Filtering the Noise
Information, as my first-year writing students and I discussed the other day, offers both unlimited potential and unlimited responsibility. What began as a classroom discussion of public health campaigns segued into a conversation about our overly saturated world of cable news, wireless Internet, and twenty-four hour headlines.
How do we know what to classify as important, even essential, and what can be pushed aside for now? It’s a question that faces all of my writing students, certainly, but also one that touches on the core of what it means to be a chronic patient.
As soon as class got out, I headed to a podiatry appointment. My dog had eaten my orthotics, which was probably a blessing because they were several years old and I really needed new ones. Once inside the exam room, the doctor and I spent the requisite amount of time going over my medical history, starting first with the chronic conditions, then the joint problems.
“Well, I had my right ankle reconstructed when I was 14, and I’ve sprained my left meniscus a few times. But both feel great right now, no problems. I have tendonitis in my left hip and my left arm, but I’ve got that under control. I’m your typical flat-feet, hips-turned-in, rolling-ankles patient who needs orthotics,” I told him.
He began the exam, rolling and flexing, pushing and prodding. No problem.
He put pressure on my left heel. I yelped. He put pressure on my right heel. This time, I winced.
“So you have heel pain? When does it bother you?” he asked.
I explained that I didn’t have pain too much, just every morning when I woke up and put my feet on the ground and anytime I walked without wearing my orthotics and sneakers. It had been like that for a couple of years.
“So, what you’re saying is that they hurt every morning and whenever you put weight on them without wearing orthotics?”
I nodded, feeling sheepish. When he put it like that, it sure sounded like a lot of pain. Not intense pain, but pain that occurred regularly.
Turns out, I have plantar fasciitis, a condition where the tissue connecting the heel bone to the toes is inflamed and tight. It’s an injury of overuse and often affects people with flat feet. He recommended different stretching exercises and splints to wear at night. Physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medication were other option if that didn’t help. If it had been bothering me for an extended period of time I probably should have seen someone earlier, he added.
I smiled. Managing the different treatments and therapies and evaluating the various symptoms of my medical conditions could be a full-time job if I wanted it to be. The heel thing was a nagging side nuisance, a faint hum of static that came in on my frequency. Symptoms are yet more pieces of information my brain has to process every day, and sometimes I only have time or inclination to deal with the urgent ones.
That being said, I am glad my dog ate my old orthotics so that I was forced to address my plantar fasciitis. After all, as a journalist I know that sometimes a valid point or important headline gets buried in the text or the Web page and you need a good editor or careful reader to point it out. My heel problem is not major, it’s not glamorous, but it is something worth recognizing.