Saturday, December 17, 2011

Bonus track: Late 2006

Well I will just warn you that the reason I didn't publish this column back when I wrote it is that it made me so damn sad. This is the first thing I ever wrote about the chronic pain that eventually drove my husband from  his job and still influences many of our decisions, both big (it's time for Mary to find a way to support this family) and small (no, we can't go hiking).

Getting our feet knocked out from under us

    Like a lot of big dilemmas, this one started small.

    My husband got a new engineering job 18 months ago and began spending his days walking the concrete floors of a vast rug factory. He liked the job, the people, the pay. It was a good gig. But after a month or so, he began coming home and saying, “My feet hurt.”

    Well, feet hurt sometimes. I still remember how my feet ached the summer I spent checking groceries at a Red Food as a teenager, how I waited for breaks so I could just sit down for a few minutes. So I sympathized with my husband on the topic of his aching feet. I brought him ice packs, fed him Tylenol, dutifully administered footrubs.

    Meanwhile, we were looking for a new house — a bigger house with a bigger yard where our two constantly bigger boys could play. We found one. It needed work, but it was just a few blocks from our old house in the neighborhood we love where we had lived for more than nine years. So we bought it.

   “We’ll fix it up,” I said. Which, loosely translated, means my husband will fix it up while I hand him tools and pick paint colors. He is very, very good at fixing up houses. I am good at handing him tools and picking paint colors.

    During the chaos of buying and selling houses and taking out loans, I noticed that my husband’s feet still hurt. He was sort of hobbling around and leaning on things all the time and taking to the couch every chance he got.

    Now, I met this man mountain biking. We spent much of our dating life camping. We spent our honeymoon sea kayaking off the San Juan islands and watching whales. This is not a man who is generally big on spending a lot of time on the couch.

    If we hadn’t been so busy buying and selling houses and taking out loans, I probably would have started getting alarmed.

    Fast forward a few months. We got moved. Soon after, the pain in my husband’s feet became crippling. Eventually, he was diagnosed with Achilles tendonitis in both feet and started what has become a frustrating, protracted search for a treatment that will help.

    We’ve tried pills of every stripe, physical therapy, giant braces that immobilize his feet and ankles (and make him look like Forrest Gump), experimental shockwave therapy (which actually made the problem worse), massage treatments, heat, cold, shoe inserts, good grief the list just goes on.

    He spent weeks lurching around the rug factory on crutches, then finally went in desperation to human resources to ask them if he could just burn all his vacation and sick time and get off his feet long enough for them to (maybe?) get better.

    His doctors filled out paperwork, his bosses gave him some time off, he didn’t have to burn his vacation, and everyone was really nice about it. For most of November and December, he was home on disability leave. He did not get better.

    Our oldest son, who is 6, told me he enjoyed having his dad home, but he really wished they could ride bikes and play baseball.

    “We used to ride bikes all the time,” he said. “But that was before Daddy’s feet hurt.”

    My husband and our oldest son have taken up chess. Our youngest, who just turned 2, spends a lot of time sitting on his dad and looking at books. Goodnight Moon (known as Moon Bookie) and Go, Dog. Go! (known as Dog Go Dog Go Dog) are his favorites.

    We all miss riding our bikes together and hiking together and running around the back yard and walking to the park. But my husband really misses being able to get from one side of the room to the other without crutches. He longs to spend a single moment not in pain. He misses his job.

    So here we all are, in a big house that needs work. And what had looked like a fun family renovation project now looks all but impossible and, in the grand scheme of things, not very important.

    “Maybe we should just sell it,” I said one evening as we mulled over our dilemma while I rubbed my husband’s feet. “Maybe we should just forget all this and find something that doesn’t need so much work, something not so expensive.”

    My husband sighed, nodded. A plan was born.

    So, for the second time in a year, we’re selling our house. We’re looking for something that doesn’t need so much work, something not so expensive, probably something in the suburbs we have resisted for so long.

    It’s a sad time, and I’ve spent a few self-indulgent moments moping over it, but some things just aren’t meant to work out.

    And right now, I’d happily live in a cave if it meant my husband could just chase a baseball with his sons.

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