Someday, I will look back on this time as The Winter of One Shoe. That’s how many shoes I can wear these days, one shoe or boot on my right foot and none on my left. My left foot is wrapped in about a thousand bandages, the therapy I’m undergoing for treatment of lymphedema.
Cancer surgery and treatment robbed me of some healthy lymph nodes, and my left leg is pretty much permanently swollen. Women with breast cancer sometimes get the swelling in their arms, and as with my leg, the only real treatment is massage and wrapping with bandages and padding.
There’s so much padding on my left leg and foot that there is, literally, no shoe that will fit it. My legs are a tree trunk and a twig. My feet a tuba and a piccolo. I am as asymmetrical as a Picasso.
Vanity left me ages ago, so my concerns are not about how this looks. When chemotherapy makes you greet the world bald without eyelashes or brows, you get over yourself.
But it’s been snowing out there. A lot. And much as I’d like to leave my fat leg at home when I go about my life, I’ve got to drag it out into the world. People with casts on broken legs have a hard outer shell that must give some protection from the snow. Mine has no hard shell, and so I’m hobbling to and fro with a leg that’s basically a big, absorbent wad of Bounty. The other day, I stepped out of my car into the deep, dark abyss of a mud puddle. My leg slurped up that dirty water like a Huggies diaper. By the time I’d stumbled into the house, the muddy water had traveled up to my knee.
I’m spending a lot of time walking and standing this winter. Before I signed up for the wrapping therapy, I signed on to teach many, many credits at a university. It’s the perfect storm of aggravation and humiliation.
I can’t exactly teach with a bare foot, and so I found an enormous athletic shower shoe with a single Velcro strap. If I open that as far as it will allow, I can almost get into it. My foot resides in that shoe only in theory; my foot mostly sits atop the shoe as I slide the whole mess along the ground.
And so there I am, that hapless woman, shoulders laden with briefcases and bags, ambulating around the grassy hills of campus like Quasimodo, taking a step and dragging the other foot. My goal in life is not to teach my students well; it is to keep that rubber shoe on my foot.
This presents a problem in the classroom. Frequently, I become so involved in writing my lecture points on the board that I unwittingly step out of the shoe; then I have to stop teaching and go back to retrieve my shoe. My black, rubber, size 15 shoe. A shoe so mighty it could work as a life raft.
My students pretend not to notice. One young man sometimes meets me at my car and helps carry my bags into class. I like them all for that. I told one class I’m usually much cuter than this, and I’m about to prove it.
In two more weeks, the wrapping will be done, and I’ll be wearing two matching shoes again. By then it will be almost spring, or to me, at least, it will feel like it.
Beth Dolinar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.