Friday, March 13, 2009

New skin

I started with the recumbent bike and moved to the upright bike, spinning easy circles beneath the florescent lights of the gym. Ten days isn't a long time but it feels eternal, and the dull passing of time was wearing holes into my resolve to take it slow. By the third day of my renewed gym membership, I had crawled my way over to the elliptical machine, toeless surgery boot strapped to one foot, pressing down on my heel until I hit a good glide. I poured sweat onto the plastic machine and felt like I could sprint forever. Good. Alive. Happy to be out again, even if only inside.

I took a bath and changed all my dressings so my doctor wouldn't suspect anything, but she did.

"You've been getting this wet?" she scolded me as she pressed down on the wrinkled white skin on top of my foot.

"Maybe a little sweat," I said. "Or slush. It's been nasty outside."

"You shouldn't be walking around outside," she said. "You still have your crutches?" I nodded. "Good. Did you get the aloe vera cream?"

"Oh, um, I haven't had a chance yet."

"You haven't had a chance? What have you been doing all this time? These are your toes."

"Sorry. I forgot."

She finished unwrapping my bandages to reveal the deep purple skin that has been darkening by the day. I let out a loud sigh. "It's not looking good, is it?"

"It's going to get darker," she said. She took out a small razor and poked my big toe with the tip. "Can you feel that?"

I sighed again. "No."

"Well, it feels pretty soft," she said. "I'm going to look inside."

She sliced the blade in and began carving a straight line around my dull blue toenail. She rounded the outside edge and pressed down harder.

"Does that hurt?"

"I can feel it, but it doesn't hurt."

"That's a pretty major callous you have right there."

"Thanks. I've been working on it for at least two years. It's my Juneau mountain callous."

"Yeah, well you're going to lose it." She carved out the hard yellow mass and set it aside. She moved around the back of my toe and carved along the bottom, coming up the other side of the dead toenail and meeting the edge where she started. She lifted the blister from the back of my toe and said "wow."

"What is it?" I asked. "What do you see?"

"Look at this," she said as she peeled back the purple skin. "This is moving along very quickly." Beneath the blackened veneer of frostbite was a layer of dark pink tissue, smooth and wet like the skin of a newborn.

"That's new baby skin," she said. "Completely healthy." She smiled.

I looked down at my newly pink toe and smiled back. I don't think I've ever been so proud of what my body can do.