My Holiday Gift: A Stress Fracture

I eyed the 4-inch stilettos warily.

"You want me to try those?" I asked my mom in disbelief. She nodded, giving me all the reasons to stick my foot in that horrendous contraption.

I finally conceded, hoping that we'd leave promptly afterwards. After I strapped them on, I stood up stiffly and began walking. No more than a minute passed before a sharp pain had built up in the ball of my left foot, where we usually stood on relevé in gymnastics. I gritted my teeth: I had to sit down, but the chairs were a good distance away. I tried relieving the pain by shifting my weight onto my right leg, but the moment I shifted back, it returned with a vengeance. I had to sit down, now. Taking a deep breath, I hobbled back over to the chairs as quickly as I could.

I probably look like an uncoordinated chicken, a part of me thought in dismay, but I didn't really care. Once I sat down, I nearly ripped off the heel and massaged my foot. I looked up to see my mom staring down at me, confused.

"Is something hurting?" she asked. I cocked my head to the side and narrowed my eyes. She didn't notice?

"Yeah," I replied, "my foot hurt, so I had to scramble back here. That's why I was walking funny."

The puzzled expression remained on her face. Finally, she said: "You were always walking like that."

Fast-forward a few years: my sister drives me into Children's Hospital for a long overdue appointment for my foot. I tried to convince my mom not to schedule one since I could still train full out, albeit painfully. It couldn't be that bad, right?

Apparently I wasn't persuasive in the least, because the first day of winter break I find myself seated in front of a doctor trying to describe my pain.

"Where does it hurt?"

I shrug and motion in the general area.

"When did it start?"

Again I shrug -- it's been hurting for so many years that I can't remember it not hurting. The doctor sends me straight to radiology to get an X-ray. Getting films for my right foot is a breeze, but then we have to get an image of the bottom of my left foot.

"Go on your tiptoes," the lady instructs kindly, and I cautiously go on relevé with my left foot's toes in the center of a black film.

"Now, put your right leg in front and squat." I bend my knees slightly until a flash of pain stops me. I stare at her, hoping she'll tell me it's enough, but she just waits patiently.

"A little further," she says, and I clutch the railing on the wall next to me for support. "We really need the heel out of the way to get a clean shot of the bottom of your foot."

Finally, my foot is bent enough.

"Ok perfect! Just hold it right there..." she calls as she rushes to take the film. I begin to lean against the wall until a sudden "Don't move!" jolts me back into place. I squeeze my eyes shut and count, but my mind can't focus on anything other than the pain. I look frantically towards the room she entered. When is it going to be over?

"Ok, ready?" For much too long, I think bitterly. "1...2...3. Done." I quickly push all my weight onto my right leg, and as my left foot's toes straighten, the pain spikes sharply. That better be a really good film.

We head up again and wait for the doctor to analyze the films. She enters our room stoically.

"You have a stress fracture on your sesamoid bone," she announces, "and there's been some damage and inflammation around the surrounding tendons, since you probably tried to avoid putting pressure on it." I glance at my sister, seeing my surprise at the gravity of my foot's condition reflected in her expression. The questions come pouring out.

How severe is it?

What can I do to heal it?

Can I still compete this season?

The doctor barely blinks at my last question. She looks me straight in the eye, and answers succinctly: "Yes."

That's all I need to hear. She says I should do physical therapy every day and wear a medical boot to keep the stress fracture from worsening, but those are minor. Because this is my senior year in high school, my last year training and competing in rhythmic gymnastics, and there's no way I'm sitting out this season.