You remember Achilles, right? The mythological Greek warrior? Brave hero of the Trojan War? He was magically invulnerable to all enemy attack except for a tiny spot on his heel. So of course, it was an arrow to the heel that finally killed him.
Like him (and perhaps the only trait we share), my Achilles heel has turned out to be my actual heel — a place of weakness and vulnerability that has rendered me painfully mortal.
One morning a few months ago, I woke up and blithely stepped out of bed, letting out a shriek of unexpected pain. It was like a mythical Greek warrior was stabbing a poisoned arrow into the bottom of my foot.
Further investigation revealed I had contracted the dreaded plantar fasciitis, and it's become the bane of my existence ever since. Eventually, after weeks of stretching and taping and Advil and ice, and desperate for healing, I hobbled to the dreaded orthotic shoe store.
After adding to my indignity by making me parade barefoot while she and other patrons looked at me sadly, the sales person said she knew exactly what I needed. But when she opened the shoe box, I shrank back in horror.
“I can't possibly wear those awful things,” I blurted, instantly knowing the derision I'd suffer in my footwear-obsessed office environment. They were big and black and thick and ugly, the kind you see on every slow-moving 85-year-old you've ever known.
“Well, would you rather be in excruciating pain?” she tactfully responded. So, yes, I left with “the shoes,” and they're on my feet right now, morning till night. They're hideous, it's true. But they're comfortable, and relief was almost instantaneous.
Unfortunately, I wasn't wrong about the psychological price I'd pay from the mockery of my colleagues. Basically, they seem to believe that no condition, no matter how painful, warrants being seen in public wearing something that aesthetically horrible.
One particularly heartless coworker says I was misdiagnosed, and actually have “plantar fashionitis.” She's clever, but cruel. I've started telling people my feet don't really hurt at all, and I'm just protesting the the superficiality of the culture.
But like everything in life, this unpleasant experience has reminded me of something important — the many ways we angrily resist all perceived attacks on independence and image, even when it clearly comes at the expense of our own comfort and safety.
I've seen it now in myself, just like I've witnessed it in the resistance of the elderly to the many services and products available to make life easier and more fulfilling as we age. Like the fragile and dignified man who refuses to use a cane, even though he risks a life-destroying fall with every step. Like the elegant woman who disdains any assistive device to help her rise from a chair, preferring to struggle to her feet, hovering perilously between sinking back or falling forward into disaster.
At the far end of the scale, I think it's often why many seniors don't decide to move onto an independent or assisted living campus on their own terms while they could actually enjoy the camaraderie and amenities offered — and before they have to. It would be an embarrassing admission of defeat at the hands of life, a losing battle we've been taught to fight at any cost.
It's possible that in a few years, I'll feel the same way and do the same thing, clinging to my home, habits and misguided independence far past when it's wise, and eventually accessing a long-term care setting via an ambulance. But I certainly hope not.
My bad case of plantar fashionitis reminds me to keep an open mind, to value my own comfort and safety over concern about what other people will think. To shamelessly seek help wherever it's available, and to accept without resistance the inevitable changes our existence eventually requires.
Had I been fighting by his side at the battle of Troy that fateful day, I'd have shared a potentially life-saving message with that brave Greek warrior: “Swallow your pride, Achilles. Just wear the shoes.”
Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a national Silver Medalist and regional Gold Medal winner in the 2014 Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program. He has amused, informed and sometimes befuddled long-term care readers worldwide since his debut with the former SNALF.com at the end of a previous century. He is a multimedia consultant for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.