My Amazing Toe

My Amazing Toe

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Back Pain!

My Amazing Toe

My toe is possessed. At least that’s what my family says. Sometimes the middle toe on my left foot points to the left, completely perpendicular to my foot, and tucks behind the fourth toe and the little pinky toe. You can’t make your toe do this if you try! The only way I can straighten my toe is by grabbing it and forcing it back into position. It is always trying to move to the left, so it is permanently angled away from my big toe and my second toe, pushing the fourth and fifth toes out of position too. It looks like my left foot is making that Star Trek “V.”

The first time I watched my toe do this I was so scared I called my neurosurgeon at 11 p.m. and asked if I should go to the emergency room. I thought that I was having a complete spinal breakdown!

Sometimes I also get electrical jolts in my left foot and in my middle toe, the same feeling you get if you accidentally touch the metal on a plug while plugging it into an electrical outlet. Sometimes my left foot will squeeze together into a cylindrical shape in a horrendous cramp. You can make this scrunched up shape with your hand but you can’t do this with your foot, and I can’t do it voluntarily — it just happens when it wants to.

My left calf goes through phases when it cramps so badly that I wake my husband in the middle of the night to rub it out. After a cramping incident I hobble around the next day until it calms down. I’ve learned to avoid pointing my left foot, as pointing can set off the cramp. I have to be careful inserting my left foot into a boot or skinny pants because I might point my toes by accident.

My back problems started ten years ago when I was in the best shape of my life, quite cocky, and lifted a heavy box improperly. An MRI showed a herniated disc, but after a year of proper exercises and care, as well as an extremely helpful steroid pack after all else failed, I was completely mended and had a relatively clean MRI. I hiked all over the place, including the demanding Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, skied, and did my normal activities, albeit carefully.

Then I was involved in what seemed like a minor car accident. I was hit from behind by a careless driver while I was stopped.

About a month after the accident I started having debilitating sciatic pain. I could barely walk and had to take a taxi to go one block in New York City. I was in pain 24 hours a day and could only sleep an hour at a time. When you are in that much pain you have to be very careful not to be grumpy so I over-compensated. I must have looked like I was on some kind of happy pill, the way I smiled at everyone and spoke so gently! I had to be particularly careful when I tried another steroid pack to see if that would help. Those can really change your behavior, making you loud and aggressive.

I ended up having an L4-L5 hemilaminectomy and the pain relief was immediate. All I took after the surgery was Tylenol, despite the lengthy procedure and the four-inch scar in my back.

If you have never had spinal surgery, you might be wondering what the recovery is like. For months, I couldn’t bend forward to brush my teeth, couldn’t shave my legs, and couldn’t put on socks. But it was all worth it to end that pain and walk again.

It took a couple of years of diligent exercising to recover from the injury but I was finally back in business. Off we went to Chile to visit my son and his girlfriend during their semester abroad. On the first day of a four-day excursion to Easter Island, I dropped the soap in the shower, stepped on it, and flew through the air, landing smack on my back. My left leg went into a horrible cramping spasm from hip to toes. It was the worst pain I have ever felt, worse than childbirth, worse than anything I felt after the car accident.

It took an hour just to move me from the tub to the bed and I screamed for hours. The full-leg cramp never let up. There was no way I was going to see a doctor on tiny Easter Island. Luckily, Chile is one of those countries that allow the sale of mild narcotics over the counter, so I was able to dull the pain somewhat.

I could not put any weight on my left leg, but I was determined to see everything. We couldn’t leave anyway. Easter Island is that island in the middle of the South Pacific with the mysterious 70-foot-tall carved heads. It is 2,300 miles from Chile and 2,200 miles from Tahiti. There were only four airline flights per week — two to Chile and two to Tahiti, so I was stuck there for a couple of days whether I liked it or not. I hopped around the island on my right leg for the next three days with my husband or my son acting as a human crutch on my left side.

Upon my return to the United States, the neurosurgeon was mystified by my MRI. It showed a large cloud over the L4-L5 area. My doctor said he had never seen anything like it and he would have feared that it was a tumor except for the fact that it was the site of my previous surgery and my new injury. I still couldn’t put any weight on my left leg so I sidled along walls and used furniture to support me as I limped around for the next month. I had very little sensation in the skin on top of my left foot and the back of my left calf. Try shaving your leg when you can’t actually feel your skin! The doctor said that I had suffered serious nerve damage from the bathtub fall and that it could take up to two years for the nerves to recover. Over time, I regained the use of my left leg and I didn’t even recognize my spine in the MRI I had six months later. The mysterious cloud had disappeared and when I looked at my MRI with my doctor, my L4-L5 area was the “cleanest” I had ever seen it, with virtually no herniation.

More than three years have passed. I have my “possessed” toe that moves by itself and my weird electrical shocks and my intermittent cramping. My left leg is much less flexible than my right leg, but I hike, ski, and do almost everything that I want to do. I continue to do the exercises the doctor gave me after my surgery and I think I am still improving. I am very careful about lifting things — I only fill grocery bags half full, I make three trips down the stairs to carry a load of laundry, I ask strangers for help — and I don’t do certain things that might stress my back such as horseback riding or amusement park rides. I do not point my toes! This is how I live my life and it is fine. I figure we all have something wrong with us by the time we are in our mid-fifties and I am thankful every day that this is my thing, since it could be a lot worse!

~ Amy Newmark ~

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners