A momentary burn, a new acquaintance

Photo: Getty Imaves
Photo: Getty Imaves
Time is kind. It gives us new vocabulary. Its latest gift to me is plantar fasciitis.

Isn’t that a pretty thing now? I have taken to using plantar fasciitis whenever possible in conversation, partly to fix it in my mind but mainly to impress. Plantar fasciitis came suddenly into my life.

My opponent played a drop shot into the front right-hand corner of the squash court and I lunged to retrieve it. I should stress that at the time of lunging I’d never heard of plantar fasciitis, nor did I even know, despite having lugged a pair of them around for two thirds of a century, that there was such a thing, in this world or the next, as a plantar fascia.

Lunging, I reached the ball just before it died and lobbed it high to the back of the court, then pulled up sharply to avoid crashing into the wall. Squash is a game that requires a lot of pulling up sharply, which makes it an all time favourite of the physiotherapy industry.

I felt a vivid pain in the heel of my right foot. Though I did not know it then, this was the moment when the plantar fascia emerged from 67 years of anonymity and introduced itself.

One becomes familiar over the decades with certain pains and their associated vocabulary. I recognise, for example, the premonitory twinges in the forearm that indicate the return of tennis elbow. I know the momentary burn that indicates the tweak of an adductor muscle in the groin.

And when I reach for something overhead I recognise the protests of my old friend the rotator cuff. But this pain was a new pain.

"You OK?" said my opponent, which is the sort of remark we all make when someone clearly isn’t. It’s easier than having to empathise. And we all struggle to empathise. An Auden poem describes the patients in a surgical ward:

"They are and suffer; that is all they do;

A bandage hides the place where each is living"

In other words when we are sick or injured, that sickness or injury becomes our whole world. And it is impossible for an outside observer to enter that world.

"For who when healthy can become a foot?" And there on the squash court I had become my foot.

I thought at first I might be able to run it off. But you don’t run off a plantar fascia, for the simple reason that you run on it.

At this stage, however, I was still bathed in plantar fascial innocence and ignorance.

I showered, limped to the pub, drank a little restorative beer, limped home, cooked dinner on one and a half feet, sat for the remainder of the evening and limped to bed in the hope those two famous medical specialists time and sleep would do the trick.

They didn’t. Anatomy of the foot, please, I asked Dr Internet the next morning and up came one of those flayed images revealing in pretty colours the various internals, the bones and flesh and arteries and tendons.

And there, picked out in grey, was a fan of fibrous tissue, that stretched from heel to toes, marked plantar fascia. We had met at last.

The virtual doctor suggested there was little I could do but rest and wait. I rested and waited for a week. It got no worse and it got no better.

The actual physiotherapist cradled the foot and turned and stretched it most amusingly until at last she spoke. "I think you’ve strained your plantar fascia."

"And so do I," I said, but she seemed unimpressed.

She rubbed warming unguents into the sole of my foot, which was pleasant in its own right, and she applied a throbbing electrical pulse, which was also pleasant in its own right, and she told me the plantar fascia was a poor neglected thing that didn’t get much in the way of blood supply so it could take a while to heal, and then she taped it up and sent me out into the world with a freight of knowledge.

And as I limped home I looked forward to learning which other currently unknown body parts would reveal themselves by mutiny.

If I should prove to be one of the blessed few who live to be 100, there’s nothing I won’t know.

Oh, time is kind.

 - Joe Bennett is a Lyttelton writer.