If the Shoe Fits

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I’ve been on a quest for good walking shoes for at least a month, now. With the weather warming and travel plans ahead, I want to be sure that I have a reliable, comfortable pair that will minimize my feet issues, even as I am coming to accept that no pair exists that will make walking fully pain-free.

This is always a challenge. The biggest stumbling block is that you can’t walk outside in shoes that you’re trying out at home without committing to buying them. (I know of one clear exception, Allbirds, which gives you a 30 day trial of walking anywhere—if the shoes don’t work out, you send them back and they are donated to people who are homeless. Zappos has also accepted returned shoes I’ve lightly worn once outside, but I don’t want to take unfair advantage of that option.) So how to really know if the shoes will be comfortable on pavement or uneven terrain, which are always the big challenges?

My strategy now is to wear a pair I’ve bought around the house for a few days. Usually, if there’s a major fit issue, I’ll know right away. If there are other structural issues, I’ll know in a day. If the shoes are still comfortable after a couple of days, I’ll take the plunge and wear them outside.

But, first, they have to meet a number of criteria. The fat pads on my feet have thinned so much from scleroderma that I have to set a high bar:

  • Is there plenty of room in the toe box? No pinching?
  • Are they lightweight so as not to aggravate my joints?
  • Is the shoe made of materials that breathe, to avoid trapping perspiration and triggering Raynaud’s or causing skin breakdown?
  • Does my foot feel balanced, with pressure evenly distributed over the entire sole?
  • Does walking in the shoes adversely affect my knees, back or hips?
  • Is there sufficient arch support?
  • Is there a removable foot bed, so I can use my own orthotics or a good ready-made alternative?
  • Is there enough shock-absorbency, so the shoe doesn’t tire my feet or trigger the neuropathy in my right foot?
  • Can I walk without noticing the shoes? Do they fade into the background?

Then there is the question of style. I refuse to wear shoes that look like boats. Fortunately, now that so many of us baby boomers are aging, and many of us have buying power, there are a lot more alternatives for comfortable shoes that are at least somewhat attractive, even if heels are out of the question (and bad for your feet, anyway) and daintier styles lack necessary support. When I first began having these issues several decades ago, the choices were much slimmer. Now there are options, even for my particular taste.

If the shoes pass all of the above tests, then it’s time to risk a test drive around the block. None of this is foolproof. I’ve tested shoes outside, thought I had a winner, only to discover after repeated wear that they don’t work out in the long run. This has happened more times than I would like.

Which brings me to my latest acquisition, a pair of Abeo sneakers that I found at The Walking Company. I’m on first-name basis with the sales clerk, at this point. She knows my issues and really tries to help me find the right shoe. I landed on this pair after several rounds of other shoes that didn’t work out. Then I went back and upgraded the removable insoles. That combination seems to be on target.

My walk around the block on Monday in lovely sunshine was an A-. Pretty good, all things considered. While there is no pair that will make walking painless or tireless, these sneakers give me hope that I’ll be able to sustain longer walks—balanced with thoughtful pacing and rests. Staying active is simply too important to give in to all the obstacles that this disease throws in my path.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com. Please view Privacy Policy here.

48 Hours

It’s been nearly 30 years since I visited our nation’s capital. This past weekend, Al and I packed in a slew of sightseeing in Washington, D.C., around a family celebration in Virginia. In just over 48 hours, we visited the National Gallery, Lincoln Memorial at night, Vietnam Veterans Memorial (also at night), Supreme Court, Capitol grounds, Newseum, National Gallery Sculpture Garden, National Archives, Hirshhorn Museum and National Gallery East. On Saturday morning, in sweltering heat, we participated in the Families Belong Together protest rally in Lafayette Park, next to the White House.

I walked my feet off. It was worth it. The highlight of DC, for me, was seeing the original Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights at the National Archives. The parchment is huge, the writing faded, the signatures inscribed by human hands. The ideals endure. I was reminded by an exhibit about women’s suffrage at the National Archives and the chiseled words of Lincoln’s second inaugural address at the Lincoln Memorial of how much struggle and acrimony is embedded in our nation’s history. I felt the power and protection of the First Amendment in Lafayette Park.

Here are some of my favorite images from our trip:

The conclusion of Lincoln’s second inaugural address at the Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial at night

Seen in a garden on our way to Capitol Hill

Protesters outside the Supreme Court

Heading toward the U.S. Capitol Building

Section of the Berlin Wall at the Newseum

National Gallery Sculpture Garden

Families Belong Together protest in Lafayette Park

Calder sculptures at the National Gallery East

Saul Steinberg, Untitled (A Conversation), National Gallery East

Le Gourmet, Picasso, National Gallery East

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com. Please view Privacy Policy here.

First Snow

img_2491It’s always a surprise, that first coating of white. This year, it arrived on Monday, just an inch, already melting by mid-afternoon. But the flakes fell softly in the morning, fat, puffy, like thousands of tiny parachutes drifting earthward. Clinging to evergreens, disguising flaws, the snow absorbed sounds as it fell, hushing the world, slowing all down.

Mid-morning, as snow continued to fall outside my window, I was on a video conference call with people in New York City (rain), the Catskills (snow) and the Netherlands (almost never snow). The two young daughters of the Dutch woman overheard us discussing the weather and asked to see. My client in the Catskills turned his computer around to give them a peek of his blanketed yard. Their eyes widened with amazement.

By early afternoon, I had to go to the post office to mail some packages. Should I wear boots? I tried to slip on my rain boots but had to pull them off again. A few weeks ago, I kicked myself in the inner left ankle, one of those slips of coordination that occasionally plague my stride. This has morphed into an ulcer, then a rash from bandage adhesive. I saw my podiatrist last week, who prescribed steroid ointment and compression socks, and explained how weakened veins in my ankles are exacerbating the healing process. Which is why I couldn’t wear the boots. I opted for walking shoes with good treads. I’m hoping the ankle will improve by the time the serious snow falls.

Two o’clock, when I returned home, the sun was shining, the snow compacting as it melted. My footprints revealed slate. I shed shoes for slippers, ate some soup, forbade myself from reading any more news and got back to work. I didn’t notice the sun setting and the darkness settling in.

Winter is coming, and cold, and ulcers, and more snow than I want to contend with. The days grow shorter and darker. Headlines weigh on my heart. But halfway around the world, two little girls giggled at the novelty of a world transformed by white. I did the same when I looked out my window Monday morning. Let there be Wonder.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

Walk This Way

Ever since we got back from vacation, I feel too sedentary. Instead of exploring for hours on foot (true, it was a bit more than my feet could handle), I’m sitting at my computer far too much. Ginger’s no longer here to bop my hands off the keyboard when it’s time to go out for a walk around the block. It’s all too easy just to keep writing and not get any exercise.

walk-on-1445129-639x424So I’m trying to change my habit. I’ve tracked a half-hour walking route around our neighborhood—a manageable distance—and my goal is to get my butt off the chair and out the door at least four times a week.

This is actually proving easier than I expected. In fact, it’s quite pleasant. (It helps to start a walking habit when it’s warm out.) I’ve made it out and about my route at least five times in the past week—even Monday evening, after a sweltering 90-degree day.

Em is home for a transitional break between her summer internship in D.C. and returning to grad school, so she’s joined me a couple of times for a walk-and-talk. On other days, I’ve enjoyed a chance to clear my head and walk in silence. There are plenty of street trees for shade and only a few cars on the side streets to watch out for. We’re fortunate to live in a safe neighborhood with plenty of dog walkers, cyclists, families pushing strollers and other folks out walking or jogging.

Sometimes, I find myself so deep in my head that I barely notice what’s around me. Other times, I try to focus on the colors of the houses and birdsong and gardens as a meditation, staying in the moment. I’ve decided it doesn’t matter which mode I’m in, as long as I stretch my legs, swing my arms and get lungfuls of fresh air for a good, aerobic half-hour.

What if it rains? Depends on how long and how intensely. My alternative is to go to the gym and ride the stationary bike—not as refreshing, but at least I’m exercising.

It remains to be seen how well I can keep this up as the weather gets cooler and, eventually, too cold for me to be outside. But I figure if I establish a solid pattern now, when the walking is easy, my body will get addicted to the exercise and I’ll crave it enough to stick with it.

I definitely feel better when I walk. And worse when I don’t. No doubt about that. I can do it any time I want. Best of all—it’s free.

So, no excuses. Time to get moving.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

Photo Credit: Francesco Maglione 

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

I made good on my exercise commitment last week—I got to the fitness center twice, once for my barre class and once to ride the stationary bike for 25 minutes, plus I took half-hour walks on two other days.

Then I developed an ulcer in the nail bed of my left big toe. It’s infected. I have no idea how this happened. I am meticulous with skin care. It might have been as simple as picking up bacteria while walking around in sandals. Or just bad karma.

So, I’m back on antibiotics, limping a bit, carefully testing pressure on my left foot. I was able to walk around the block on Monday and get through most of the exercises in my barre class last night.

This is the minutiae of living with scleroderma. Just when you think you have everything in balance, something kicks it out of whack and you have to recalibrate.

But there are much more important issues in the world than an infection in my big toe.

On Sunday, at Al’s initiative, I joined my husband, our rabbi and cantor, and about a dozen other members of our synagogue at morning services at the local A.M.E. congregation. We came to show solidarity over the tragic shootings at the historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., last week.

Al had called ahead, the previous Friday, to ask if it would be okay with the pastor if we came. We were welcomed with thanks and gracious hospitality. Other members of the community came as well, in a spontaneous show of support. It was heartening to be part of a mixed sea of faces, all gathered to assert that what happened in Charleston was terribly wrong, that we care, that we must pull together as a society to end the violence and bridge the widening racial divide in this country.

Will any lasting good come of all those people, from different backgrounds, gathered together in prayer on a Sunday morning? I cannot say. But I know we helped to comfort our neighbors and sent good will out into the universe, and that must count for something.

After the service, we went out with friends for a Father’s Day brunch, then to the art museum, then home. Al mowed the lawn. I lay down and rested my sore foot.

My toe will heal, albeit slower than I want it to, with a combination of medication and careful tending. I will get back to my exercise plan. There will undoubtedly be other physical setbacks, but I’ll deal with those, too.

Would that our nation’s ills could heal as readily.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

Photo Credit: Stròlic Furlàn – Davide Gabino

Pep Talk

No getting around it. I need more exercise. One weekly barre class is just not enough to stay in shape. Ever since Ginger died this winter, I haven’t been as good about taking a walk every day—no furry muzzle bopping my hands off the keyboard when it’s time to stretch and get out of the house. And I haven’t felt motivated to go to the gym. It’s chilly and impersonal and the three large flat-screen TVs broadcast an endless stream of bad news, too depressing.

But a visit with my cardiologist last week and my lead rheumatologist on Monday made it quite 2078973271_3307fc3441clear that I will feel a whole lot better if I move more. It’s critical for my longterm health and well being. (Not to mention body image—without Ginger’s nudging to walk regularly, I’ve put on five unwanted pounds since February—all below the waist.)

This has all been complicated by two issues: the fact that if I exert too quickly, I get short of breath due to some physiological complications of scleroderma, and the fact that my feet, despite all my efforts to find the right shoes, tire easily. They’re really sensitive from thinning fat pads, also due to scleroderma.

After long conversations with both trusted physicians, however, the bottom line is this: my body is high maintenance, but if I’m mindful of the boundaries of my endurance, the more I exercise, the more I’ll be able to endure.

So, I basically have to get off my butt and work out for a half hour at least three days a week.

I know I could listen to audiobooks or podcasts or music. But I’d rather read while I exercise. I have a backlog of books and New Yorker magazines. So my first strategy is going to be to try to read while I use the stationary bike. The treadmill is another option, but if I want to go easy on my feet, the bike may be a better bet.

Neither of these options sound thrilling. They don’t call it a treadmill for nothing. And a stationary bike is, well, stationary. But I can’t ride a regular bike anymore because of the pressure it puts on my wrists. So, I have to make the best of what I can actually do.

Another psychological obstacle to overcome: I will never look like all those pictures of buff, attractive people that decorate the fitness center, supposedly as motivation—”This could be you!” Nope. No way. In fact, I think those images do more to discourage me, because the ideal is so far beyond my reach. 

But the reality is that striving for an ideal body is so not the point. This is about building endurance, feeling more flexible and confident. Trusting myself that, even if I have this damn disease, I can still be physically strong.

My cardiologist said I shouldn’t overdo it, and there’s no need to do big, strenuous routines on the bike or to run on the treadmill. Just listen to my body and do what I’m comfortable doing, to start, and work up from there.

They convinced me. I know I have to. And who knows? Maybe I’ll surprise myself and actually enjoy the gym. Stay tuned. . . .

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

Photo Credit: Harry Pujols

If the Shoe Fits

Nearly every day of the past year, rain or shine, snow or heat wave, I have been wearing the same pair of shoes—my trusty black Merrell clogs. They are lightweight, the fabric breathes, they work well with my custom orthotics and they go with many of my casual clothes. As the fat pads in my feet have thinned from scleroderma, my shoe options have become significantly limited, and I’ve adjusted my style accordingly.

pink sandalsBut I still wish I could wear a nice pair of shoes—albeit flats, since heels are now out of the question—with better dresses and skirts. Plus, it’s hard to go dancing in clogs.

Last week, on a whim, I went searching online just to see what else is out there, and was rewarded by a new find: Vionic. These shoes are designed by a podiatrist. They have proper arch support and very comfortable, removable insoles—you can substitute your own, if you wish.

Best of all—they’re stylish. Finally, shoes with good support that don’t look like tugboats on my feet.

I bought three pairs—tan loafers, black sneakers and pink thong sandals. The first two arrived just in time for me to bring them along to my podiatrist appointment and ask him to retrofit a couple of sets of orthotics. He was duly impressed by the insole that comes with the shoes—designed to correct pronation, so you don’t mess up your knees and ankles.

Even with the adjustments he made to my orthotics, I realized after experimenting that the loafers are more comfortable with the insole that comes with the shoe. Amazing.

I still love my clogs. They’re the most comfortable shoes I own, and the most reliable for driving long distances (my feet swell when I sit for any length of time).

But the loafers hold up well for walking on the street and standing for extended periods. The sneakers are so lightweight and flexible that they feel like slippers. And the sandals provide excellent arch support. Plus, they’re fun. You can’t help but smile wearing pink sandals with little sequins on the strap.

Vionic also makes ballet flats. I’ll have to wait for these until I pay off my credit card. But just the idea that there might be dress shoes I could actually wear is enough to hold me for now.

I realize there are many more pressing issues in the world than whether I can have a few different pairs of attractive shoes. But when you’re living with a disease that continually constrains your options and ability to look your best, this is news worth celebrating.

I refuse to give in to looking older than I am or frailer or more disabled than I need to be. When it comes to scleroderma, dressing well is one of the most important ways I know to fight back. It’s not about being narcissistic. It’s about giving yourself the good care and mental boost that you need to keep going.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

Red Sandals

Right before Passover this past April, I went through my closet and gave away about a dozen pairs of shoes and sandals that I could no longer wear. I’d accumulated them over decades, and each set was a favorite.

But it was simply time to face the fact that the fat pads on my feet have thinned so much from scleroderma that I need a lot of cushioning, and my old favorites hurt. Most of them I hadn’t even considered wearing for years. I had just kept them because I liked them so much.

Hard to part with the shoes, and the idea they represented—that it’s still possible for me to walk with style. Recently, the only shoes I’ve been able to tolerate are two pairs of lightweight, fabric mesh Merrell clogs, navy and black, in which I can insert custom, full-sole orthotics. I’m grateful that these are so comfortable, but they really don’t go well with skirts and dresses.

Of all the shoes I gave away, the ones I parted with most reluctantly were a pair of red sandals with two-inch heels. Nothing like red sandals. They always used to give me a boost, height-wise and mood-wise.

So now, mid-June, it’s finally feeling summery for more than a day here in Central Massachusetts, and no red sandals, no walking sandals, no sandals I could count on for casual wear or work appointments.

I had scoured online shoe sites without seeing anything that seemed worth trying. So hard to tell, and with sandals, the foot sole is key because you obviously can’t insert orthotics.

The only real solution: Go to a shoe store where the staff still know how to fit your feet. This is not easy to find. But there is such a store about a 40 minute drive from home. I haven’t been there in years.

So, with an hour to spare between two appointments last week that took me in the right direction, I made a pilgrimage. The selection hadn’t changed much since my last visit. The show window and displays were full of all the predictable comfort brands, some attractive, some downright clunky.

One would think, with all of us baby-boomer women now at the age of sore feet, that someone out there would approach the question of how to design comfortable, stylish shoes with a bit more imagination. But apparently not.

Round and round the store I walked, picking up possible choices and pressing the foot beds with my thumb. Per usual, the nice-looking sandals didn’t have enough arch support or cushioning. The most comfortable walking sandals were $225 and really, really ugly—like a pair of shovels.

I was about ready to give up and leave when I circled around one more time. There, on the wall, was a pair of raspberry red Dansko sandals—two wide straps of faux snakeskin with silvery buckles on a cushioned, rubbery platform that was styled to look like carved wood, but much more shock-absorbent. Now, I had given away a similar, well-worn black pair, not as attractive, right before Passover, because the cushioning was just not thick enough and they were too loose and caused blisters (probably because my feet are much thinner than when I had purchased them at least five years ago, so they didn’t fit properly anymore, and the footbed was worn out).

But, on a whim, I tried on the sample. It fit. Perfectly. The salesclerk found the mate in the store window, and I took a walk up and down the aisle. No pain. The shoes rolled easily from heel to toe. Excellent arch support. Good cushioning. They even made me stand up straighter, something about the balance of the shoe.

And they were red. On sale.

So I bought them. The salesclerk assured me that I could bring them back within two weeks and get a refund if, after wearing them around the house (not outside), I had any problems.

Over the next few days, I tried them on at different times. Still comfortable. I could do stairs. I could walk on our wooden kitchen floor and on the concrete in the basement.

On Sunday, sunny, full of summer promise, I decided to commit. Out the door, with Ginger on her leash, around the block. Success! Then in the car, over to the art museum, on my feet walking around for an hour to view my favorite works. A little foot fatigue, but still good. No real soreness.

There are probably no ready-made sandals in the world that will ever solve all my issues, but this pair sure gets at thumbs-up for darn near perfect.

Oh, and did I mention? They’re red.

Image: June, 1975—Hydrangea by a Pond, Stencil-dyed paper calendar by Keizuke Serizawa (1895-1984), Worcester Art Museum

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.