Tom Gilson

On Being Handicapped Again

It could be worse: I won’t need surgery on my foot, as I’ve been more than half expecting. Based an MRI report today, the verdict instead is that I need to stay in a removable cast and completely off my left foot for six to twelve weeks.


Most adults have about 206 bones. My count (other things being equal) was 208, but now I’m up to 210. Those extra bones are “accessory ossicles” in the peroneus longus tendon running along the outside of each foot. What are bones doing inside of tendons, you ask? I haven’t the slightest idea. It’s not an uncommon condition, though. You might have one or more of these bones yourself: they’re found in 26% of feet. As I understand it, they don’t usually cause trouble unless they break. The one in my left foot broke in two about sixteen years ago. The one in my right foot broke about five years ago. The ones in my left foot either healed together and broke again (that can happen, I’m told) or else they simply started irritating my tendon again a few weeks ago.

The treatment requires total non-weight-bearing rest for the foot, which is just about the opposite of total rest for the rest of me. Walking with crutches is hard work, and I still have a sore shoulder left over from not-totally-successful surgery year ago. This afternoon ago I placed an order for a wheeled “knee walker,” which ought to help considerably. It might prevent some damage around the house, too: I dropped three things today while trying to navigate, on crutches, the ordinarily simple process of making a sandwich.

Some perspective is called for at a time like this. I have a sister who would probably like to be able to say she was “handicapped again,” as I put it in the headline here. Her leg amputation at age 18 did not produce an intermittent kind of disability. Sometimes atheists ask, “Does God hate amputees? He never seems to answer their prayers for healing.” If it were my place to tell my sister’s story, you would learn that her amputation has not at all been her greatest challenge. Still she loves God, and she knows God loves her. The question, “Does God hate amputees?” would be mildly offensive if it weren’t simply laughable. God has other ways than healing to demonstrate his love.

Anyway, here I am at age 55, going through my third bout with accessory ossicle issues. (I like how those words roll off the tongue, don’t you? It may be the most mellifluous of all injuries.) Things fall apart. People do too. I learned about entropy in high school, but I never took it so personally then as I do now.

The apostle Paul wrote in Phillipians 1:21 that “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” He went on (Phil 1:22-26) to consider whether it would be better to go straight to be with the Lord, and rejected the idea only for the love of those who would remain behind. Still there is no doubt he was serious about the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus,” counting everything else as rubbish, and pressing on toward what he had not yet attained (Phil. 3:7-14). He knew from experience how to find strength for all things, in all kinds of situations, in Christ Jesus his Lord (Phil. 4:11-13).

I have not attained to whatever level Paul had reached, much less to all that Christ calls me to be. Daily I face physical weakness, and not just in my feet; my shoulder has been sore for nigh unto two full years now. I spend some two to three hours every week on other medical treatments at home, besides visits to doctors’ offices. More than that I face my own very real spiritual weakness. I cussed out loud today when I dropped those things in the kitchen. I was angry at being on crutches. I was angry at not having a hand free to carry the mayo from the fridge to the counter. In retrospect, I’m laughing at myself for that. God gives grace, thankfully.

It’s a small thing, anyway, in view of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus. Someday my body will fall apart completely, and I’ll have the overwhelming joy of knowing him face to face. There are points of pain in the process, but each one brings me closer to him—and that’s a far greater good than two strong feet.

One part of the answer to the famous problem of evil is that God uses pain and suffering for soul-building. Health problems are undeniably a form of evil. I’ve thought a lot recently about whether I would want to be young again, as in the days before I had such personal knowledge of entropy. A stronger and healthier body (with fewer bones in my feet!) would be nice, certainly—but no, even with casts and crutches in my life, I wouldn’t ever want to go back there again. More specifically, I wouldn’t want to be the person I was then. There has been—I can sense it as surely as anything—a kind of reverse entropy in my soul, a growth and strengthening of my core being, which I can trace directly to the evils and other challenges I’ve experienced in life. I’m more fragile on the outside than I was, but by God’s grace in Christ, I’m more solid on the inside.

There is a long way yet for me to go, but I’ll walk that path gladly—even if it’s on crutches.


Update December 2018: The no-surgery verdict upon which this post was premised was wrong. The surgeon who read that MRI didn’t know what he was doing, and admitted as much when he called me back with the radiologist’s correct reading. I had the surgery, but not at the hand of this doctor. It’s been complicated, and I’ve had five more operations since that first one. Otherwise — metaphorically speaking, since I’m in a cast even now — I stand by everything I wrote here in 2012.

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5 thoughts on “On Being Handicapped Again

  1. Hopefully, you will heal quickly, God willing. I am 63 and every morning when I awake I take an inventory of aches and pains. Some days it is my shoulder, some days my ribcage, some days my back:
    Psalm 38:7
    My back is filled with searing pain; there is no health in my body.

    I have 4 age-related conditions that I take medication for now. Thorns in the side or perhaps the whole thorn bush? Sort of facing death slowly as the body falls apart. I wrote about turning 60 and looking at death on my blog.

    But I am able to exercise daily, which is a blessing and my mind continues to be young. These days medical science is keeping us alive well into the 80s on average, but apparently with pain management therapy. The Seventh Day Adventists continue to live long into their 90s on average in Loma Linda, California with their vegetarian diets.

    I knew I was getting old around 50 when an old friend sent me a video of his gall bladder operation. He thought it was cool because it was laporoscopic. Now you can watch them on YouTube.

  2. I’m 56 and in generally good health, but the aches and pains of aging are certainly catching up with me, and God has seen me through a few surgeries and (relatively minor, but cause for concern)health issues. Thankfully, I can still train for and participate in long distance running (half and full marathons – Isaiah 40:28-31 keeps me going 🙂 ) – not as easy as it was 20 years ago; I have to say, though, that I sure am looking forward to being in my resurrection body!

    You have both my sympathy and prayers for a full recovery, Tom.

  3. Oh boy. Several phone calls this afternoon. It looks like I might need surgery after all. My situation is unlike any that one of my foot doctors, the one I went to for a second opinion, has seen before. I’ll see the other doctor early next week.

  4. Oh, and did I mention that the doctor I talked to today brought up the Guinness Book of World Records? I have the biggest accessory ossicle (abnormal bone inside a tendon) he has ever seen, by far.

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