On Being an Old Gray Mare With Chronic Lameness

It’s a shooting pain. Usually my foot is brick-tight and I can’t bend my toes. When I do manage to bend them in a natural walking angle, there’s a big red pain. I think my toes have cracked off of my foot and it feels wet–like hot acid-blood is filling my boot. But I’m stoic, like my Grandfather Horse.

My lameness started slow and small, ten years ago. Sometimes it felt like I only had sprained a toe, and eventually I got orthotics. They worked like therapeutic shoeing does for a horse, and things were fine if I didn’t teach an all-day clinic or get stepped on.

Then last year my left foot started to get wider. And thicker. I attempted to diagnose it in the shower. Could it be navicular? At first I worried that I was foundering, but no, this is only one foot and it felt more like a coffin bone coming through the bottom. Then I asked Edgar Rice Burro’s opinion.

Now by the last lesson of the day, my foot has swollen so badly that my boot fits like a corset. But that might not be a bad thing, right? Probably navicular; is there a human generic for Isoxophrine?

ACK. I’ve become one of those women.

The more it hurts, the more I respect my Grandfather Horse, retired for twelve years now with suspensory damage and arthritis. There is no spring to his step. I used to walk him slowly and feel like I was being so kind to the doddering old gelding. Now we’re moving even.

So months have passed and none of my shoes fit. Well, it’s just one shoe in each pair that doesn’t fit. My crocs still fit–which isn’t a big loss of style for me. Finally, I think about doing the unthinkable. But I wouldn’t want to rush to any conclusions… so I just think about it. Eventually I cross the line. I call the doctor. In my mind, I try to think of him as a farrier. I like my farrier.

As the nurse takes me down the hall to the exam room, my limp echoes in the same way it does when a horse is uneven. Of course I compare it all to a lameness check; I understand those. So when they take the x-rays, I think of the horses I’ve held and how convenient this human set-up would be for my vet.

Then I’m staring at my foot from the exam chair when the doctor bursts in, says hello, and immediately starts dissecting the print-out of the x-ray. He doesn’t explain much about the problem, but the x-ray is obvious enough. Instead he’s madly scribbling, drawing cut lines, and enthusiastically planning the grisly parts, just the way I plan a training path for a troubled horse. Iffy bedside manner, but he seems to enjoy his work. I wonder if my clients feel this way about me?

I didn’t go for a second opinion. There’s no point; it hurts enough now that having a metatarsal shortened, another bone broken and carved down, and a ligament screwed to my second toe bone sounds like a pedicure to me.

I asked him what causes this to happen to a foot. He said sometimes it’s hereditary. (No one I know.) Or it could from wearing heels. (Never; the closest I get are old Ariat clogs but only if it’s formal.) He sees me shake my head, and adds there are other “odd causes.” I bite my tongue.

This is what I know about going to a doctor: Don’t mention what you do for a living. Or that you spend the rest of your time in the same place. He doesn’t need to know you dance around with thousand-pound horses–it’s how they get a bad name with doctors.

I’m thinking of lame horses. Especially the ones that look like me; fine on the outside. I just move slower and don’t warm-up out of it. People I walk with get impatient with me. I see it in their bodies more than anything they say. I try to keep up but then I get impatient with myself, as well as the pain. Is that what stoic horses do?

About then the Dude Rancher blabs about horses and the doctor mentions his concern for protecting my foot from pathogens in the barn. Like there is anything in the barn we haven’t all ingested for years already. There’s an argument that we’ve all become barn pathogens.

Then they gave me an Easy-Boot-like brace and a pair of crutches. How is it possible that I can stack hay but not be strong with crutches? A new friend (we bonded over talk of lameness) is lending me her knee scooter. When I saw a man at the grocery store with one, and I limped over to him to ask questions. It traveled quick, he said, but he’d gotten bucked off it pretty hard; he says it’s best for indoor use.

After surgery, I’ll be on pain meds and stall rest. The Grandfather Horse spent years on stall rest and just anticipating mine is half-killing me. I notice being stoic is giving way to being a whiner already. Spirit did better with a goat in his stall with him. My house is small with lots of narrow doorways and four dogs who take my care and protection extremely seriously. A goat would be more fun.

But on a high note–and humor me, I’m not singing many high notes–the Dude Rancher got me a contraption for use in the barn. It’s a knee crutch; think peg-leg on a pirate. I’m sure he feels compassion for me, but it’s self-preservation, too. You don’t want me trapped in your house for six weeks either.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

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Comment by Anna Blake on October 16, 2015 at 11:48am

Thanks, Jackie. All things considered I've got it easy.

Comment by Jackie Cochran on October 16, 2015 at 11:26am

I hope everything comes out well for you Anna. At least the doctor found out what is wrong.

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