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Toe Hell and Back Again

Early this month (August 2006) I joined my Talusdancers friends for our annual Sierra pack trip. (I posted a trip report earlier.)

It was a wonderful trip into the Big Pine Creek drainage, an area that I had not previously visited, located to the east of the Sierra crest below Mt. Winchell, North Palisade, Mt. Sill, Mt. Bayley, et al and near Palisade Glacier, the largest in the Sierra.

About that toe…

About four days before the trip I was wandering through our home one evening with the lights off when I jammed my foot into a chair. We’ve all done that, right? Scream, mutter a few choice words, grab the toe, and a moment later you realize that you are going to live… and that next time you really ought to turn on the lights and watch where you are going, not that you will.

But a minute later the toe (little toe, right foot) was not OK. It hurt. A lot. And it was swollen and becoming bruised. I wondered if this time I really had broken it.

The next day was no better, so I stayed off it as much as possible. It sounds absurd now, but my thinking was “I can’t go to the doctor. They’ll tell me my toe is broken, and then I won’t be able to go backpacking.” Really. That’s what I was thinking.

So, I took it easy during the four days leading up to the trip. I found that I could walk with my hiking boots on as long as I didn’t lace them too tightly around the toe. Once on the trail – and under the influence of ibuprofen – it didn’t hurt too much during our first 5.5 mile uphill hike. On day two it was about the same on the very short hike to Lake Four, where we camped for three nights. I took it easy on day three, getting a lot of reading done. I managed a nice little day hike to Lakes Six and Seven without too much trouble on day four.

On the hike out on day five I thought my toe might just fall off.

While things were OK going uphill, they were definitely not OK going down. At a point about 5 miles down the trail I found myself in “grit your teeth, take it one step at a time, and try not to scream” mode. Things improved greatly once we got to the car.

Finally acting a bit less stupidly, when I got home I made an appointment to get the toe checked out. The doctor seemed somewhat ambivalent about it. Clearly the toe was still swollen but he wasn’t convinced it was broken. Plus, what are you going to do with a broken toe – put it in a sling? The final result was that we did not x-ray the toe.

I had a return visit yesterday – for an overdue general physical exam – and we again took a look at the toe. This time the decision was to go ahead and x-ray it.

It is broken.

Of course, now it is almost 4 weeks later and the bone has probably healed in its slightly offset position. I go to the fracture clinic today to see what, if anything, the next step (ooh, bad pun!) might be.

So, bottom line: I’m a real bozo for backpacking (and subsequently day hiking) with a broken toe. On the other hand, I got some really cool photos on the trip. (Photos available in earlier posts at this site, at the Talusdancers site if you search for them, and at G Dan Mitchell | Photography.) Even better, I now have a great story to tell on future trips about The Time I Backpacked for Five Days with a Broken Toe…

Update: Back from the orthopedist. The toe seems to be healing fine – in fact, he wasn’t quite sure why I was coming in at this point, four weeks after the injury. He did suggest that I should be careful about activities that strain the toe for awhile… like hiking. :-)


August 29, 2006 - Posted by | Commentary

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