Once upon a time the characteristic foot disorder of the well-to-do was gout, induced by an excess of rich foods. Lots of famous people have had it, especially writers, including Milton, Samuel Johnson and Henry James.
Nowadays I don't know a sole--er, that is, soul--with gout, even though I know lots of affluent people and a good many writers (two different groups obviously, that barely overlap). No, these days, judging from my own admittedly biased sampling, the characteristic podiatric disability of the age is plantar fasciitis.
The fact that I myself am afflicted has absolutely no bearing on this judgment, of course. No no no. PF is a painful inflammation of the plantar fascia, a band of tissue running along the bottom of the foot. Mainly, what hurts is the heel. And while I am obviously biased, I really have been surprised at how often people say that they too have had the same frustrating (and occasionally quite painful) problem.
There are no doubt individuals get this disorder mining coal and the like, but in the people I know, it's a sign of overuse, middle-age, and clean living. They jog, they hike, they eschew the kinds of foods that would give a body gout--and so they get plantar fasciitis. It's a sort of revenge effect, as Ed Tenner would have it, a by-product of self-discipline and a reminder that our corporeal nature is our Achilles heel--quite literally in this case.
It's also characteristic because ours is an age of driving, and it appears that the essentially right-footed activity of working the gas and brake pedals makes things worse, at least for those of us plagued in the right foot. (PF is typically unilateral, for some reason, and I'll bet is more common in the right-foot in the U.S., although I am not paid remotely enough to find out.)
PF is not the worst disease in the world, but the diabolical thing about it is that I'll feel fine while playing basketball. Only later, when I'm relaxed, will the back of my foot ache so ferociously that, for awhile at least, I feel like nothing but a heel.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
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Dan Akst is a journalist, essayist and novelist who wrote three books. His novel, The Webster Chronicle, is based on the lives of Cotton and Increase Mather.