Man finds his feet weren't made for walking


This is a sad, sad story of how your faithful correspondent, in a bid to save a life (his own), ends up with a grave medical condition and also hears a funny story about Jim Palmer.

It begins innocently enough, as such stories often do, before life grabs you by the throat and chokes you till you die. Either that, or you end up on an examination table, diagnosed with pes planus and your very existence forever changed.

We begin a year ago when I decide to get a physical. My decision is rooted in the hard truths that I am over 40 and that haven't had a physical since they tried to draft me. In other words, it's my first physical not conducted in front of 500 similarly naked men, some of them vastly overweight, potential Republican vice-presidential candidates.

The problem with physicals is that you walk in feeling fine and walk out with the sure knowledge that your body is in ruins and you have to cut out smoking, drinking or Cherry Garcia, depending upon your particular weakness. So why do I go? Two words: prostate gland. The day you start worrying about your prostate gland is when you know you'll never be young again.

Sure enough, the doctor tells me I have some complications, which are too complicated to explain except that, thank God, they have nothing to do with the prostate. What I have to do, the doctor says, is exercise. Or I die.

At which point I pause.

And pause some more.

Well? he says.

Finally, I reply, like Jack Benny to the hold-up man who has given him the choice of his money or his life: I'm thinking, I'm thinking.

Careful readers of this space know my feelings on exercise. A few years back there was a study showing how exercise can add six months to your life, leading me to point out that if it's between living to be 86 or 86 1/2 , I'd just as soon lie on the couch and watch a ballgame.

This is different. I have no choice, except for which exercise to try. I could run. I could bike. I could play hoops, as I did in my youth. Or I could walk, a discipline in which I have some expertise, having walked to and from the refrigerator for years. But if you walk, it has to be fast-walking because it isn't exercise unless at the end of 30 minutes your face is blood red and your lungs are screaming, "Call 911."

There are only a few problems with fast-walking, the most important of which are that you look like a weenie doing it and, in fact, are a weenie if you do it. You swing your arms like those Olympians in the 20K, heel-to-toe geekathon, because if you don't swing them, you can walk to Pittsburgh before your heart rate hits triple figures. So you walk around the neighborhood to the sound of, well, laughter.

The good thing is that you can't get hurt. I mean, it's walking.

And then I wake up the other day with a throbbing knee, like I have a misplaced hangover. And it doesn't go away.

Over time, I come to understand that I have, as the athletes say, a knee. As in knee injury.

Getting a knee injury is OK, if you play football. And it's acceptable if you're in a war and, while saving three of your buddies, you get a pound of shrapnel in the kneecap. I get mine walking.

Which puts me back at the doctor's office -- this time at Union Memorial's Sports Center with Bill Howard, renowned physician and raconteur.

I tell him I'm a little embarrassed, getting injured while walking. He tells me a story about a man who came to the clinic and demanded an X-ray after getting a bee sting. Yeah, it was Jim Palmer.

My X-rays, like Jim's, are negative. After feeling my knee, Dr. Howard says to get on my feet. That's when my life changes.

That's when I learn I have feet of clay. Wet clay. Actually, more like Play-doh.

Pes planus. Flat feet. They're so flat they squish when I walk. So flat that Dr. Howard calls in the flat-foot specialist guy, who whistles in appreciation and says, "We ought to put these on the Web."

There I am, standing in my underwear, as the two medical men begin to laugh. They're not laughing with me. They're laughing at me -- and my poor misshapen feet.

The problem, the doctor explains, with your knees is your feet.

You're probably asking, as I did, what the foot has to do with the knee. And, of course, the answer can be found in the old song about how the knee bone's connected to the thigh bone. Having flat feet means the muscles and tendons and ligaments that connect the foot with the knee get pulled in all the wrong ways. The next thing you know, you're fast-walking your way to pain and misery and a major doctor bill.

Fortunately, pes planus can be treated, although the treatment is a little weird.

Unless you think it's normal to have a video made of your feet. Call it "Dead Man Walking." It should be at Blockbuster by the end of the year.

I'm not sure how it works. Do I bring happy feet? And what's a well-dressed, happenin' footwear these days?

Anyway, they take the video and, I'm guessing, pass it around the office because, well, these guys don't get out much. After which, the foot guy makes a mold of my feet, which he turns into a device that will fit inside my shoes and, with any luck, unflatten my feet, unburden my knees and uncomplicate my life.

And then, well, it's back to the old grind, exercise as usual, feet arched, arms flailing.

All in all, I'd rather have the bee sting.

Pub Date: 8/07/96

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