I rarely share this family secret, but there is really no reason why it should not be shared. When I was a child I was obese, not just fat, but a regular walking blimp. This caused problems getting clothes to fit. My mother had to take me into NYC for ‘husky’ boys pants. Back in those days, these were a rare commodity and certainly not available anywhere near where we lived in NJ. On the bright side, my father worked for the railroad and we were able to ride for free all along the line. NYC was only an hour and 1/2 away.
Besides a fat bod, my feet were like two watermelons and could only fit into a triple E width shoe. Normal size for men is a D. With these over-sized boat feet, all of my shoes had to be special ordered. There was only one shoe store in the county willing to do this; it was a children’s shoe store in Red Bank, NJ called Buster Brown’s. If you are old enough to remember that name, they only sold Buster Brown shoes. Buster and his dog Tige were ingrained in my childhood memories.
The heartbreak for my parents though was that having to have my width shoe special ordered, the cost was much higher off the shelf shoes in stock. It also cut back on the styles I was able to wear. I remember a pair called the “High Flyers”, a tasteful black shoe with a shoe horn shaped piece of leather down the front. It did not require shoe laces. The horn part lifted up to expand the shoe for slipping it on. That was dazzlingly modern for that time, but they were not available in my xxxxxlarge width size. I was heartbroken and only able to wear the most mundane styles.
Next was the crusher that my feet were growing in rapid spurts in length, which required me to get new shoes often. However, the family budget was not capable of this regular expense, so I lived months at a time a like a geisha with my feet bound by tight leather. No one at the time spoke of the consequences of this or if they did, it was out of my hearing.
From my teen years forward when width vs length started to equalize, the damage had been done. Where my metatarsal meets the proximal phalanges on the second and third toes, they were forced to grow downward, rather than straight on a normal foot. This pushing of the bones downward causes a callous to form to protect the bone. Due to the pain of the callous, I have spent years in a podiatrist’s care having my calluses cared for.
When I first went to college, the podiatrist offered me ‘appliances’ a specially formed insert into the shoes that literally pushes the bones up from the back taking pressure away from the callused area. At that time, they were made of leather. That pair was heaven sent allowing me to wear whatever stylish shoes I wished. However, they only lasted a year. The sweat of my feet was enough to deteriorate the leather even with socks. At $300 a pop for the inserts, I kissed them good-bye and went back to the painful times of dealing with callouses.
Years later, I went back to a podiatrist, who suggested plastic inserts, newly developed to replace the problems with the leather ones. These too were expensive, but also a remedy for years. Then they started to turn on my too. The pain of the insert was overshadowed by the pain going without. They were chucked out. The podiatrist suggested yet another pair explaining that my feet may have changed with time and a new plaster mold would have to be taken to design new ones. I tried again, but instant agony with the new set. Walking was a crippling experience. My mother who had the same problem voted for surgery. She was unable to walk for 8 weeks. Her claim was that the pain was worse than childbirth. After three years, the problem developed again. There was no way I was going to jump on the surgery bandwagon.
The last podiatrist I went to suggested a new treatment of injecting collagen in the area, creating a pillow of cushion. At the time, the method was innovative and not fully tested, but I did it anyway. It worked wonders for about a year, before the collagen was absorbed into the system and disappeared. He also suggested I try Birkenstocks. This was my blessing. They were incredibly comfortable and I had sandals and closed toe styles. However, it was not until I discovered Crocs that my feet felt alive once again. Still, I spend as much money on foot creams, callous files, soothers, and softeners to fill two cabinets and there is still pain.