To my friend with diabetes, on losing her foot

Anna Kander
Iowa City, IA (Fall 2017)

 

The author’s friend, almost sixty years ago–when
she was first diagnosed with Type I Diabetes and
told she probably wouldn’t survive to adulthood.

You walk sixty-seven years while childhood
diabetes, against your iron will, poisons your peripheral
nerves with sugar, and the muscles of your feet, starved
of circulation, gradually dissolve.

Your toes gnarl and curl backward at wild
angles, as if aspiring to adorn gargoyles. (You’ve
always had a dragon-and-knight heart.) Unruly tendons
draw themselves into bows, aiming toes in every direction.

The doctor calls nerve death a blessing:
unmuffled shrieks of twisting bones, no one could
stand. But nerve death isn’t sudden, like cremation;
electric signals climb your calves like flames.

First, you walk in special shoes; then, titanium
braces, laced to your knees. Then, as orthotic specialists
bite their fingernails, you cut holes in shoe leather with
razors, because you have places no one can touch.

A medical resident offers custom replacements:
braces with art printed on the back of your calves. You
imagine the black-on-black silhouette of an animal
whose feet don’t have to touch the ground. You
imagine a city to save. You say, “Batman.”

Black on black is more than a side-eye at fate.
You’re making an all-season fashion statement: black
shirts, black knee socks, elastic waists in cropped black
pants to hold insulin pumps and air your knees.

(Your nerves still crackle like static.)

The new braces arrive, featuring 1950s comic-
book Batman—blue cape and yellow belt, swinging a
punch and yelling “Bam!” because nothing turns out as
we anticipate. At the checkout line in the grocery store,
you become popular among small children.

Your toes still vogue, striking midnight poses,
defying you to rein in their social lives. The doctor, that
killjoy, assigns medical devices like curfews: each
night, strap your soles to stiff boards and pull them
toward your nose, to preserve the length of your
tendons.

“No walking in night splints!” he instructs. Ha!
The kitchen is all the way downstairs, and that’s where
the coffee pot lives, and you’d like to meet the hero
who ties shoes without caffeine. The orthopedist
surrenders, flips over your worn splints, and starts
gluing treads.

Your tootsies are all-terrain vehicles, but the
surgeons call them Charcot feet, after some French
doctor. They translate: your feet are “bags of bones.”
Your grandchild mishears and begs to see your
marvelous “shark-o” feet.

You blame the Discovery Channel,
which hosts “Shark Week.” You’d take a bite out of experts,
all right. They have so much to say about science—and so
little to say about the science of you. When you were
twelve years old, they gave you insulin and pessimism.
They said you’d never grow up—but you did.

You tower, and now they want to amputate.
When the surgery is over, lean on me. I’m sending you
into the operating room wearing a clean, white sock.
On the sock—with a thick, black marker—I’ve drawn a face that smiles.

Sock, tell the surgeon that this woman is loved.


Anna Kander, MSW, completed her social work degree in the Midwest. She writes poetry and fiction with her sidekick, a fearless blue fish who doesn’t realize he’s one inch tall. She has published articles and book chapters on mental health, law, politics, and gender. Find her at annakander.com.