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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Looking for a solution to a common problem

By Dick Hirsch

I know it isn’t serious but it surely can qualify as bothersome, painful, aggravating and disconcerting, along with any number of other descriptive terms. It doesn’t rank as an illness, an ailment, a disease, a malady or even a condition, but it usually requires immediate attention.

This has been affecting me for years, starting during my boyhood and continuing with some regularity. Here I am, cruising blithely through middle age, yet still dealing with the same situation. It happened again just the other day and I finally decided it was time to seek help.

But it is embarrassing. Who should I ask? At a time when public awareness regarding a whole catalog of health related issues---some familiar and some rare---commands attention, my complaint is so modest it gets no mention. No researchers are seeking a solution. Yes, it is a transitory matter; it comes and it goes, but while it is in full control, it demands curative action.

The problem:

A stone in the shoe.

One of the unanswered questions that has plagued scientists and lay persons is this: How can a minute stone be somehow catapulted from the earth and find its way inside a shoe, eventually working its way past the ankle until it arrives at its ultimate destination, the sole?

You can minimize it if you wish, calling it a pebble, not a stone, but that raises another question: How can a teeny fragment, a micronic geologic specimen, create a feeling like the victim is stepping on a tack? During my career, I’ve had them teeny, tiny, medium, average and immense, and the small ones can be just as painful a distraction as the large ones. In some cases, when the victim removes the affected shoe to eliminate the problem, it can be shocking. The shoe is shaken toward the palm to assess the contents dumped there. Sometimes the object is so small it borders on the invisible, and yet it felt as large as a garbanzo.

I developed considerable experience with stones in the shoes during my formative years. Much of my time was spent in the school yard at PS 22, which had a gravel surface. It was an unforgiving field. During baseball season, few people had the poor judgment to slide into second base. Each day, part of the surface traveled home with the players. The games were far too important to be interrupted by intermittent shoe emptying, so that rite didn’t take place until the players arrived home. Off went the shoes, and out came the school yard residue.

Like the others, I was wearing those high top sneakers that laced up above the ankle, popular at the time, but somehow the stones were able to navigate from top to bottom. I was young, but inquisitive even then, and I always wondered how the stones managed to enter the shoes. I was too shy to ask any adults. I could have asked my parents, or even Mr. Carter, the gym teacher, or Mr. Williams, the shoe store proprietor, but I never did.

I laced those sneakers as tightly as possible in an effort to keep the them free of stones and fragments, yet they not only invaded the interior of the sneaker, they somehow managed to proceed directly south to a location where they could cause the most irritation.

This still qualifies as a problem, an occasional problem, but a problem nonetheless. In recent days, I’ve had two reportable incidents with stones: once while jogging with friends, and once while returning from a walk with my wife, Lynn, who also occasionally is confronted with this problem. Once I was wearing running shoes and once walking shoes. On each occasion, they were securely laced.

The first stone could be described as average, about the size of a cantaloupe seed. I never felt it enter, but I certainly felt it later. It forced me to stop, lean against a utility pole, remove the shoe and toss the stone onto a nearby lawn, where I figured it would cause no more trouble. The second was very minute; some might have said it qualified as more of a speck than a stone, but in the strategic location it found, it made its presence felt.

I wear no sandals or loafers and try not to scuff or shamble. How they manage to invade shoes I have never been able to explain, and, alas, all my attempts at prevention through self improvement have met with failure.


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