© 2017 by Dr. David Buscher, D.Ac.
I walk to work, about a mile each way (uphill both ways in the snow). About eighteen months ago, I made that journey twice each day because I would go home at lunch to take care of my sick dog, and after a few weeks of that, my left foot started to hurt. I could get the pain to go away with acupuncture, but it always came back after a few more days of walking on it.
After a while of this, I went to an orthopedist who diagnosed me with tendonitis and gave me a brace I was supposed to wear to relieve the stress on the tendon. He also recommended I take ibuprofen to reduce the inflammation. None of this had any affect on the cycle of pain, and on a follow-up visit, he seemed mystified, as if I had actually been suffering from an ibuprofen and foot-brace deficiency all along.
I never stopped walking to work, but after I stopped wearing the brace, I became very aware of my gait, how my left foot and calf flexed and extended differently—less smoothly—than my right. On some commutes, I would make a conscious effort to step more fluidly on my left leg, and it was on those that I realized that the pain did not manifest; the times I walked less mindfully, my foot would be throbbing by the time I got home.
As a healthcare practitioner, I have studied pain in some depth. I am aware of the complex mechanics of it. I am also aware of my profession’s preoccupation with diagnosis, the freezing of a complex living system into one abstract phrase that describes only one mechanical aspect of it. So what is my diagnosis? Inflammation of the peroneus brevis tendon? That dreaded ibuprofen deficiency? Walking funny?
A lack of awareness?
One of my great mentors, Dianne Connelly, a great and sage healer, always says that the first thing a headache should do is remind us is that we have a head. The other, Bob Duggan, said that symptoms are a wake-up call from our body.
When I am awake, when I am reminded I have a foot, when I am aware of my presence in the world in a different way, there is no pain for a while. When I insert a needle into my hand to balance the meridians in my foot, there is no pain for a while. One of these is more empowering than the other, but both are teachers.