A Pain in the Foot

tendonitisLast weekend, my husband had severe pain in his foot for no apparent reason.  It’s just in front and below the ankle.  I did some hunting around on the Internet, and I decided he had tendinitis of the peroneus longus tendon.  My husband was sufficiently impressed with my diagnostic skills that he took my advice and let me make an appointment for him to see a podiatrist the next day.

At the doctor’s office, the nurse took his history, and upon hearing his symptoms, she declared, “Sounds like tendinitis.  Probably of the peroneus.”  I gave my husband an “I told you so!” look, and he nodded with agreement, giving me a satisfying look of pride.

The doctor turned out to be a young, well-built, attractive blonde woman in a tight sweater.  That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.  I felt guilty because my husband really didn’t want to be there; at least the scenery could help make it worth the trip for him.  But he was hurting so bad, maybe he didn’t even notice.  (Yeah, right.)

The doctor poked, prodded, and rolled his foot around.  “I think my nurse is right, it’s probably peroneus tendinitis, but I’m just not sure.”  She rolled his foot around some more.  “No, if it was the peroneus, it would hurt you when I roll it this direction,” she said as she pulled his foot towards her chest.  But was that an accurate assessment?  Maybe it did hurt when she pulled it that way but he was just too distracted to notice. 

“It seems like it might be in the joints,” the doctor mused.  She ordered some x-rays, which didn’t show any fractures, but there were some lightly shaded areas around the joints, and she wasn’t sure what those were (if anything).  But she finally declared that my husband was suffering from sinus tarsitis (also known as sinus tarsi syndrome, both of which sound made up, or like really bad nasal problems).  I was disappointed that my diagnosis was (probably) wrong, but my husband consolingly said, “You were close.  You still get credit for it.”

The doctor recommended a shot of cortisone.  I had warned my husband that this might be the treatment of choice.  He absolutely hates needles.  The doctor said, “Don’t worry; we practiced this a lot in medical school.”  The fact that she was touting her medical school practice and not clinical experience made me conclude that this woman must have finished medical school, oh, say, last week.  I didn’t even need to look over at my husband to know he was thinking the same thing.  But he rather gamely didn’t run off.  Maybe it was her tight sweater, or maybe it was just that his foot hurt too much to get up, but he sat there and patiently waited while the doctor went for a syringe.

When she came back, she said, “I got a really thin needle so it won’t hurt so much.  Well, there’s a thinner needle, but I think this is a good one.  I guess I could use the thinner one, but no, I think this is good.”  She rambled on about that for a while, to no one in particular.  She talked to herself far more than a doctor typically does, but I found that to be kind of charming.  She wasn’t arrogant and cold.  She was relatable.  She was human.  She prattled on like I do sometimes.  Surprisingly, I liked her a lot, but I wasn’t the one about to take a spike through the foot

She sat down at my husband’s feet, still trying to convince herself that she’d picked the right needle size.  She sprayed my husband’s foot with a cold numbing spray, then plunged the needle in. 

I tried to lock his gaze so he’d focus on me and not the needle, but he closed his eyes.  So I looked over at what the doctor was doing.  As the needle went in, I was grateful that my husband’s eyes were closed, because I broke the cardinal rule of being the moral-support person in a medical setting:  I winced.  Big time.  You’re supposed to keep a placid, reassuring look when you’re offering moral support, not drop your jaw like you’re thinking, “How is this not killing him?!”

The doctor wiggled the needle around and said (kind of to herself), “I can’t get the needle through the ligament.”  I winced some more.  The doctor suddenly remembered she wasn’t working on a cadaver and said, “Oh, I guess you probably didn’t need to hear that.”  She partially withdrew the needle, curved it around the ligament, apparently (I didn’t know needles could bend so much!), then plunged it in all the way, probably about an inch and a half.  “There we go!” she proclaimed.  “It’s in ALL the way now, really deep.”

I grimaced, squinted, and silently mouthed something like, “Eww-eww-EWWWWW!”  Yeah, okay, I’m a terrible person to have for moral support.  At least my husband (and the doctor) didn’t see my expressions.

It took forever for the doctor to inject the cortisone.  It was probably good for her to go slow, but it was agonizing to watch (how could I look away?).  Finally she was done, and as she pulled out the needle, I remembered that I was supposed to be comforting my husband (not the other way around).  But for all his professed needle squeamishness, he took it really well.  I hear that cortisone injections hurt a lot, so if I’d been in his position, I probably wouldn’t have even had it done.  Having watched it being done, I definitely wouldn’t accept one in the future.  Forget the numbing spray; they’d have to knock me out first.

Dr. Blonde very accommodatingly wrote my husband a “prescription” for working from home for two weeks to rest his foot.  I love her for doing that, but my husband and I both kind of groaned over the unprofessional wording.  It was written like a note from a mom to get her son out of P.E. class, or possibly by a boy pretending to be his mom (“Please let him work from home because his foot hurts and he needs to rest it“).  But it was kind of cute, really, almost endearing.  And I suppose there are a lot worse things you could say about a doctor. 

As she gains experience, she’ll become more confident and polished, but I hope she somehow escapes developing the arrogance that doctors display all too often.  Maybe it’s a podiatrist thing.  They don’t go to “real” medical school, and they rarely (if ever) have the opportunity to save a life.  But speaking as a person who once experienced mobility-limiting foot problems that were solved by a podiatrist, I think they have just as much grounds to get arrogant as any doctor out there.  Plus they have to touch and lean in close to people’s feet all day, every day.  Maybe that keeps them humble.

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