Identify the problem. Recall your shaky theories about the dark spot on your left big toenail that first appeared you-can’t-remember-when: it’s mud, it’s a smear of brown hair dye, it’s a bruise from a 25-pound bag of trash you dropped on your foot while clearing out your childhood home to put it up for sale.
List your symptoms, including those that seem unrelated to your problem toe. For example, your recent claustrophobia on airplanes and while lying awake in your small, dark, coffin-like bedroom.
List key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes. When your doctor winces at your naked feet and diagnoses toenail fungus that’s “really old,” clarify “old” using a timeline of the last five years. Your mother’s Alzheimer’s. Your father’s decline. The deaths of both of your in-laws and your mentor-friend. Your daughters’ adolescent sturm and drang, capped off by college searches and a suddenly empty nest. Ask: as old as I feel? When your story meets his blank stare, confess to what he understands. Yes, you stretched a summer pedicure into winter, until the polish eroded to a thin strip. Yes, you wore the same damn pair of unwashed pantyhose over and over to a job you used to love but that lately gets in the way of your other job, which is taking care of everyone in the world.
List all the medications, vitamins and supplements you’re taking and wish you could take, including non-medical marijuana, if it were legal in your state or didn’t require a humiliating meet up with a local high school student in the grocery store parking lot.
List questions to ask your doctor.
Is there an alternative to the “three-pronged attack” (anti-fungal nail polish, foot cream, and the anti-viral drug Lamisil) that doesn’t rely on a war metaphor? Will mentally substituting divine retribution achieve the same result?
Aside from indicating that you should NEVER TAKE LAMISIL AGAIN OR YOU WILL DIE, do your elevated liver enzymes prove his warmongering was wrong-headed?
Does it bother him that the cheerful tattooed man with the portable laser machine quit law school because he could make more money doing laser therapy? When the happy laser man burns and releases your fungus with his white-hot light in one brief but very expensive out-of-pocket session, does your doctor feel his power wane?
Is this why, at your final appointment, he tells you how many beach beauties have ugly feet? And that, though your toenail is cured, your feet are “horrible,” a word that abrades your vanity, like the machine-grade sandpaper he recommends you use to slough the dead skin cells from your soles, as you continue to apply the useless products you’ve bought from him?
Did he hear you when you said you missed your previous appointment because your father died? Could he put down his clippers for one second and look you in the eye? What if your gnarly feet are a genetic link to your poor dad, a tangible reminder of the man you lost? What grade of sandpaper could ever smooth your ragged grief?
What if you, a middle-aged woman used to being called beautiful, didn’t know until you left the podiatrist’s office for the last time that your flawed feet are your secret source of power, a record of your girlhood spent running barefoot on hot pavement and through alleys filled with broken glass, daring yourself not to feel as you kept moving, scathed but still intact?
Elizabeth Mosier is the author of The Playgroup (part of GemmaMedia’s “Open Door” series to promote adult literacy) and My Life as a Girl (Random House). Her short stories, articles, essays, and reviews have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Cleaver, Creative Nonfiction, and The Dock: Hayden’s Ferry Review Online.
What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Preparing for Your Appointment with the Podiatrist”? I started an angry letter to an insensitive doctor, but wrote “Preparing for Your Appointment with the Podiatrist” instead. After a decade of cascading family crises, this compressed essay helped me get perspective—and laugh rather than implode. I like how the list form of self-instruction (barely) contains my anxiety, letting it leak out of each line.
What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Preparing for Your Appointment with the Podiatrist”?
I started an angry letter to an insensitive doctor, but wrote “Preparing for Your Appointment with the Podiatrist” instead. After a decade of cascading family crises, this compressed essay helped me get perspective—and laugh rather than implode. I like how the list form of self-instruction (barely) contains my anxiety, letting it leak out of each line.
Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.
Matter Press is now offering private flash fiction workshops and critiques of flash fiction collections here.
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