On Being an Old Gray Mare With Chronic Lameness

WMEdgarWmyfootIt’s a shooting pain. Usually my foot is brick-tight and I can’t bend my toes. When I do manage to bend them in a natural walking angle, there’s a big red pain. I think my toes have cracked off of my foot and it feels wet–like hot acid-blood is filling my boot. But Iā€™m stoic, like my Grandfather Horse.

My lameness started slow and small, ten years ago. Sometimes it felt like I only had sprained a toe, and eventually I got orthotics. They worked like therapeutic shoeing does for a horse, and things were fine if I didn’t teach an all-day clinic or get stepped on.

Then last year my left foot started to get wider. And thicker. I attempted to diagnose it in the shower. Could it be navicular? At first I worried that I was foundering, but no, this is only one foot and it felt more like a coffin bone coming through the bottom. Then I asked Edgar Rice Burro’s opinion.

Now by the last lesson of the day, my foot has swollen so badly that my boot fits like a corset. But that might not be a bad thing, right? Probably navicular; is there a human generic for Isoxophrine?

ACK. I’ve become one of those women.

The more it hurts, the more I respect my Grandfather Horse, retired for twelve years now with suspensory damage and arthritis. There is no spring to his step. I used to walk him slowly and feel like I was being so kind to the doddering old gelding. Now we’re moving even.

So months have passed and none of my shoes fit. Well, it’s just one shoe in each pair that doesn’t fit. My crocs still fit–which isn’t a big loss of style for me. Finally, I think about doing the unthinkable. But I wouldn’t want to rush to any conclusions… so I just think about it. Eventually I cross the line. I call the doctor. In my mind, I try to think of him as a farrier. I like my farrier.

As the nurse takes me down the hall to the exam room, my limp echoes in the same way it does when a horse is uneven. Of course I compare it all to a lameness check; I understand those. So when they take the x-rays, I think of the horses I’ve held and how convenient this human set-up would be for my vet.

Then I’m staring at my foot from the exam chair when the doctor bursts in, says hello, and immediately starts dissecting the print-out of the x-ray. He doesn’t explain much about the problem, but the x-ray is obvious enough. Instead he’s madly scribbling, drawing cut lines, and enthusiastically planning the grisly parts, just the way I plan a training path for a troubled horse. Iffy bedside manner, but he seems to enjoy his work. I wonder if my clients feel this way about me?

I didn’t go for a second opinion. There’s no point; it hurts enough now that having a metatarsal shortened, another bone broken and carved down, and a ligament screwed to my second toe bone sounds like a pedicure to me.

I asked him what causes this to happen to a foot. He said sometimes it’s hereditary. (No one I know.) Or it could from wearing heels. (Never; the closest I get are old Ariat clogs but only if it’s formal.) He sees me shake my head, and adds there are other “odd causes.” I bite my tongue.

This is what I know about going to a doctor: Don’t mention what you do for a living. Or that you spend the rest of your time in the same place. He doesn’t need to know you dance around with thousand-pound horses–it’s how they get a bad name with doctors.

I’m thinking of lame horses. Especially the ones that look like me; fine on the outside. I just move slower and don’t warm-up out of it. People I walk with get impatient with me. I see it in their bodies more than anything they say. I try to keep up but then I get impatient with myself, as well as the pain. Is that what stoic horses do?

About then the Dude Rancher blabs about horses and the doctor mentions his concern for protecting my foot from pathogens in the barn. Like there is anything in the barn we haven’t all ingested for years already. There’s an argument that we’ve all become barn pathogens.

Then they gave me an Easy-Boot-like brace and a pair of crutches. How is it possible that I can stack hay but not be strong with crutches? A new friend (we bonded over talk of lameness) is lending me her knee scooter. When I saw a man at the grocery store with one, and I limped over to him to ask questions. It traveled quick, he said, but he’d gotten bucked off it pretty hard; he says it’s best for indoor use.

After surgery, I’ll be on pain meds and stall rest. The Grandfather Horse spent years on stall rest and just anticipating mine is half-killing me. I notice being stoic is giving way to being a whiner already. Spirit did better with a goat in his stall with him. My house is small with lots of narrow doorways and four dogs who take my care and protection extremely seriously. A goat would be more fun.

But on a high note–and humor me, I’m not singing many high notes–the Dude Rancher got me a contraption for use in the barn. It’s a knee crutch; think peg-leg on a pirate. I’m sure he feels compassion for me, but it’s self-preservation, too. You don’t want me trapped in your house for six weeks either.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

60 thoughts on “On Being an Old Gray Mare With Chronic Lameness

  1. Sending healing prayers your way. Wonderful post. Horses seem to maintain their dignity in their old age, I hope I will too. Let us know when your surgery is, we will all be with you in spirit!

  2. Lynell Abbott

    Be patient with yourself. You will do what you need to do, adapt where you need to. Sending “white light” your way.

  3. Sarah Jackson

    Oh, darn, Anna. I’m so sorry you have this issue with your foot. … wishing you a speedy recovery after surgery, and as someone above says, BE PATIENT and kind with yourself. I sure hope you have someone to help you around the barn and with the critters while you heal ??.

  4. Darcy

    seems like an extreme way to find compassion for the lame ones among us! I found that my horses were quite accepting of my knee scooter…treats in the basket got them used to it pretty quickly. Healing energy and deep breathing being sent your way!

  5. Pain. Funny how when you have foot pain you tend to think: Nothing’s as bad as foot pain.. And you’re right! Until you have tooth pain. Then you think: Oh man, there’s nothing quite as awful as a throbbing tooth ache. And you’re right again! Until you have back pain. Then you lament: Oh Lordy, there’s NOTHING like back pain! And again, you’re right! Until you have a migraine. And so it goes. So don’t be tempted to dumb-down your pain. You hurt. Enough is enough. If there’s a way to improve things then have at it, because if you don’t the alternatives aren’t great. Good luck to you, and my deepest sympathies to RD and the gang. šŸ˜‰

  6. Lorri Shaver

    Ah, at least your navicular is fixable and after the surgery and a few weeks of corrective shoeing you’ll be back to hauch’s in and passage. Know your herdmates out here in virtual land are thinking of you, and we’ll be sure to leave some choice green grass. Do stay off the leg and elevate as recommended. I did not after a torn ACL was reconstructed and ended up back at the my vet’s ER with potential blood clots.

  7. Dear Anna, you’re thinking too much about this. I’ve had both feet rebuilt so I could walk beside therapy riders, and then both knees re-done for the same reason. Feet are much easier than knees, but they all take time to heal and be pain free. Whine all you want–it’s legal. But do rest the feet as much as you can and DO YOUR THERAPY! I’m a bit grayer than you, and am teaching and riding three days a week, and feeling ok with a very hot shower every morning to get all the parts moving. Good luck, and best regards! I enjoy your blog more than I can say….

  8. Anna, I’ve had this surgery. The “stall rest” was tough – no weight bearing for 6 weeks (ha! supposedly – doubt many actually manage that!) but the outcome was super. Pain free, walking, running, hiking… And I had been lame for years. Good luck! One bit of advice: start strengthening your crutch muscles and coordination well before you actually need them. One of the worst parts of my recovery after the first few post op days was the pain from using muscles you almost never use otherwise, and preparation might help prevent that.

    1. Christine, glad to hear you had a good outcome… and after scaring myself with the crutches that first day, I am “working out.” Thanks for the advice.

  9. Suzanne

    After reading this blog for a while – I can only imagine the “eloquent” whining you are gonna be able to do!!! Best wishes….and speedy recovery. And if you get really really bored – feel free to write away! We are always happy to ready your stuff!

  10. Judi

    I hope this goes well for you. Nothing more terrifying than being laid up because we have so much to do. My doc told me yesterday I should think about giving up throwing hay bales at my age-55. I just looked at her and smiled.

  11. Maggie Frazier

    When I still had Chico – had to have a kidney removed – wasnt too bad EXCEPT then was tied to a catheter for 6 weeks – didnt get to the barn for at least a week or two – which was awful! (my son was in charge of attempting to contain me) I had really good friends who kept tabs on my boy BUT thats not the same as being there hands on. That was difficult. Then just a few years ago, I finally got my bunions “done”. One foot at a time – was not crutch-prone! Again, the surgery was not so bad – its not being able to do for yourself! That said – my advice is: do most of what the dr. says – and use common sense (?) Honestly – think about this – you get stepped on (horse-wise) once before you are healed & have to go through the whole thing again!!!!! Hold that thought & maybe the 6 weeks or so wont seem so long.
    Will be thinking of you AND hopefully reading!

  12. Christine

    ANNA, sorry to hear about your surgery. I totally understand the fear of western medicine …and note to self, osteopath and acupuncture so keep in mind for any future ailments or concerns. Let me know if your herd needs help. Maybe Ellie (my cattle dog)and I can assist one day a week. We live in Lakewood and have been around horses a bit and have much to learn…and I practice Crystalline Consciousness Technique with people and animals .(www.ccthealing.com) …and I love your book. Sending light and healing, you have my email.

  13. Love your angle on this, but feel your pain. Dealing with chronic lameness (of a different sort) myself; fortunately, riding itself is comfortable. But right now my horse is recovering from a(other) suspensory strain (and atropine poisoning), so no riding/mental and physical therapy for me. I am very conscious of needing to keep my riding muscles in shape to be able to ride the rest of my life ā€“ like the 80-something rider in our dressage chapter who still rides (featured in my last blog post).

    1. Agreed… I don’t want to give in one day earlier than I have to, and if that means going slow now, I will. Like you, I want to win the real endurance race. Thanks.

  14. Dottie L

    So interested to know how you fare after surgery. I, too, have feet problems. Burning and stinging in my middle toes when on my feet too much and sometimes it feels like I’m walking on a peach stone. The ball of my foot gets so sore. Orthotics for at least 40 years helped but didn’t solve the problem completely. Enough of my complaining! I hope you get week soon after surgery. I’m 73 and want to continue my horse fun. So I may see a doctor about this. Thanks for all your help. Your description of the plight you’re experiencing had me smiling several times! Good luck, my prayers will be with you.

  15. People who actually DO things, suffer worse from pain. Not the actual physical part, but the inescapable awareness of newly imposed limitations, and the threat of diminished independence.

    Best wishes for a safe surgery and speedy recovery!

  16. Judy Shaub

    So sorry to hear about the coming surgery. You had mentioned before about your foot pain and I was hoping it was not serious. Remember that ice is your friend. The more you can keep the swelling down the better. And elevate, elevate elevate. Once you are released for therapy, do all of it. It will hurt like hell but in the end it will make you less painful. Again, ice is your friend after therapy sessions. I have pins and plates in my right ankle and right wrist and I cannot take pain meds. I don’t recommend not taking the pain meds if you can tolerate them. They help with the swelling. But use ice as much as possible. It saved my life. You may need the pain meds when you start therapy. Sending you loving thoughts for a speedy recovery.

    1. Judy, it sounds like you have more experience than you needed, but I will take your advice. The last time I took pain meds was in prehistoric times, so I hope I do better with these. Either way, I will give in, watch the clock and the ice and behave myself. Thank you.

  17. Elizabeth

    I’m hoping never to have my bunion worked on. But (echoing previous posts) friends have had this procedure, and each said it gave them a new life. Each emphasized not trying to rush the healing, because no matter what the docs and PT folks say, YOU may need more time.For your mental health, don’t let the docs and therapists get away with not explaining things in plain English, or not answering your questions. For your physical health, get someone to stay with you for the first week (if you need that), get your barn help and backup barn help lined up, elevate and ice much more than you think you need to, and don’t be discouraged or impatient. Get multiple ice packs so that one is always cold and ready. For this surgery, time is your best friend. (Did you know that if you’re told to keep your foot above your heart, you have to be flat on your back, with your knee bent at 90 degrees, and your leg resting on a monster pile of pillows and blankets?) And sorry this is so long.

    1. sherryw2015

      I’m rather fond of my bunion, it gave me a good excuse to replace a whole lot of shoes – I REALLY like shoes!

    2. THAT elevated? I think I will ‘build’ my bed before I go… I didn’t know that part. I guess the thing about chronic pain is that it makes me really willing to do this right. What is the point of the surgery (and the expense) if I don’t? Thanks.

  18. sherryw2015

    Oh bummer for you. I recall being at the dentist, he was amazed that that particular tooth had cracked and needed a root canal. I smiled and stayed silent, some months earlier I had foolishly stepped in front of a young horse. He threw up his head, caught me square in the face and bounced my head off a block wall. I saw stars and…..my teeth clacked hard! My dentist didn’t need to know that! Right now I have a sister in law (R) who had hip replacement more than a month ago and is still in a wheel chair because all that therapy ‘hurt’ and was ‘too hard’. Meanwhile her sister, my other sister in law (E) has had knee replacement and heart valve replacement (We call her porky now, pig valve), and bulled through the surgeries and therapies like a rock star. E is 9 years older than I and I’m no spring chicken. I’m in awe of her and I think you’ll do the same!

    1. You “bit your tongue” at the dentist!! What a riot. And point well taken. We should all hope that our barn strengths hold us in good stead when we need them. And your sister-in-law is my hero. Thanks for your comment.

  19. Lisa

    Been there-done that with the bunion surgery. Lots of good advice here already; but here is my two -cents: be prepared for what your foot will look like the first few days after surgery. Not to be too descriptive…but if you imagine “rainbow technicolor”…..kind of startling. If for some reason you are asked to wrap your toes post surgery, ASK them to demonstrate and find out precisely how they should be positioned while wrapped. I didn’t ask and have a big gap between big toe and the others-no more flip flops for me!

    The pain you are now in should go away almost instantly after the surgery. Mine did. Yes, there was pain from the surgery, but the old pain-the pain of the bunion was gone. Such relief!

    Keep us posted as to your progress!
    Lisa

    1. Oh goody! Colors! The PA was describing how much blood was okay… I did get a sense that it wasn’t going to be pretty,,, but I love rainbows! Hehehe! Thank you, and looking forward to a different kind of pain.

  20. At a recent visit to the ER (bucked off, fractured vertebra the result) the doctor said “You horsey girls tend to be rather stoic, you know!” Guess you’re living proof! Good luck with the surgery and your stall rest!

  21. Sounds like its time for you to write another book.

    When I was in first or second grade, I got bad stomachaches. My mother took me to the doctor. I asked him if it was OK to lie down. He looked at me like I was nuts. I said, “When a horse colics you keep him walking. He should like down.”

  22. just love it – laughed the whole through it because I have had to have the ‘dreaded boot’ my foot got smashed by my horse!! Think it served me right for something he didnt like! Serioiusly though all the best, enjoy your ‘stall rest’ and the four footed get used to crutches easily as well!!
    Mary

    1. I do admit that my foot found its way under a hoof from time to time, but mine happened slower than yours! Thank you, my sister. I’m sure a crutch can be a training aid… for me or them… and thanks

  23. Beth Farrand

    I’ve had back problems for years and I assure anyone that FOOT pain really is equal to or worse than back pain! I had this same surgery in May 2013 and it sucked…7 weeks away from the barn completely! My Doc would not budge on banning me from “that germ packed barn”! Then a few more months before I could get my boot on and actually ride! I wish you all the best and make the Dude Rancher do all the dirty work so you can hang out in the barn even if you can’t ride!!

    1. You understand that the thing about dude ranchers, is that they don’t ranch? I have barn fairies coming to help, but like you; it’s just too long!

  24. Beth Farrand

    Oh, and Anne, I too had previous foot issues but, mine was irritated by walking on acorns (in the grass) at the barn with crappy tennis shoes on!! Teach me to wear better footware! šŸ™‚

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