Sunday, 3 June 2018

Reflections on World Club Foot Day

There they are, in all their misshappen, scarred, unfiltered, modern Prometheus-like glory - my two club feet. The challenging appendages at the end of my pale, corgi legs, the body parts that cast a shadow across every aspect of my life. 

I was both fortunate and dead unlucky to be born in Australia in 1976 - fortunate because Mr Peter Dewey, an excellent orthopaedic surgeon happened to live and work in the town where I was born. He started work on my feet from the time I was a baby, right through to when I was 18 and 19 for my final surgeries, for which he came out of semi-retirement, in between doing amazing work with land mine victims in Cambodia.

Without him - or if I was born in a less developed era or lived in a less developed country - I probably wouldn't be able to walk. I would have been doomed as a sad, crippled girl who would not have had the opportunities to get educated, travel the world, drive cars, work as a journalist in three different countries, meet the love of my life in an Abu Dhabi newspaper office after chasing boys with varying levels of success, and generally have a pretty amazing time. I still laugh when I think of the time my friend Stephen said I could open a bar, call it Club Foot and the slogan could be "Club Foot: Where you get down and fall down". 

But since 1976, the Ponseti Method has come a long way and I will never know if it could have prevented me from having to go through 13 reconstructive operations, involving long stints up to my knees in plaster, multiple stitches on the tops of my feet, the sides of my feet and up the back of my ankles, internal clips, and heavy scarring.

Even with Mr Dewey's brilliant work on my feet, I still get intense swelling in extremes of hot weather (or even on this mildly warm British day...), ironically white-hot pain in cold weather, arthritis has bedevilled my left ankle to the point where I cannot be trusted to safely operate a clutch, the way I walk affects my knees, hips and back, it can can enhance my inherent clumsiness, and sometimes I have to sit down or lie down or take painkillers. Or I simply might not leave the house because it's too uncomfortable and I don't always trust my feet not to seize up on public transport or while trying to walk somewhere. It won't get any better as I get older.

Despite the desperation of a mansplainer on Facebook the other day who presumed to know my own reality better than I do, my experience of club feet is not a "minor condition". Forty-two years of experience with these damn feet means I know how to manage the condition but it's something that I am aware of every single day to a greater or lesser degree.

On a superficial level, I get frustrated when trying to buy vaguely attractive shoes - I can walk in plenty of ugly shoes but buying shoes for special occasions is a nightmare. If one more person, no matter how well-meaning, tells me I simply haven't found the right high heels or I just need to buy really expensive high heels, I cannot be responsible for my actions. I cannot walk in anything higher than about an inch and I do not need people telling me that I would suddenly dance about like a gazelle if only I bought Manolo Blahniks or had a pair of heels especially made for me. Trust me, I have tried and failed to wear heels and I am less gazelle and more stumbling, newborn foal. My feet are held together with clips and cannot bend into the unnatural pose required to convincingly wear skyscraper shoes. Leave me the hell alone with your obsession with getting me into shoes that will only cause me needless misery. I am at peace with my huge collection of flats.

But I write this not to wallow in self-pity - such innovations as DSG gearboxes, good painkillers, carrying Deep Heat and Deep Freeze in my handbag, cute flat shoes, kitten heels, physiotherapy, strapping for my ankles available at any pharmacy in the land, and simply being affluent enough to afford a warm, comfortable house and bed are among the things that improve my life. Even though I am too old to take advantage of the less invasive Ponseti method for club feet, I do not want the next generation of club foot patients to miss out, no matter where they are in the world.

In the UK, the Ponseti method is available on the NHS and Great Ormond Street Hospital and the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in particular do great work in this regard. I met a beautiful little boy at a friend's baby shower a few years ago. He was resplendent in a pair of bright blue boots as part of his Ponseti treatment - and it was an absolute joy to reassure his mother that life with club feet will not hold him back. It would be amazing if this good fortune was global and therefore merely the way things are rather than a matter of luck in life's lottery.


To find out more about club feet and to ensure club feet patients everywhere here are some helpful links:

Steps Charity

The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital


Cure Clubfoot

Global Clubfoot Initiative

1 comment:

  1. Well expressed Georgia.
    As you know I have empathy with you and know exactly how it feels to have club feet. The arthritis is no fun.
    However it does not stop us from being talented!!!!!
    I have never owned a pair of high heels and have never felt the need to wear exotic shoes.
    Keep up the good work with your writing. Always a pleasure to read your thoughts.