The cast is bulky but not uncomfortable. It doesn't itch nearly as much as you worried, and the padding helps. The exposed toes get the worst of it, even with a sock underneath the theater tights. From time to time you wriggle them just to make sure you still can, as restrained as they are. You wrap the cast up in a plastic bag even when shaving or washing your hair, which is accomplished by lying on the bathmat and hanging your head over into the tub while a very patient loved one brings down the showerhead. You're pretty sure something has fallen into the cast and is resting underneath your arch. It feels like a coin from the way it sticks slightly and moves off when you swing your leg. Whatever it is, you're not about to try getting it out any time soon.
Stairs require special care. You have to trust your arms and trust the crutches. They will support you. They've been supporting you all day. As the crutches become an extension of your mobility, you start to move them naturally. The step up becomes a fluid motion, as natural as any step you take. The crutches simply represent your busted foot. Put them down squarely on your step, push yourself up slightly, trust your arms to support you, and bring your good foot on the stair. Remember what your father said: Up with the good leg, down with the bad. Descending requires the same amount of faith in your arms and a similar fluid motion. Even though it begins to feel like a natural step, don't let the momentum carry you on to the next. Continue taking it slowly. You may pitch forwards or backwards slightly. Don't panic, just correct it. Lean against the wall for bracing if you need to. But keep it steady. Klink... thud. -- Klink... thud. -- Klink... thud.
You develop well-toned shoulders. Muscles called triceps appear on your arms. For the first time in your life you are able to do pull-ups, multiple pull-ups, not just the struggle-for-a-minute-on-one-then-drop-d
The cast comes off, cut by a super safety surgical saw with vacuum attached. "You will feel a tickle," the nurse warns you as she makes the first incision along the side of your foot. A tickle is the medical term for the buzzing sensation you feel when the super safety surgical saw, forced down through the tough plaster composite of the cast, breaks through and rubs up against your leg through the cushioning. You will your leg not to jerk away in panic, though that saw keeps coming down and merely buzz-tickling you when by all rights it should be chewing through your skin and sending blood spurting everywhere. You come to the conclusion that your instincts are merely pessimists and try to ignore them. As the cast is cracked away and the cushioning ripped apart like chunks of cotton candy, you forget to check for the coin. It's just as well; you can smell the inside of the cast from the other end of the examination table. It reminds you that you did not have the opportunity to wash your foot for an entire month.
Your healing foot is swollen and uniformly pink in a unsettling sort of way. There are callouses underneath your toes. Skin sloughs off and will continue to do so for a disturbingly long time. The less said about its physical appearance at the moment of unveiling, the better.
The doctor puts your healing foot in a fabric brace and tells you to take a step or two. You can't. Your body, aware of what's been healing and what you are attempting to do, refuses to let you put enough weight on the foot to push off. There's a tingle when you press down too hard. That tingle doesn't feel right. You totter, wobble, pivot on your good foot, and grab for the exam table. At least you didn't try to hop on it. The doctor does not press this issue--that's what the physical therapist will be for, presumably--and instead brings out The Boot.
The Boot is a metal frame which houses cushioned, form-fitting foam sheets and Velcro strips and straps. Many strips and straps. You quickly learn the Ritual of the Boot, the steps solemnly performed when it is time to go walking. Be seated. Put your foot in The Boot and make sure the heel is pressed up against the back while your foot stays flat. Wrap the first sheet of foam around your toes, then seal it with its velcro. Wrap the larger piece of foam around your ankle and shin, sealing it velcroly as well. Now do the straps in turn: the two down by your toes: the end goes through the plastic grommet, then pulled tight back against itself. Now the three big straps up your shin. Make them tight. Try to have disentangled them before you attach them; that velcro is tenacious as all get out.
There is one last part of The Ritual of the Boot and that is the pump. The ankle support is provided by a strip of inflatable pouches. There is a valve sticking out of The Boot between the two sheets of foam. You have a handheld black rubber pump-type-thing with two ends: attach the clear end to the valve to pump up the pouches. Attach the black end to the valve and press in to deflate, and you will need to deflate the first time you overpump and the pressure is too much for your ankle. Don't walk around like that. Re-pump already.
Walking on The Boot turns out to be easy. The crutches still carry a deal of the weight but no longer do you have to keep your healing foot up. The Boot comes down naturally. Its bottom is curved slightly to encourage a heel-toe rocking motion, and the stiff brace forces your leg to bend in the follow-through with each step. The first step you take this way feels nothing short of miraculous. Oh, yeah. This is almost what it used to feel like. You find that you can't make a continuous stride, but you do the next best thing and keep your steady rhythm with a new beat. Klink, rock, step and klink, rock, step and klink, rock, step and...
You begin to cover a lot more distance with The Boot. You are no longer exhausted after a third of a mile. You and your wife take an overnight to New York; you walk six or seven whole blocks and feel like a champ. You learn to navigate bad city streets on crutches. You deftly avoid potential hazards, you skip over the icy spots, you detour around suspect puddles. You're looking down most of the time. The stiff bracing prevents you from moving too quickly so when speed is required and manageable, you simply raise your healing leg, say something cute like "I'm shifting into high gear" and begin your double-time crutch stride, pushing the ground hard away again. This is perfect crosswalk technique. Crosswalk timers do not take crutches into account. You have to be quick.
At the hotel you step into the shower which has several good grab bars installed. You stand on your own two feet, trying to keep from stepping around just in case you crumple (you don't) or slip on a soapy spot (you don't) and experience, for the first time in well over a month, the feeling of hot water cascading down your back. (You do.) It is magnificent. You may as well have been working the whole time just for this moment. At home, the shower does not offer enough safe holds, so you take baths instead. They are no less luxurious and you love the opportunity to wash that damn foot every chance you get, but they are nowhere near as soul-satisfying as a good hot stand-up shower.
It's not possible to walk in The Boot without your crutches. You feel as standing-up helpless as you did in the doctor's office. The rocking bottom doesn't help to make you feel steady, and you're moving the foot way too quickly. Again, don't stomp down with it fercryingoutloud. You've come this far; there's no sense in going back to another bulky cast.
But you find you can walk without The Boot. Two, three steps at the most, definitely not a continuous stride. But you can. Somehow the feel of your foot firmly on the floor inspires confidence. You bring your weight fluidly down on it and push off. It's more hobble and less hop, and it feels like your feet are on different heights, but you are walking. You make a small, slow circle in the living room just to try it, making sure to keep your ankle straight and your steps true.
You crutch-push your way upstairs and show your wife your impeccable small circle-walking skills. She smiles as broadly as you because she's been waiting for this moment too: you will be walking on your foot more and more every day, you will take it slow and easy, first a circle or two, then from the bedroom door to the bed, then to and from the bathroom; you will learn that the tingle does not mean imminent failure of the ankle joint and it subsides anyway; you will not walk too much at once on it just to be safe, but you will get good enough to carry light objects from the kitchen to the dining room.
And your wife is smiling because she knows once you visit the orthopedic surgeon for the last time at the end of the month you will most likely give up The Boot and the beloved crutches, put on a brace, attend physical therapy, and then take the trash down to the bins and the bins to the curb.
Every Sunday night for the next two years.
Cause buddy, you've got a lot of household task and grocery-toting karma to balance out.