Runner down!

by david

It was a lovely afternoon in the Boston area, and I was excited to get out and run. It was my long run for the week, and I was killing it. I felt great.

At the halfway point, 3.5 miles from my house, my running app announced the mileage, and though I felt I could have run another mile out, I dutifully turned around, and feeling good, made my way to the intersection without changing my pace, looked both ways for oncoming traffic, and stepped out to cross and head home.


I was watching for danger from cars on the road, not the road itself. I had unknowingly come down right on the edge of a pothole, the inner side of my left sole caught just a wisp of concrete–maybe the width of a julienned carrot–but that was enough to ensure than I didn’t thunk fully into the pothole, but instead twisted my foot over entirely.

I knew it was hurt, but I was in the road, so I trotted across. Because I trotted across, I thought, “maybe it’s not so bad,” so I jogged a pained little burst to see how it took weight. It didn’t take weight well. So I gingerly walked up the hill towards the town center, putting my weight on the inside and back of my foot, where the pain wasn’t so severe. That worked for awhile, maybe 200 feet. Then I stopped to lean on a parking meter. At that point, a concerned middle aged couple stopped, and the man asked if I was OK.

“You know, I think I just broke my foot.” As I said this, it was news to me, but I was pretty certain it was true.

“You broke your foot?”

“Yeah, in a, in a pothole back there. By the, uh… (I couldn’t remember the word “library”)…” I waved back down the hill.

“What do you need?”

“I need to get to Natick Center, I guess.”

“Could you call a cab?”

“Yeah, I could do that. I just need to…”

They suggested the bench in front of the ice cream shop. I plopped down on the bench and called my wife. I don’t call her while I’m out running, so she answered with, “Are you OK?”

“Yeah, but, uh, I think I broke my foot.” We talked logistics. Our kids were both asleep. If I’d lost the foot, maybe waking the children would be an OK move. But a possible break? No no no. I’d call a cab, I’d come home, I’d elevate and ice it, and we’d reassess.

I called three cab companies. The first two had no cabs. The third would send one in 15 minutes. So for fifteen minutes, I sat on the bench, wearing one shoe, looking at my surely broken foot in wonder. Or, I’d have been content to pass the time this way. There was a knocking on the window behind me. It was the woman from the couple. She mimed drinking. I smiled, thanked her, held up my water bottle. I played with my phone for a moment.

Two young women approached me with clipboards. “We’re students at Boston University doing market research. Do you have 3 minutes to answer some questions for us?” I looked at my foot. It could bear this weight. I said yes. One student asked my impression of a local boutique hotel, how frequently I stay in hotels in my own city (this is a question that gets asked, apparently), and what I thought of a proposed package deal at said romantic local boutique hotel. It sounded like a great deal for people who stay in hotels in their own city.

Midway through the interview, the concerned woman from inside brought me a bag of ice, interrupting the interview to say, “in case it’s not broken, ice might help a lot.” This was very kind of her, and I put the ice on my foot. The bag was paper, and immediately began to deteriorate. So I was holding some rapidly shredding paper and a growing pile of ice cubes was pouring from the used-to-be bag into my hands. Even though it was just ice, it didn’t seem right to drop it on the sidewalk, as that could cause somebody else to have a traumatic foot experience. So I stood up and hobbled around aimlessly in the small area around the bench trying to find a place to dispose of the mess. There was nowhere. The ice cream shop had no outside trashcan, just a watering bowl for passing dogs. I thought of putting the ice in the bowl, but I wasn’t sure. The woman returned then, carrying lots of paper napkins. They were lining her outstretched arms. Largely through gesture, she explained that I should dump the ice into her arms, which I awkwardly did. I then stumbled back to the bench and continued answering questions about boutique hotels I could stay in if I didn’t have a home in this city. The market researchers continued admirably in the face of my clear physical suffering.

They moved on, and a young couple emerged from the ice cream shop. The sat beside me on the bench, and as I sent a text message to my wife and checked the time repeatedly, they talked. He was impressing her with tales of his outdoor adventures in Alaska. They seemed very nice, and I hope it was a pleasant first or second date. He had a lot to say about one friend’s prowess with an ice pick. She said she’d love to go to Fairbanks, and he said he knew a guy in Fairbanks who’d been on reality TV three times.

The taxi arrived. The driver saw me waving, and he made no response. He continued driving. He drove a block, and then pulled over at the next intersection. So I stood up and walked.

The time I’d sat had done nothing good at all for my foot. Though I’d walked up a hill to get here, now it was agony to walk a block on flat ground. I walked with my leg sideways, putting all of my weight awkwardly on the inside of that foot, dragging the leg along until I got to the car. The driver didn’t apologize for passing me by, but did explain that it wasn’t legal to pull over on this road where I was because technically it’s a state highway. OK, that’s plausible. He drove me home, giving me lots of medical advice along the way. Courteously, he revealed that he was not a doctor, which was a relief to me.

At home, I crawled up the front stairs, plopped down on the couch, put my foot up, and applied ice. We discussed scenarios for getting an x-ray. Taking a baby to the emergency room seemed inadvisable. Having them drop me off would freak out my three-year-old daughter. I could call another cab, but then there’d need to be a third, and this was getting expensive. “Why don’t I drive myself?” I suggested. It was my left foot that was the problem, and our car is an automatic. I’d be fine!

I hobbled to the car, drove myself to the hospital, and found the parking lot nearest the emergency room. Putting as little weight as possible on the foot, I made my way, but a short ways along, I realized it was hurting too bad to keep on like this.

So I began hopping on one foot down the hill from the parking lot to the hospital. This was working! I was pain free! Not just pain free, but building up  momentum!

Uh oh. How was I going to stop? The other foot would have to be my brake. Otherwise, I risked just pitching forward onto my face. Realizing I was looking at either a  faceplant or an excruciating collision of broken foot and pavement, I veered toward the mulch. And sure enough, my central nervous system, sensing a fall coming, threw that bad foot out to stop the fall. The softer ground was a blessing, but oh, holy… I regained my footing and pressed onward, now on flat ground, so I began hopping again. A nurse emerged from the building. Her shift was over, but as she approached, she said, “Do you need a wheelchair?”

The correct answer was “yes” but my answer was “I’ve made it this far by pogoing, I think I’ll just keep going.”

“They’re not busy  in there at all. They could bring one out.”

I didn’t want to make her go back in. She was off shift. I declined, and pogoed my way into the emergency room. The staff of the emergency admissions desk was  amused by the style of my arrival.  I accepted their offer of a wheelchair. They asked me what happened, and I told them. “I hope it’s a sprain,” I said. “But I guess I should find out if, I don’t know, I broke my fifth metatarsal.” I’d been Googling while on the couch.

So, here’s the thing:

I broke my fifth metatarsal.

my broken foot

When I woke up, this photo would have been more symmetric.

I probably broke it in the pothole. Maybe on the hill up to the ice cream shop. Maybe running around the entrance of the shop with a bag of ice. Possibly chasing a cab. Potentially while pogoing through an emergency room parking lot. But really, almost certainly in that pothole. I felt it happen. I knew.

So I have a splint and crutches, and will be calling an orthopedist first thing tomorrow.  My house is full of steep steps and small child-laid booby traps. I really hope the crutches are just a short-term thing.

What does it mean for my training? Well, I won’t be running the May half marathon I signed up for. I still fully intend to run the marathon for TC in January. It will take at least 4-6 weeks to heal, but the orthopedist is going to call the shots there, and I haven’t met him yet. There’s no telling how my foot will heal, or at what pace.

What’s really depressing is that by breaking my foot, I’ve made my wife’s life extremely difficult: she’s gone from having a partner in raising two kids to having three kids. I’m useless. Maybe if I can get a walking cast, I can be helpful, but on crutches, and with agonizing pain when I put my foot down, I’m, at least on day one, utterly useless. I can’t soothe the baby to sleep: I can’t carry our daughter. I can’t pick up the baby, walk him across the room, and sit down to feed him. I can’t move with a glass of water. I can’t get down to the basement for laundry. I can’t carry dishes with my hands on crutches. My full list of accomplishments: I was able to remove something from the oven.

God of Walking Casts, smile upon me. Let me walk. Please.

That run? It was going really well. I was killing it.