Lessons from a broken toe

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Janet Lindsay
Janet Lindsay

By Janet Lindsay

Take my advice: Do not break your toe.

You might think, “I have ten toes. What difference does it make if one gets a bit broken? Especially if it’s the littlest toe on my left foot.”

You would be so wrong.

I never would have thought that one little toe could cause so much pain.

Call this a learning experience.

I don’t know when and how I broke my toe. But one summer day, I tried to take a walk and – OW! After a few steps, I limped back to the house and jettisoned my shoe.

I shuffled to the doctor’s office. The X-ray showed no break which, I learned later, is not unusual in the early days of a small break. A few days later, I happened to visit a different doctor who said, “I’ve seen lots of broken does, and this is one of them.”

The standard treatment for a broken little toe is to wrap it to the next toe so that it can’t move too much as it heals.

I learned that a broken toe, while it causes intense pain, does not invite sympathy because, like so many ills, it’s invisible. You’re not hobbling around on crutches, or wearing a sling or bandages, so nobody knows you’re broken unless you tell them.

People did not seem to notice that I was wearing a pair of worn-out old running shoes that belonged at the dump, but that fortuitously sported many holes including one pressure-relieving gap strategically located at the site of the miscreant toe.

Or maybe they noticed my old sneakers and just thought I was being eccentric.

My holey sneaker got less practical as cold, sometimes wet, fall weather began to roll in.

Learning experience:

Healing can be extremely, frustratingly, slow. We expect to feel a little bit better every day, but that’s now how it works. We shuffle two steps forward, one step back, which is almost literal in the case of a broken toe.

And as we heal, we create small interim goals for ourselves. First, I wanted to be able to walk comfortably in the house in my socks. Then, I wanted to walk in my old holey sneakers so that I could at least do grocery shopping. Next, I wanted to walk in less holey sneakers, that were a little bit newer and less embarrassingly ugly then the old ones, but soft and comfortable. Finally, I wanted to accomplish the rest of healing, without major pain, wearing regular walking shoes that kept my feet warm and dry.

Sometimes, at the supermarket, I’ve seen a man or woman lean into the grocery cart, supporting some of his or her weight on the cart as it rolls along. I know why they do that. They have a broken toe! Or maybe something else that’s broken. I learned the technique myself. It works very well.

So I learned that we humans adapt to our circumstances, doing whatever’s necessary to keep us going.

A final thing I learned from my broken toe is this: It helps you sympathize with other people who are healing from a hurt, visible or invisible. As I shuffled through the supermarket, leaning into my cart, I thought, “Other shoppers, I hope that whatever is broken in your life can be mended. My pain will go away eventually, and I hope yours will, too.”

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