Thinking about my feet
On Tuesday I had a foot massage; followed by a head massage. That was the right order, according to Mon, my Thai masseuse. But afterwards I wasn’t sure. The foot experience was more delicious, more tender. The head massage hurt a bit, waking up bits of my skull, and my brain and scalp that perhaps had been in hibernation. It would probably have been better to concentrate on one bit of my body at a time.
Sop anyhow I’ve decided to try writing about a different part of my body over the coming weeks, to try and work out what each part means to me. Could this particular body part be trying to tell me something? Do I appreciate it well enough? And show that I appreciate it/them? Could I venture inside to examine my inner organs?
Should I think of each foott differently I wonder? I suppose that up till very recently I would have run them together like a pair of Siamese twins. But now I realise that they have quite different positions and histories and different needs. The left foot is basically OK, looks reasonable, works normally. The right foot struggles. It isn’t balanced properly. It feels as if the outside part, running down from my toes, is too flat, too close to the floor and it hurts when I’ve been walking for a while. By contrast the big and second twos feel underused. The toes don’t splay properly on this foot. It hurts to sit on them when kneeling – an exercise my Yoga teacher daughter suggests I do on a daily basis. The toes are colder, less mobile than the left footed ones.
Why should this be? I know that we are asymmetrical. Our hearts are shifted over to the left side. We are “right” or “left handed”. And there’s’ all that left brain/right brain stuff. I should perhaps enquire more deeply. But to begin with I shall try to be more conscious of both feet and the enormous service that they have performed for me over more than sixty years. I am very grateful, and have failed to tell them so.
The masseuse worked on each one separately, wrapping the not being worked on one, in a soft warm towel. This was delightfully comforting. I remembered the time when I visited an HIV/AIDS clinic on a township near Cape Town some years ago. The doctor invited me to sit in on patents’ appointments with the nurse. So I sat in a corner and observed, always asking the nurse to check with the patient if this was OK with them. All the patients agreed, but I noticed that some nodded and hardly looked my way, disregarding my presence. One or two were curious about me, looking at me frequently during their visit, wondering, I supposed, what I was making of it.
With some I hardly made anything at all as they spoke in the local language and I was mystified by the communication between them and the nurse. But I was struck by their general air of resignation and passivity. One man was thrown off the programme (which was to offer and monitor the effect of the drugs which had finally been made available in South Africa.) I understood that the nurse was dismissing him, by the way she spoke quite crossly and by the defeated look in his reddened eyes. He got off the bed and shuffled off. She drew a line under his notes and closed the folder, and then offered me a curt explanation
“Refusing abstaining from alchol”, she said, and called in the next patient.
The last one of the morning clinics was a youngish woman, perhaps in her early forties. She looked very thin, and very very tired, but she looked at me with interest, so I smiled encouragingly. I’m not sure whether it was for my benefit that the interview was conducted in English – but it certainly very much helped my understanding of what was going on. I remember she had been a housemaid to a white family for many years, but now she was ill and could no longer work. She had six children, several of whom were also afflicted with the virus. When the nurse asked her about current symptoms, she said that she felt mostly OK, but her feet were too cold. Very, very cold. The nurse nodded and went on to discuss the drugs regime which was complicated and hard to adhere to. After a few minutes she left the room saying she had to search for the correct prescription.
The room was very quiet after she had gone. The woman sat upright on the bed and stared at me with what I thought was a pleading look in her eyes. I started getting a physical urge in my whole body which I couldn’t deny.
I walked quickly over to her, hoping that the nurse wouldn’t return too quickly.
“Shall I rub your feet?”
She nodded, swung her legs round and stuck her bare feet out towards me.
I knelt down by the bed and started my work. They were freezing, those scarred, frail brown feet. I rubbed and rubbed till it seemed that they might catch fire.
She nodded and gave me a wordless, beatific smile.
I hurried back to my seat before the nurse bustled back in, wondering if she would sense the warm guilty secret in the room
I wish I had had a fluffy towel to wrap those feet in.
Next week I shall think about my head