“Don’t call it a comeback.” (Singing)
My legs throbbed. Pain surged through my feet, stabbing at my resolve. The taste of stomach acid crept up into my mouth–I was buying a ticket home.
I looked away from the hotel lobby’s computer, staring down at my shattered toe nail. A fragment had become lodged in the side of my big toe, drawing in a voracious infection. The bones in the bottom of my feet felt like they had been tenderized by a jack hammer. I was hurt.
I went back to the computer, scrolling around for deals. Website after website promised me cheaper flights, pretending like they were my friends–each one of them making home just a click away.
I kept running the scenario through my head: go home to my doctor, get fixed, and fly back. The whole thing seemed simple enough, but was it possible? Was it plausible to actually find the willpower to come back out to the AT after enjoying the home life? I wasn’t sure. The only thing I was sure of was that I was too injured to continue.
So, reluctantly, I purchased my ticket and flew home, leaving the AT for good…
My first stop was the ER. I landed late in the afternoon–after bidding my hiking buddy a tearful goodbye inside a damp motel room back in New York–and went right to the VA (a hospital for veterans). I explained my injuries to the doctor, going into great details over when they occurred and for how long my injuries had been bothering me. He smiled and called me an idiot.
“You should’ve stopped the moment your feet started to hurt,” he said.
“Then I would’ve been calling you from Springer,” I replied. The joke went right over his head.
He stopped talking and pulled out a long needle from a locked drawer. He looked it over, measuring out some liquid from a glass vile. He told me he was going to stick it deep into my hip. I told him to stick it deep up his as–he politely declined.
Skip forward fifteen minutes.
I rubbed my hip, complaining about the shot he had just given me, when he pulled out another needle. I cried instantly, squirming in my seat. He promised me it wasn’t going in my hip, reassuring me that it would hurt much less than the previous one. As it turns out, he was a compulsive liar.
This needle, a particularly menacing-looking one, dove deep into the two nerves in my big toe. I screamed, trying my best to hold still. But there was a problem… lidocaine is extremely painful. I’m not kidding. The needle was annoying, but the lidocaine felt like he used an oyster shucker to carve up my toe.
So, two boxes of tissues later and he had removed the broken nails in my toes. I was grateful but not releaved. You see, the toe wasn’t the reason I went home–it was actually the bottom of my feet. My right leg had been shattered, and my left thigh peppered, by a suicide bomber back in 2006, and they had never fully recovered. So, to say the least, I had concerns.
The doctors ran me through X-rays and prodded the bruising on my feet with their hands, ultimately coming to the same conclusion: my legs both suck–big surprise. I had nerve damage in both feet and the bones were bruised. That was it, my Thru-hike was over.
Or was it?
Just as I was about to start wallowing in defeat, a curious little guy in a white lab coat approached me.
“Let me see your shoes,” he said, motioning for me to take them off.
“Sure,” I said, wondering if he was just a fan of bad smells or a guy with a foot fetish.
As it turned out, he was a podiatrist–so both. He had been listening to my conversations with the ER docotors, and he had an idea. First, he made me walk up and down the hall for a bit, watching my feet closely. Then, he disappeared into the back, moving with unrivaled intrigue. When he returned he was carrying a pair of orthopedic inserts–a thick blue pair with high arch support.
The problem, or so he told me, wasn’t that my legs were garbage but that my weight distribution sucked. I, apparently, walked on the outside of my feet, putting too much pressure on too small of an area.
“So these inserts with make my nerves stop screaming?” I asked, emphatically gesturing towards my feet.
“God no,” he said, shaking his head for good measure. “Your legs both suck.”
“Awesome,” I muttered.
“But,” he said, pulling out a prescription pad. “This ointment should help the nerves.”
I was saved. In a matter of mere minutes one man had figured out the answers to my problems. The was a catch, of course–as there always is. I needed time to heal. I couldn’t just undo what I had already done with simple shoe inserts and some medicine. No, I needed to rest, and so that’s what I did. I spent three weeks going from Epsom salt soaks to ice and back again, doing my best to stress my feet as litttle as possible everyday.
And, after what felt like an eternity, I find myself back on the trail, taking on The Whites. Now, if you were paying attention to the title, you might be asking yourself, “So why not call it a comeback?”
Well, I didn’t so much ‘comeback’ to my traditional NOBO as I did turn it into an awkward Flip Flop. You see, I hopped back on with my hiking buddy to continue heading north–skipping a small portion–and once we’ve reached Katahdin I’ll flip back down to finish the short section I missed. It sucks having to change my plans around, but I’m just happy to be back out here.
So, I would like to end by saying, “Thank you. Thank you to all the people who sent me well-wishes on Instagram while I was home and for those who continue to follow me on my journey now. Thank you to the kind people I’ve met along the way and thank you to those who are just now joining me. We’re almost there, guys, and I could not have done it without you.”
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