As I hopped on one foot while holding the other with both hands, I knew I hadn’t just stubbed my toe. I’ve done that countless times and this pain was orders of magnitude worse. I figured I sprained it. Damn.
I thought of going to a doctor, but what was the point? They would just tell me to tape it, ice it, and elevate it. Plus, they’d probably think I was being ridiculous for bothering them with a sprained toe. So I went on with my day. I took the dog to the vet. I went to the grocery store, but used the electric cart to gather my food. I hobbled into the post office. I limped as I brought my groceries into my apartment in two trips and put them all away. Finally, finally, I was able to sit and put my foot up. It hurt a lot but at least it wasn’t broken.
The next day, I knew something wasn’t right. As I unwrapped the tape from my toe, the pain was intense. Even touching the toe with no pressure was excruciating. Maybe I should see a doctor after all? But it’s not like they can do anything for a sprained toe that I wasn’t already doing. Then again, I sprained my wrist a few years ago and had additional tendon and ligament damage and it wasn’t nearly this painful. Hmm.
As I continued to limp around my apartment, I still hesitated to seek medical help. They’d probably think I was being absurd, right? I had therapy that morning, and I thought I might ask her advice. Then I realized I’d asked her for this kind of advice many times, and I knew how she’d respond. She would ask if I had a doctor I trusted who I could reach out to. Well yeah, I have a podiatrist that I trust a lot. Ok, I could do this. I took a deep breathe, and made the call….
When the podiatrist’s office called me back, I’m not entirely sure what I’d been expecting, but it wasn’t this:
Me: (Describes the situation.)
Them: “It could be broken or dislocated. We’d need you to come in so we can figure it out.”
Me: *thinking that of course it’s not broken, but I guess it could possibly be dislocated or something else, right?* “Ok, what do you have available?”
Them: “How soon can you get here?”
Me: *oh shit, that can’t be good*
I went in that afternoon. At some point between hanging up the phone and leaving my apartment, I noticed a bruise forming on the top of my foot, not where I’d hit it. Hmm, not a good sign. And it occurred to me that while this wasn’t the worst pain I’d experienced, it was pretty bad. Maybe it was broken after all? At the x-ray, I noticed the bruise had gotten larger and darker and thought, Oh crap, I think it might be broken. The doctor took one look at the x-ray and immediately said it was broken. And to be honest, I was sort of relieved. At least I knew what it was. And I wasn’t ridiculous to seek help. But maybe I was a bit ridiculous for waiting? She turned the computer monitor and showed me the x-rays. She said it was a big break, going all the way across the toe. Yup, I could see that clearly on the x-ray. Damn. The good news was that as long as it didn’t get worse, I wouldn’t need surgery. And as soon as she splinted it, walking became significantly less painful.
So what did I learn here? I didn’t learn that I need to always seek medical help when I have an injury, because I have enough past experience to know that’s not always going to work out well for me. No, what I learned is that my past history of being treated like shit by many doctors over decades of my life has taught me to avoid seeking help even when I need it. I learned that I have to work on differentiating when I’m skipping seeking help because I really don’t need it versus when my near-lifetime of medical trauma is pushing me away from it. I learned that I have good reasons to want to avoid seeing doctors, but that sometimes, it’s worth making a phone call to ask for their advice. Oh, and I also learned that when looking at my broken toe is depressing me, pretty nail polish does wonders to brighten up my toes and my mood.
(Side note: the swelling and faint bruise on the left in this photo are from this injury. The scars on my two biggest toes are from a surgery several years ago. This poor foot has had a rough time.)