Monday, April 2, 2012

Pain and Suffering

Dr. Pearlman, as I recall, was built like a snowman. His round, bald head was stacked neckless on his spherical trunk.

A snowman wearing a shirt and tie and white doctor’s coat. But he still scared the hell out of me. Because even though I was a kid, I had his number. I just knew he couldn’t wait to get his grubby paws on my heel cords.

Mother was ecstatic that Dr. Pearlman agreed to take us on because he was “a leading expert” on muscular dystrophy. And that’s what scared me because when others MD kids I knew went to see experts, that's when weird things started happening to them. Like I knew some kids whose ankles contracted so their feet curled inward. Their soles faced sideways. So in order to flatten their feet back out again, the doctors surgically cut their heel cords.

I wasn’t sure what and where the heel cords were. I figured they were some kind of cords somewhere near the heel. But that whole business about cutting them sounded gruesome so I was determined to keep mine intact. My heel cords became a symbol of my manhood.

Dr. Pearlman’s massive wood office desk seemed to be as big as the whole kitchen of our home. He sat in a massive leather throne of a rolling office chair. Behind him was a massive bookshelf, packed tight with medical books. I’d sit in his office for a few minutes and then I was dismissed to the waiting room, while my mother and he discussed my case. But they couldn’t fool me. I knew he was plotting to get my heel cords. And I told my mother flat out that I didn’t want anybody messing with my heel cords. She wondered how I knew about such things.

Well, I won. Nobody came after my heel cords. Maybe I scared them off or maybe it was because my feet never curled inward. Whatever. I still have my heel cords and it’s a great symbolic victory for a kid who grew up when I did. I may not exit this life with much, but I’ll have my heel cords.

There is one scenario under which I might regret my steadfastness regarding my heel cords. There are those personal injury lawyer television commercials where they say stuff like, “Do you have cerebral palsy? Then you may be entitled to damages!” You can sue the doctor for making you crippled. But hell, the pain and suffering most cripples endure doesn't come so much from being crippled as it does from the stuff they do to you because you’re crippled, like slicing up your heel cords. Why can’t we sue for that, huh?

And the non-surgical interventions are even worse when you’re a kid. Like for instance, they made a lot of us wear funny-looking shoes. There was one crippled girl who had to wear these prescription shoes that looked like a cross between sandals and combat boots. They were supposed to brace her ankles or keep her from becoming pigeon-toed or something. And funny-looking shoes always came in somber colors, like black or brown. They could never be chartreuse or hot pink. Always the color of mourning.

Maybe someday our notion of justice in America will become so fine-tuned that I’ll hear commercials that say, “Are you crippled? Were you forced to wear funny-looking shoes? Then you may be entitled to damages!” Then I’ll regret not letting them hack up my heel cords, because I missed my chance to cash in.


  1. I was born with clubbed feet. I never understood why they called them that until I saw my first golf club. Of course a doctor would associate feet that look like that with something he knows well. I did have some kind of surgery that involved cutting into the side of each heel, but I don't recall the word "cord" being mentioned.

    Until I was around five years old, I had to wear special half-boots of the type we around here call "clod hoppers" or "shit kickers" because they are typically worn by farmers and other outdoor laborers. Their unfashionability wasn't the worst thing about them, though; they were shaped such that they appeared to be on the wrong feet.

    There were little R's and L's on the sole of each boot to show which went where, and I learned how to read when I was around four, so I know I was wearing them correctly. Everywhere I went, other kids would make fun of me, and adults would try to help me put them on "the right feet". I'm still not sure which reaction was more humiliating.

  2. I had a "leading expert" too. He must have missed a brunch of leading expert classes though because I he'd say I was dying every few months from 3 to about 16 yet here I is.

    But much like fine heel cords staying alive is hard to cash in on (If you're not Gibb or Travolta) which is a shame because debt is easy for living cripples!

    I thought about claiming emotional distress but that requires additional "leading expert" fortune telling.


  3. I had to wear orthopedic shoes before I was properly diagnosed because the eminent doctors thought my problem was weak ankles. (Ha! It was much more than that.) They were white and essentially shaped like large baby shoes, so wherever I'd go kids would ask "Why are you still wearing baby shoes?" Finally, when I began using a wheelchair full time I had an argument with my mom who thought I needed to continue wearing them. What was the point if I was no longer walking? She relented on the orthopedic shoes, but wanted me to continue wearing high top sneakers. (Considering our budget, that meant fake Converse from the Kmart dollar bin, which every child knows is social seppukku.) When I was old enough to throw off the shackles of ugly shoes, the pendulum went the other way, and I now have quite the collection of completely impractical pretty sandals.

  4. I love your way with words. As a chronic pain muddler,
    All I kno is pain sucks. I hate it n tolerate it n make it my pet
    And my boss and my nemesis. I'm a trained facilitator for the the
    American chronic pain association. That means I look into the face
    Of people suffering pain and tell them I understand. I wish I didn't.
    I wish I slept at night and didn't wake up Well you kno. Pain sucks and we agree.
    And we live and breathe and dance in any way we can