Well. Right now, frustration seems to be THE word. I’d like to file a compliant. I warn. A somewhat whiney complaint. Against Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Thank you EDS, for making mobility that is already precarious just that much more difficult…
Here’s the thing: I have on again/off again tendonitis in my left ankle. This is partially due to the fact that both my ankle joints are extremely hypermobile due to the wonders of EDS. But it is also partially because of the damaged nerves in my lower spinal cord. Due to this damage, the gluteus medius muscle and tibialis posterior tendon, the tendon that runs inside the ankle, are weak and dysfunctional. Both areas have a tendency to ache and become inflamed when they work too hard, but my ankle is particularly picky. It will not tolerate just any shoe or just any pavement. Oh no no no no. It demands just the RIGHT shoe: no heel, roomy toe box, and most importantly a solid arch support. It would also like an orthotic insert, but I after a so-so experience with several pairs of those as an adolescent I stubbornly swore them off forever. It is probably high time to re-introduce them, but I’m gonna have to work up to that. You see I fear, perhaps irrationally–I hear there was been a lot of progress in insert technology–that they will limit my footwear options even further, and trust me that pool is already very very small. Anyway. The second my left ankle senses that the arch support in a particular shoe is starting to show even the slightest sign of wear it immediately launches an extreme protest, becoming inflamed, painful, and swollen. It it a common enough occurrence around here and I do have, or at least thought I had, a fairly good strategy for managing it. Switch to shoes with better arch supports even if that means, resources permitting, going out and buying a new pair. Rest and elevation. NSAIDS. Normally this protocol works pretty well. It may not alleviate all the pain right away, but it does usually reduce it from an “Oh my god don’t you dare put any weight on me!” roar to a niggling “Hey. I’m tendonitis, and I’m still here.” wimper. This time, however, I will be the first to admit, I failed to comply with step one of the protocol. I did not switch shoes immediately. I did not switch shoes at all. And here is why: Russian spring.
It is April here in Moscow. The layers of snow and ice that have accumulated over the course of the Motherland’s long winter are finally beginning to melt. This can only mean one thing: MUD. Lots and lots of mud. And it is not just any mud. Thanks to the thousands of motorists that clog Moscow’s streets and the lack of emissions controls in Russia in general, the mud here is mixed with a healthy amount of automotive excrement and copious amounts of motor oil. Which of course, to the joy of aided mobilizers, only serves to make walking surfaces that much slicker. This particular combination of muck, oil, and moisture also has the tendency to ruin footwear, even, or rather, especially, high quality, just-out-of-the-box footwear. In the United States, finding a pair of shoes or boots that I can actually walk in and wear long term can take an entire day at best and several days at worst. The search often involves trips to several stores and almost always comes with a price tag that eats a sizable chunk out of my monthly budget. And this is under optimal shoe shopping circumstances. In Moscow, all shopping is far from optimal, as the goods available tend to fall into two categories: cheap and not built to last longer than two months at best or luxury goods. As an American, when I think of “luxury goods” I think of brands like Louis Vuitton and Cartier, but in Moscow, any item that is not made in China or the former Soviet Union is subjected to such extreme mark-ups that even a brand as middle market as the Gap can become a luxury item. So what is the average Russian consumer to do? The majority of Russians buy the goods for everyday living from the cheap and not built to last category. However, when it comes to buying an item that needs to be used for a long period of time, such a winter boots or summer shoes, it is not uncommon to see someone forking over their entire monthly salary to pay for a high or middle quality brand that here and only here–anything for example with the word “Levi’s” stitched onto it–falls into the “luxury goods” category.
I however, was not keen on doing this. You see, I knew in advance what a nightmare shoe buying in the Russian Federation can be for someone whose footwear options are already limited. I devoted much of my limited baggage space to shoes, toting not only an excellent pair of winter boots, but also TWO pairs of high quality spring/summer shoes, all with good arch support. I had also left last year’s winter/early spring boots here with a friend of mine. They were a touch worn-in, but because I didn’t want to subject my high quality, carefully selected footwear to the perils of the Moscow spring muck, I decided to bring them out only in a muck emergency and only for one or two weeks at a time. Well the muck emergency arrived about a week ago, and as planned, I started wearing last year’s boots. And that’s when my ankle started pitching its hissy fit. “Arch supports with a few months of wear? You thought you’d get away with that? Ha ha ha ha. Oh no you don’t.” The pain increased, but I stubbornly persisted. I was not about to switch to a pair of perfectly good shoes only to see them ruined, and I had no money to squander on a new pair of boots only to see them spoiled by May. So. I just kept walking. Over Moscow notorious uneven surfaces. I tried to ignore the pain. I tried to rest and elevate my ankle. I tried the NSAIDS. I told myself that since I had my crutch, my ankle wasn’t working as hard as it might be, and so SURELY that should help. In an act of ultimate defiance, I took a trip this weekend to the provincial city of Tver’, where disability access remains unheard of and the general lack of infrastructure is striking, even by Russian standards. And for this, I stubbornly and stupidly refused to change my shoes. Instead, I spent much of the day standing and walking on uneven surfaces, telling myself that my ankle would get to rest on the three hour train trip home. My ankle, however, had other ideas. On the trip back it started to throb and swell magnificently. And by the next morning the pain was so intense and the swelling so bad that it couldn’t bear any weight, even with the aid of my trusty crutch. So instead of spending Monday in the library or archive as planned, I stayed home in my little flat with my foot propped up, popping NSAIDS like candy, and tried to focus on writing with very little luck. Fortunately, ever so fortunately, this extreme measure has yielded positive results: I can walk with my crutch enough now that I can get myself to the library and the archive. However, the shoe problem remains, and I think I now have no other choice but to capitulate. Since the weather is still too cold for my summer shoes and too warm for winter boots, I’m going to have to go out and buy a pair of overpriced decent shoes that will ultimately be sacrificed to the Moscow muck. And I hate this. I hate that I have to go out and spend good money, money I could use for a research trip, on overpriced footwear. I hate that my ankle won’t tolerate something cheap that can be worn out quickly and thrown away without regret in a month. I hate that I’m going to have to spend two days of work time tracking down a single pair of wearable shoes. I hate that, because Russian women are generally expected to wear high heels whenever possible, the hunt for something flat will be that much more difficult. I really do try not to let the negative aspects of EDS interfere with my life. But right now, it has me pretty frustrated. And I hate that too.