Prose Header

A Foot of Pain

by Terry Groves

Part 1 appears
in this issue.


Smiling Sam keeps up a rapid chatter as he guides me along a row of curtained examination areas. We turn into the second from the end just when I think the real nature of my emergency is going to see me directly into x-ray.

“Hop up on the bed there.” Smiling Sam speaks with a positive lilt in his voice. His manner, likely designed to help instill confidence and dispel panic in patients, is flawless; except when asking someone with a nearly severed foot to “hop on up.” As he finishes with, “The doc will be right along,” I turn and look over my shoulder at him. The expression from which I had manufactured his name crashes to the floor when I speak.

“Are you kidding me? Hop up on the bed? Look at my foot. Does it look like it’s going to be hopping anywhere soon?”

He looks from my face to my foot where it lays hard over to the right, almost facing backward. It strikes me odd that no one in this building full of degreed medical professionals has seen a need to support my appendage. Certainly it’s doing more damage wobbling around at the end of my leg. Sam sums it up after recovering his smile.

“I didn’t think it was that bad. Let me help you.”

Bracing me under the arm on my injured side, Sam has me sitting on the edge of the bed in a moment. Then he reaches down and grabs the bad foot and begins lifting it. Pain slams up my leg and out my mouth before I can do anything. No words, just a scream.

Smiling Sam drops his smile and the foot. It flops to the floor pumping another scream from me. Crashing metal lets me know that Sam and I aren’t the only ones startled. Even as I manage to form words, I hear growing voices and commotion from beyond my curtains.

“Are you nuts? Look what you’re doing!” I speak with no regard for tone or effect. The pain pulsing through me is in full control.

Sam stands hunched over my leg, hands suspended. His racing thoughts churn on his face as he tries to decide what to say, what to do.

I hear feet shuffling toward us. My foot jerks up, bumping hard against Sam’s crotch. He sucks in a quick breath and looks at me. I can see the thought on his face: Did he do that on purpose? I allow the pain travelling up my leg to show, and Sam’s features soften again.

“Sorry,” is what he says, and satisfaction courses through me. I kicked him in the nuts, and he’s the one saying sorry.

A nurse appears around the curtain. “What’s going on in here?”

“I’m—” Sam starts, but I don’t let him finish.

“Trying to tear my foot off! Get him away from me!”

I’m only hanging on the edge of the bed by two inches of butt cheek and feeling quite vulnerable to a fall. My butt isn’t all that strong.

“I’ll take this.” The nurse steps around the wheelchair. Sam disappears so fast I’m afraid I’ll be sucked into the vortex of the space he’s just exited. I check the floor to see if he’s left his smile behind. Even though I don’t see it, I’m certain it’s not on his face at this moment. For a millisecond I feel it on mine.

With the ease of experience, Nurse Iris — by the ID badge pinned to her small bosom — pushes me back and, before I can utter a word of caution, I’m lying full-length with both legs on the bed. She picks up my chart and turns to read it. My broken foot flops to the side and leans against her tight butt which looks a lot stronger than mine. She glares at me, hard lines across her brow.

“Sorry.” It’s my turn to apologize for something I didn’t do on purpose. Then my foot starts moving back and forth, caressing the fine curves clad in light pink cotton.

Nurse Iris tips her head a little as though peering at me over glasses.

“I’m not doing that.” I work my best innocent and embarrassed expression: “Cripes the damn thing’s broken.” I change to indignation.

“Right,” she says, reaching behind herself and flicking my toe. The foot flops the other way and slams against my other foot. It’s more of a resting than a slamming, but the wave of pain that erupts is a slamming. Nurse Iris walks away, leaving me alone with the madman who’s screaming again.

I settle down a bit as the pain eases off. After a few minutes I notice the maniac has stopped his droning, piteous cries. I lie back, close my eyes and try to relax. I’m just getting into that magic calm place, moments before sleep, when the curtain is drawn back, and a man wearing a white jacket steps into view. He has a clipboard in one hand. “What seems to be the problem here?”

“I fell on my ankle.” My explanation seems so simple compared to the injury I have sustained.

He glances at my chart then pulls up my pants leg. His fingers are cool against my blazing skin. He presses the ankle bone, I scream. His eyes squint, and his brows rise as he watches me. He grips my heel and turns the foot a little. I scream. He pushes against the bottom of my foot. I scream. He grips my big toe and makes it touch the front of my shin, the side, the calf, the other side. I scream with each movement.

“Cripes Doc, what the hell are you doing?” I pant. “Can’t you see it’s busted?”

“Actually, it only feels like a mild sprain. There’s not much swelling, no bruising. I’m surprised by your pain reaction, I barely touched it.” His voice is calm, a perfect Emergency Room Doctor.

“A sprain—” I start but he doesn’t let me finish my diagnosis.

“Just to be sure, I’ll order an x-ray. Head back out to the waiting room and someone will come and take you to imaging.” I can’t believe he’s dismissing me like this but at least he acknowledges I really am injured by pulling a real wheelchair beside the bed. I wheel myself back to the stale green corridor with chairs that serve as the waiting area.

I see the kid when he comes into the waiting room. There’s no missing his red-striped shirt. He’s holding his mother’s hand. They must have been visiting a patient because they don’t come in through the emergency doors; they come from deep in the hospital. Something in the kid’s eyes, a hard cold, tells me there’s about to be an incident. He keeps those tiny orbs locked on me after his first look around the room.

I’m targeted, frozen by his gaze. He looks from my face to my foot then back at my face. His mouth curls up at his dimples but there is no comfort in that wicked smile. His stride changes up when he is one pace away; his near foot hangs back, and his other steps out. A punter’s step, and I know he’s about to kick my bad foot.

Without thinking, I jerk my knee up to get my injured foot out of the line of fire. A shock of agony rips up my leg causing the muscle to spasm. The foot flicks out on its own and kicks the evil kid right in the stomach. A sharp “Ah” escapes from the pain that flares in a new wave and from satisfaction at having got in the better lick.

My wheelchair turns a bit from the momentum of my kick. Gasps and shouts of surprise from the other people waiting let me know that my predicament has been witnessed. I hope they won’t be too hard on the boy; he is, after all, just a kid.

“What are you doing?” The boy’s mother looks up at me from where she’s knelt beside her son who is curled up on the floor. Behind her, others are moving toward us. I realize she is speaking to me, not asking about his behavior. Maybe she hasn’t seen.

“He was about to kick me. I was just trying to get out of the way.”

A strong hand grabs me by the collar and half tugs me out of my chair. “You creep! Why’d you kick that little girl? I oughta...”

I look around, and every face is glaring at me, none of them look friendly. Have they all seen it wrong? And he’s said “girl.”

I look at the kid lying on the tile floor. A young girl in a green dress looks up at me. She’s holding her hands to her stomach. Tears roll down her cheeks.

“Where’s the boy?” I ask. “The little bastard who was trying to kick me. He had a striped shirt on.”

“You kicked a little girl.” Mr. Strong Hands shoves me back in the chair, and it rolls back a little. My foot drags on the floor drawing another scream from me.

Smiling Sam pushes his way through the crowd and asks people to sit down. He speaks with Mr. Hand, the mother and girl, his smile never leaving his face. Then he turns to me, and the smile is gone. He’s just Sam now.

I start to describe the boy, relate my version.

“What you on?” he asks without letting me finish. I just look at him trying to make sense of his question.

“You smoke something?” he holds his fingertips to his lips as though taking a draw on a doobie. “Maybe sniff a little?” he raises a finger under his nose as though it’s a coke spoon.

“No!” I yell. “My foot—”

“I am quite tired of your foot. It is time you and your foot got on your way. Doc says there’s nothing much wrong with you. There’s nothing more for you here. I suggest you get going before something really goes wrong for you.”

“But it was the boy, that nasty little boy—”

“Goodbye.” And Smiling Jack turns my chair so it faces the exit and pushes me toward it. He pushes hard and fast. I can hear his feet pounding on the floor tiles; he’s running. I raise my arms as the doors get close but at the last moment they whisk open, and I zoom between them.

Then I’m tumbling on the pavement, pain flaring up my leg and from new scrapes on my knees, elbows, shoulder and hands. I come to a stop on my back. From where I lay I can see Sam standing just outside the sliding doors, both hands on the back of the wheelchair. He has stopped and holds the chair, allowing momentum to dump me to the ground. I feel my jaw moving, but no words are coming out of my mouth. I have no idea what to say. I’ve been thrown out of a few places, but never a hospital.

Smiling Sam lives up to his name as he tips his forehead toward me and says, “Stay away. Go home.”

“Will you at least call me a taxi?” I don’t have much money with me but my credit cards will work.


I manage to get my good foot under me and push up with my hands. I stand there a few moments looking at Sam, trying to figure out what to do. How can I walk with my foot flopping? Sam just stands there watching me. The muscles in his jaw are tight; I can tell he’s biting back words. I turn away and take a tentative step toward the road.

The wave of pain as my busted ankle takes my body weight makes my knees buckle and my stomach flop but I’m not going to let Sam see me suffer. With what I hope isn’t any more than a slight limp, I shift my weight to the good foot. As I hobble along, I picture a scene from a George Romero zombie movie: a walking corpse shuffling along on one broken foot, and that is me; the walking dead. The pain doesn’t get any less, but I grow accustomed to it.

A few blocks from the hospital, I see a woman walking a large dog. It strains at its leash, snarling, and she leans backward, to hold it. Suddenly, it’s a tiny little dog, a Pomeranian or Shih Tzu or some other yappy, sucky dog, and both are strutting along. Then it’s the frothing Rottweiler.

Each time I take weight onto my smashed ankle, the dog changes, the woman changes. Snarling mongrel, prancing sissy, mongrel, sissy. When they draw beside me, the mongrel lunges and snaps a bite at me but my bad foot is too fast. It flicks back, out of the way and then slams forward, and the sissy dog gives out a pained yelp as it flies past the woman.

Its howl is cut off when it hits the end of the leash, the collar shutting off its windpipe. The woman yells indignantly, “Hey!”

I respond with “Control your beast!”

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“Your mutt was going to chomp my leg.” I look at the sissy dog which has regained its feet and stands shivering at the woman’s heel.

“Pootsi doesn’t bite. You are a mean person.”

I take a step to get away, and the dog turns into the Rottie. I decide I’ll just move myself farther down the sidewalk.

A few blocks later, I realize what has happened. My foot has turned evil. It’s making me see things that aren’t there, like the Rottie, and the boy in the striped shirt. Somehow, something has possessed my foot and is controlling my reactions, making me do bad things. It’s giving me all this pain, turning me nasty.

I pass a sign announcing a yard sale. I don’t need a yard, but I think I might find something there that can help me out.

A block later, I’m carrying what I need. My lips tighten against my teeth in a smile. I hobble along the sidewalk, pain thrumming up my leg. On the end of that leg is an evil foot. In my hand, supporting me like a cane, is a well-used axe. Only the foot or the axe will be with me when I get home.

Copyright © 2018 by Terry Groves

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