Dad found some of his toes beginning to rise above the others, rubbing painfully against the tops of his shoes. The podiatrist promised simply, “I can fix that.” The next week he poked into the sides of Dad’s toes with a tiny scalpel and nicked the toe tendons, to release some of their tension so the toes would drop back into place. Dad felt great when he came home, and wanted to go to the gym and to the grocery store. I implored him to sit down and elevate his foot, and placed an ice pack on his foot hoping to prevent and reduce the swelling and pain I knew was coming. “Dad,” I remonstrated, “if you don’t take it easy today, you are going to pay for it tomorrow.” And he paid, in the coinage of pain. And Mom and I paid, too, because it was our job to take care of him. Our gentle Dad turned into a cantankerous papa bear. I barked back that I would be very unhappy if he did not take care of his toes and they became infected and had to be amputated. Perhaps I reacted too harshly, but I needed to get his attention so he would contribute to his own care and healing. He apologized later, and began following the doctor’s orders (that is, Mom’s and my orders). Actually, though, he healed quite well, despite diabetes, and I let go my fear of amputation and all it would mean for his mobility. Now, weeks later, the snow is deep and we are taking granddaughter Amy sledding.
Dad stubbed his fourth toe against the couch at three in the morning. The toe pained him badly and turned black and purple. “I think I’ve broken my toe,” he announced to me the following day. Poor guy, I thought, there’s always one more thing. Fortunately, his regularly-scheduled podiatry appointment was only three days away. The podiatrist was so considerate as he clipped and ground, bandaged and lotioned, stockinged and shod. Childhood polio and 20 years of marathon running have taken their toll, eliminating ligaments and mashing bones. Was all that jogging and marathoning worth it? As a teenager, I saw Dad taking his pulse one evening. “Twenty-eight!” he cheered. His resting heart rate was about 30 beats per minute for two decades. I wondered how many heartbeats his exercise had saved him over those years, and if he were getting good use of them now at 85. His own father died of a heart attack at 59, before I was born. One Saturday morning in New Jersey, Dad did not come home from his 20-mile training run. I knew roughly his route, and Mom sent me in the station wagon to find him. That long run on that hot humid day had been too much, and I found him walking on Cranberry Road miles from home. I gave him a thermos of cool water, and we stopped at Claire’s market for fresh sweet corn on the cob, Jersey tomatoes, juicy peaches, and the most delicious crenshaw.