The Stabby Toe and the Challenging Gait

I have a neurology physiatrist appointment next Friday and I recommended my doctor to my podiatrist, who has a relative with MS.

But this blog post will be about my podiatrist visit.

I mentioned I felt kind of silly going to the doctor for an achy toe when I knew my work life had changed and my hip was giving me trouble. But three years ago I had a blister in this toe that got infected and I have a tendency to ignore things. And I’m trying very hard not to do that.

My doctor always makes me feel like a kid, in a good way. We had a mutual friend who has since passed away and that mutual friend always said that if he had a daughter he would want it to be me. Maybe that’s why this podiatrist always makes me feel like I’m part of the family. Or maybe he’s just a good guy.

I forget that I’m wearing a mask that reads “Fragile: Handle With Care.” And he’s the only person who has ever commented on it.

“So you’re fragile?” he asks.

“I am fragile,” I admit. “And I try to have a sense of humor.”

He pats my shoulder.

And the next thing he does is hand me a strange orange ball with peach fuzz.

“You can have one of these.”

He tells me a story, about a house for sale on Route 611 with what appeared to be orange trees. He stopped and took some fruit, cut it open, planted the seeds, and put what grew in his yard. He thought maybe they were Bergamot oranges, but soon found a real Bergamot and found out that wasn’t it.

It’s a flying dragon bitter orange. And he likes to give them to patients for their aromatic value.

He still has a private practice, so he can do things like pass out oranges.

I explain what’s been going on with my foot, and that my specialist can’t see me until April or maybe next week. He asks me about my other doctor, because he hasn’t heard of her. I end up writing down her name (and he asks me why I carry so many pens and I answer “because I like colors.”

Now, I 100% expected him to tell me that my toes rub and cause inflammation and pain because I walk funny. Which he did. And he reminded me to keep my big toe and my second toe separated. Which I don’t. But he immediately decided what I described was nerve pain and wondered if some of it might be sciatic or stem from a neuroma or both. And a later Google search informed me that this type of pinched nerve/nerve tumor can be caused by the pressure on the foot caused by wearing high heels, or in my case, natural toe walking.

I was skeptical before he did his exam, but I know he knows his stuff so I kept my mouth shut and listened. When you manipulate the foot in certain ways, you can make the neuroma “pop” in a way that the doctor can feel and/or hear. He thought the neurima would be over by my fourth and pinky toe. And he did feel a little something there. But when he flexed my foot to check for a neuroma below my second and third toe, my foot audibly and repeatedly crackled.

This surprised him.

He explained my options: orthotics (which I would like to talk to the other doctor before we change my walk), cortisone shots, or surgery.

I let him give me cortisone shots. I don’t normally like anything that numbs pain because I believe in the value of pain as a communication signal. But, if the shots work, it would give us a chance to see if the neuromas contribute to my body’s way of compensating for my, as the podiatrist put it, “challenging gait.”

He prepped my foot with great care. The needle was long but super fine.

He inserted it in where he expected a small neuroma to be. When the needle struck the neuroma, it pinched and burned. Not for very long, but very distinct.

He noticed me flinch.

“Did that hurt?” he asked.

“It pinched, and if a starburst had a feeling that would be it.”

He nodded. “You definitely have a neuroma.”

The needle continued its work.

“That feels like you stuck that needle right out the other end of my foot,” I said.

And it reminded me of how I described the symptom: It felt like someone stabbed a knife through my toe to the floor.

He did the second location. No pinching/burning feeling. Just three very small little starbursts.

So we shall see.

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