up my left leg. I thought nothing of it. As the pain began to get worse, I told my mother that I was going to get dried off and changed. In the dressing room I found that my foot was not as painful as it had been in the pool and I thought that I must have just twisted my ankle. Having never broken any part of my body before that day, I had no idea that this was what a broken bone felt like.

I let it go for several days before I noticed that the pain wasn’t going away. Actually it was more like two weeks that I walked around with my broken toes. I had developed a small limp to compensate for the pain, and people were starting to notice. My mother particularly was concerned because the pain hadn’t subsided at all, and in fact was only getting worse. I decided I wanted to go to the hospital to have an x-ray taken. So I did. When I first went to have the x-ray taken the doctor said that my foot was too swollen and the picture wouldn’t show up, so I had to wait a week and he gave me a prescription for an anti inflammatory to help bring the swelling down while I waited.

After a week on the medication, the pain had lessened slightly, but when I asked the doctor about it he simply said that it was because of the pain killers. We had the x-ray taken and within twenty minutes I was being rolled into a cast-room and had a cast placed on my left leg from my toes (which were hanging out of the cast because the cast was for support of my foot, not to heal the toes) all the way up to just below my knee. I thought this strange because I thought casts were to help heal bones but the doctor informed me that there wasn’t too much he could do for half healed toes that had been walked on for two weeks. The only thing to do was to take the pressure off of the rest of my leg by putting a cast on it. From that moment five years ago, to this very day, I have had nothing but trouble with my feet.

I went home a few hours later and sat around on the couch, while my mother went to the drug store to get me a pair of crutches, which I had to use for at least a month. The cast was set to stay on for three weeks. It had to be removed one week later; probably because of my own stubbornness. I did not want to use the crutches and felt I could get around fine on the cast but as I found out I was terribly wrong. I traveled back and forth to school each day with my crutches, only to leave them in my locker because I felt that they got in everyone’s way. After seven days of trampling around the ground with my cast it had become too loose to provide the proper support to my foot and ankle, so I went back to the hospital to have it taken off. The doctor told me I was to continue using the crutches for another three weeks and stay off my foot. I did as I was told, but it seemed pointless that I had ruined my cast because I didn’t want to use the crutches, only to end up using them anyway; depending on them really.

The three weeks slowly passed and I went back to the hospital. The doctor ordered x-rays because my foot was still sore and I couldn’t put all my weight on it. The x-rays showed that there was still a small crack in my middle toe, so I should continue using the crutches for another two weeks. He also gave me a prescription for two weeks of the same medication to dull the discomfort. So I went about my business for another two weeks using the crutches, constantly falling and trying to pick myself up. Constantly having others help me because I couldn’t stand on my toes to reach the top shelf. It was degrading to me because I had always been an active person, not so much in sports but always on the go, and always doing something to keep myself busy. It is hard to keep yourself busy when you sit on a couch for eight of the twenty-four hours in a day.

My foot had not been walked on in what seemed to be a year. Every night I packed ice on my foot and elevated it so that the throbbing would stop. It seemed to help me sleep. I would wake up sometimes in the middle of the night to a sharp pain running up my left leg. I had become irritable and cranky because I was loosing sleep and loosing patience. I just wanted to be able to go about things as normally as possible, and it was extremely frustrating.

Five weeks had passed and I heading back to the doctors to have a third set of x-rays taken. The crack had healed and my toes were all better. Except for one thing. They were now curled up, almost to the point that my foot looked like it was clubbed. The doctor said that it was from the cast, because they healed in the shape of the rim of the cast. I didn’t care at the time because I was so happy that I could walk around again. Everything was good again, until I tried to stand up. I got up from the seat and tried to walk out the door. It was probably the most painful experience that I had experienced to this point. My entire foot throbbed and felt as if there was pins and needles sticking in the entire surface of the bottom of my foot. I fell back to the chair. The doctor looked at my foot as it started to turn red and white spots began to appear all over the top of my foot. He said that it was because the circulation was trying to get back into my foot. Five weeks is a long time to not use a limb and it might be a little painful for a few days.He said that if I wanted to use the crutches, not to keep my foot off the ground, but like a cane then that would be okay. So I thought about it, and decided that I would do that. He said another week should do the trick and to come back and see him. I took the crutches and left.

I was now a pro at walking around with crutches, I could move faster on them then I could on my own two feet. After three or four days I found that the pain had completely disappeared from my foot and leg and I could walk without the crutches. I went back to the doctors office early and he said everything looked fine, but if I had any trouble that I should come back right away. So off I went, happy and walking pain free.

A couple of weeks past, and I had no trouble at all with my toes or my feet. It was like nothing had even happened to me. Then one morning, my mother woke up and said I think I have some kind of lump in my foot. It was causing her extreme pain and she found it very hard to walk to she went to see the doctor. It turned out that she had developed a bone spur in her heel. The doctor gave her an injection of cortisone( which she will tell you was the most painful needle she has ever encountered) and a few days later she was walking much better. Almost one week later, after my mother had received her shot, I had started to feel a lump in the bottom of my right heel. I ignored it, of course, because I had no idea what it was.

One morning I woke up and went to go get ready for school and I felt this immense pain like I had walked on crushed glass, shooting in my heel. I sat down for a minute and then got back up. It was gone. This happened for almost seven days, I would get up after sitting for a long time and I would feel this lump in my heel. It got to the point that I stopped walking on my heel and again developed a limp to accommodate that pain. At supper one day I said to my mother that I thought I had a bone spur, like she had had. She thought I was crazy, and said that it’s probably nothing. But I asked her to take me to the doctors office anyway. The next morning I got up and went to see my family doctor (the same doctor who had treated my broke toes). He said that it looked like a bone spur but its hard to be sure. So he recommended that I have an x-ray taken and wait until the following week to see a foot specialist. In the meantime, I was to walk around with crutches. Again.

One week later I went to my appointment with the foot specialist, he looked at my x-ray and looked at my foot and said very good, you have a bone spur. He said he will give me a little shot of cortisone. And that was it. I practically crawled up over the chair , crying my eyes out. ( I have an enormous fear of needles) After a few minutes of my mother and the doctor trying to hold me down so that he could stick this giant needle in my right heel, I kicked him in the face, screamed and cried my eyes out for what seemed to be the longest 20 seconds of my life. When he said I was done I looked on the floor and there was a puddle of blood the size of a plate. He said that I only bleed because I wouldn't stay still. After a few minutes I calmed down and asked him why he thought I had this. He looked at my chart and my history and then told me that it was because I walked around on just my one foot for so long and it had to carry all of my weight, that it just couldn’t handle all that pressure and the bone spur was the result. It was my heel trying to fix itself. That was a good enough answer for me. So the doctor said that I should still use the crutches for a little while until my foot stops hurting completely. And when it stops hurting , I was to come back and see him.

Well, three weeks passed and my foot still hadn’t felt any better. The pain in my heel was gone, but it was now stiff and sore to walk on. So off I went, back to the foot specialist. After considering my case for a few minutes, he decided that I should go to physiotherapy for a couple of weeks. He couldn’t tell me why my foot was so sore, or why it was stiff; but he thought that therapy might help me along. At this point I was so sick of being on the crutches and sick of telling people I don’t know what is wrong with me that I was willing to do anything.

He set my first physiotherapy session for exactly one week later. I was looking forward to going to therapy because I thought it would help me along faster, as I have heard many people talk about how good it is for you. So I waited all week to go and find out what could be done for me and my bothersome feet.

My first physiotherapy session lasted an hour, it was mostly an interview process to find out what was wrong, and what had already been done, and the therapist explained to me what she would do for me. I was only going to be attending two to three times a week, which is normal. I was to begin the treatment the next day. I arrived the next morning early and eager to get going. My feet were put into a whirlpool bath and then I had a hot wax treatment. Hot and cold contrast is apparently popular and does wonders for a persons ailments. I would also receive a electrotherapy massage and do some exercises on my own.

This continued for almost two months. In the meantime, my feet were not getting better but rather worse. I had given up the crutches because both of my feet had begun to hurt so badly that I could no longer place any of all of my weight on either foot; I had to start using a cane. I was sixteen years old and I was sporting a burgundy cane. It was humiliating. The pain became so bad that I had started to walk around my house on my knees. Day after day I would wake up and crawl off my bed without even trying to stand up, because I was afraid of the pain it would cause me. I would crawl to the bathroom, into the shower and take a shower on my knees. I did this for almost two years. I would find the strength to stand up and walk to the car, from my car to school, to my class and then praise God when I was able to sit down at my desk for forty minutes. At the end of the school day, I would go home, slowly settle myself on the floor and take my shoes off, and crawl on my knees to the couch where I would sit for the remainder of the day; only getting up to go to the bathroom or to bed. If I didn’t have to get up everyday to attend school I would have considered myself bed ridden. Yet while all of this was happening to me, no doctor, no nurse, not even the physiotherapist (whom I had stopped going to after four or five months) could tell me why I couldn't walk. It wasn’t a hard question : What is wrong with my feet? Not once did a doctor mention the possibility of arthritis or any other disease for that matter. Not once did they think that something was wrong with me, but that I just had sore feet.

Sound crazy? It was. I was so mad at the whole idea of going to the hospital (which I had gone to over ten times in the course of two years to get tests and x-rays done to try and figure out what was wrong with me) that I would cry before I went and cry after I left. I feel that doctors didn’t think it was arthritis because I was only sixteen years old; tell me how many sixteen year olds do you know that have arthritis? I don’t know any.

It wasn’t until my mother read in a magazine about arthritis that the idea popped into her head that maybe that's what I had. It wasn’t in our family, but all the signs pointed directly to it. She took my to the hospital again, and we had blood work done, but this time we specifically asked for it to be tested for arthritis. Two weeks later I received a call from the doctor saying that he was going to be sending my results to an Arthritis doctor, and I could find out the results from him. I had an appointment with him the next month.

The following month I went to see the specialist, the second one in two years, and all he had to say to me was that I had the blood type for arthritis. It hadn’t shown up, but it was very possible for me to develop it in the next twenty years. Twenty years? That’s a long way off for me to be crawling on my knees right now; but I took it with a grain of salt and went back to my "normal" routine.

My mother suggested that I should take up swimming and possibly water aerobics, as they are non-impact exercises ( I think she was concerned because in the two years of sitting on my ass, I had gained over thirty pounds). I was afraid to try and do anything other than lying down, but I gave it a shot. I started swimming two to three times a week at the same local pool where I had originally broken my toes. The irony of it all is that the same thing that hurt me in the first place is what essentially helped me get back on my feet. I eventually got rid of my cane, ( I was forced to because I had snapped it in two pieces) and I was able to walk again, slow, but I could get around with little to no pain sometimes. I continued swimming for another year and eventually I was back to normal. Well, as normal as could be considering the damage that had been done to my knees and my feet. I went on for almost a year without having to get down on my knees and feel ashamed.

When I was eighteen, I joined the Canadian Army Reserve. I felt that I was in good enough shape again to handle doing physical work, and I wanted a job, like any normal teenager.

So I enlisted and began training in January of 2000. It was the single most hardest thing I have done to date. Every step was more painful than the next. My body wasn’t used to being used that much. I would be standing on my feet for hours at a time, which I hadn’t done for years. Every chance I had to sit, I took it. Every single night I would rub my feet and put creams and lotions on them to soothe the burning and throbbing. It was hell. I was ready to quit because I couldn’t keep up and I was too slow and just felt that my health was more important than a stupid job. But then one Saturday afternoon, they sprung on us a surprise "walk in the park", as they called it. We were going to walk twelve kilometers around a track. I instantly became sick to my stomach. I had never walked four kilometers in my life, and I certainly couldn’t do twelve kilometers in army boots and two bad feet. There was, of course, no way out of it and I had to go. So off I went, the first few steps were pain free, but as they speed got faster and people started to separate more and more I fell behind. I was pushed to the front of the group and made to finish the twelve kilometer march just like everyone else. When we got back to base I could barley put my feet on the ground. They were not sore but they were so tender it burned right through my boots. The instructors ordered a foot parade (which is when the medics would come around and check your feet). I took my boots off, only to find both of my gray wool socks were drenched and dripping with blood. I almost passed out. Everyone stood around me and watched as I slipped my first sock off and threw it in the garbage bag. The entire bottom of my foot had been peeled away. It looked like someone had taken a knife and cut a centimeter of flesh away on my feet. The burning I felt while I was walking was not because my feet were sore, but rather because every step I took tore more and more skin off my feet. I took off my other sock as more people gathered around me, and I found that all the skin had bunched up under my toes like a blanket. It is actually the most disgusting thing I have ever seen. People around me were turning green at the sight of my feet. I wanted to die. After that day, I decided that I was never going to quit. If I could do that and get up and walk away from it then I could do anything. On Sunday I went to the doctors office and had my skin cut off and was given burn medication. It healed nicely and surprisingly quickly. I was back on my feet again before I even knew it.

After finishing my basic training, I was working for the 35 Medical Company in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Although I hadn’t had any major pain in quite some time, they were becoming concerned because I had a stubborn limp that just wouldn’t go away. They sent me to see the base nurse and we had a chat about my medical history. She was surprised that I had even passed the medical examination to get into the military, because of my feet. I jokingly told her I was having a good day when I went. I was being monitored because they were concerned that I might hurt myself while conducting training. I ignored them as much as I could but it was getting annoying. They constantly were sending me to see the nurse and I didn’t know why. I found out later that she was monitoring my progress and keeping tabs on how fit I was. I was pissed. I felt like my unit didn’t have any confidence in me and I didn’t like working there for a long time.

In late October into early November, we had three straight weeks of rain. Now, I know a lot of people with arthritis always say that cold and rainy days are the worst, but I never believed them. Not until one November morning when I woke up to find a basketball sized lump on my right knee. I was freaking out in my bed. I couldn't move my leg without feeling a grinding behind my knee cap. I tried to get out of bed but I couldn’t stand up. So, I instinctively got on my knees, which didn’t hurt, and crawled to my mother’s bedroom to wake her up. I went straight to the hospital in hopes that I could have this mass drained or they could do something for me.

My family doctor wasn’t in that day so I saw another one. He took one look at my knee and said you have gout my dear. I remembered hearing my grandmother talking about how bad her gout was in the rain. It all came rushing back to me at that very moment. The doctor gave me a prescription for neproxen ( I only know the name of it because I still take it from time to time). He told me to come back when the prescription was gone and see my family doctor.

Four days later, the swelling in my leg went down and the pain was gone. I continued to take the medication just to be on the safe side, and when it was all gone I went to see my family doctor. He ordered some more blood work to be taken done and made another appointment for the arthritis specialist for February of 2001. He said that I should continue taking the Naproxen until I see this doctor. So I did. In the meantime, I told the nurse at work that I was suspected of having gout, and she was pleasantly happy for me because it isn’t really a serious thing, and I finally knew what was wrong with me. Or so I thought.

My employers finally laid off and stopped giving me a hard time about my limp because it was going to be taken care of ( as far as they knew I had gout). The nurse at work told me that when I had seen the doctor and received my results to come back and talk with her so she could put it on my file. I agreed and waited patiently and pain free to see the specialist.

In February I went to see the doctor, and as I sat in his waiting area I thought about everything that had happened to me and now it was going to be over. I was thrilled. The doctor opened his office door and called my name. Together, my mother and I went in and sat down. The next few moments would change my life forever. The doctor flipped through my file, nodded a lot, and then asked me to put a robe on so he could look at my joints. I went into the bathroom and got changed. As I walked out of the bathroom he looked at the way I was walking and said yes, I can see you have a bad limp. Then he asked me if it hurt when I walked, and I told him it hurt all the time. He poked and probed my joints and limbs and my toes. He asked me to do a few different tests with my feet and legs. Then he asked me to sit on the bed. I did. He went to his book shelf and grabbed a big red hard cover book that had "Arthritis" written on the binding. I could feel myself turning red. He sat down at his desk and said well your test results show that you have rheumatoid arthritis. Do you know anything about it? I didn’t answer. I couldn’t answer, I was choking on his words and my own. I wanted to cry my eyes out. Thinking to myself that I have a disease that is never going to go away.

As I sit here now writing this I cannot for my life remember the words he spoke after that; my mind was racing and I was thinking a million things. Mostly that I didn’t want to cry. He read something from the big red book and I remember nodding a lot. I didn’t say anything. He told me I could get dressed and it took a few seconds to register, then I got up and went into the bathroom where I looked myself in the mirror and calmly said to myself don’t cry. When I came out, he handed me a prescription. It was for Plaquinel. I was to take two a day for 3 months and then come back and see him. It was a trail run, it was all going to be trail runs if this medication didn’t work for me. I thanked him and left.

Back home I did some of my own research about the disease; and what I could do to help myself and prevent my joints from becoming any more deteriorated than they had already become. I found that walking was good for people with arthritis, but I hate to walk, so I decided I would stick with swimming. Also I discovered that stretching before I went to bed helped me a great deal.

Three months passed and I found that I had a slight change in my walking and my pain. It was almost gone. I had a couple of very good days where I could walk and run normally. The doctor decided that because it takes at least six months for the medication to take full effect that I should stay on it and see what happens. So, I continued swimming and continued taking my two pills a day with the exceptional Naproxen on really bad days to give me that extra boost, and before I knew it, another three months had passed and I was on my way to the doctor again. He was impressed that I had taken so well to the medication. I was impressed because it hadn’t been a waste of six months, and it was helping me so much. I have been taking this medication for almost a year now, and I have only had two days when I found it hard to get around; both days were rainy and cold.

I see my doctor on a regular basis now every six months, plus I have to see an eye doctor every six months because my medication has a tendency to gather plaque in the eyes. But I haven’t had a problem with it so far. I am extremely grateful. I am able to do things almost pain free now, with the exception of an occasional stiff day. And I have discovered that the pain moves from one area and stays for a few months than moves to another area; but I made a deal with God that if it stayed out of my feet and I could walk with no pain then I didn’t care what other part of me hurt. So far I have had a sore left shoulder, which has moved into the middle of my upper back. My left hip is tender from time to time, but nothing so serious that it keeps me from moving. As well, my two index fingers have taken on the shape of a little old ladies, but it doesn’t hurt, it just looks funny. Most recently my right middle finger has become stiff and I am counting down the days until I wake up and it has a bump on the side of it from damage cartilage. I’ll deal with it when the time comes.

The past five years have not been the worst five years of my life; after all I graduated high school with good grades, I am currently in university studying to be an English professor and a writer, and I work part time in the reserves. I am doing very well for myself. I try not to let the pain get in my way, and I try not to let it stop me from attending work or walking around the mall, but sometimes it does and I just try to take it one day at a time and carry on. Tomorrow is another day I always say, and after a good night’s sleep everything will be better. I don’t feel sorry for myself because I have an incurable disease, but rather I am glad that it is manageable and I consider myself lucky. After all it could have been a million different things and it could be much worse than arthritis. At least now when people ask why I am limping I can tell them I have arthritis.

I am 20 years old and attend the University College of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, Canada. I am a third year English Major and I plan to teach writing at the university level when I complete my education. I enjoy reading, writing, piano playing, drawing, movies, music and my friends.

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