So, the thing is… I wish there was a way to tell when it was the last time.


It’s only taken 42 years, but I finally found out that my foot is broken.


Long story short: my left foot, which has given me problems on and off for my whole life but especially during the last five years, has some genetic anomalies that…well… make it unsuitable for doing the things feet should do.


Like, um, walking.


Or, more importantly for this endorphin-starved woman, running.


When I was 37 or so, I went to see a sports physiologist who made orthotics for me (and maybe a pass at me, although it had been so long since someone had that I might not have recognized it) but who never actually x-rayed my foot. You know the type—more concerned about his next lecture series than about actually getting to the bottom of things. He gave me a shot of cortisone right into the joint (“You’re very quiet. Are you shy?”  “No, I’m trying not to cry.”)  He sent me to Physical Therapy but it didn’t seem very effective. I kept waiting for it to heal. I kind of thought that the reason it was getting worse was that I hadn’t been very good about laying off of it and if I’d injured it, well, I’m in my forties now and things don’t seem to heal quite as fast.


Recently, the pain became enough of a problem that I went and had the foot x-rayed. The doctor at the minor emergency clinic looked at the x-rays and immediately referred me to a podiatrist. “This looks like a very old break and some bone chips that might be causing the pain,” he said. He fitted me with a walking boot thing (very stylish, black) and sent me to the foot doctor.


The podiatrist (who is amazing) ordered a bunch more tests, including a 3-D CT scan of the foot which is really geeky and cool. I’ve been carrying an extra set of them around in my car for a while now in case anyone wants to see. Anyway, my foot is going to need major reconstructive surgery because basically, I've been walking, running and tap-dancing for 42 years on a foot that was never made for walking. Right now, it appears that I am actually walking THROUGH my foot. It turns out that it wasn't due to an old fracture but because I have such a high pain tolerance and because no one ever took x-rays before now, I've done extensive damage to my foot. I have some odd genetic abnormalities --like my bones are not the normal shape of the bones in other people's feet. The doctor kept saying, “You are quite remarkable.”


Great. Just what I wanted to be remarkable for: weird feet. I hear there’s a new Nobel Prize being awarded: Literature AND Deformed Feet.


One of the things the doctor predicts is that I won’t be able to run anymore once I recover from the surgery. And it’s funny, really: I felt this enormous sense of loss when I heard those words. Now, mind you, I haven’t actually BEEN running for the past four years or so since my foot started really bothering me, so the impact on my life will be fairly minimal—kind of as if the doctor had told me that my Olympic Pole Vaulting chances are now over. I don’t know…there just seems to be something much more final about hearing those words from someone who actually knows what he’s talking about.


So then Ana turned nine.


I know I say this about EVERY birthday but nine feels like such a BIG birthday. Ana is now half way through to college. HALF WAY TO COLLEGE! Isn’t that…just…SHOCKING? How is it even possible?


I wish… I wish there was a way to somehow KNOW when you are doing something for the last time. I don’t even remember the last good run I had. And I was picking Jane (6) up to give her a hug when she needed comforting the other day when it hit me that I can’t remember the last time I did that to Ana. It’s out of the question these days. She’s up to my shoulder now and there’s no place to put those long legs even if I could lift her. But see, I don’t remember the last time I DID pick her up so I didn’t get to really relish the moment, even in memory. I just wish I’d marked it somehow.


Of course, now that I think about it, my parenting career has been full of these little goodbyes. When Jane was little, she used to sleep with her arms and legs tucked under her and her little rump up in the air. I thought this was so cute that I watched her every night for a few minutes when I checked on her before going to bed. It still makes me smile to think about her asleep in her fuzzy footy-pajamas, curled up like a little polar bear. And then one day she just stopped doing it and it just faded away without either of us realizing it. 


I don’t know. May be if we DID know that it was the last time we’d be seeing or doing something, we’d be so busy photographing it and scrapbooking it and um, well, WRITING ABOUT IT that we wouldn’t really FEEL it.


I guess we can live our lives as a series of goodbyes or we can live them as a series of new opportunities and hellos. I can’t pick Ana up anymore but I CAN still hug her. And in addition to that, there’s this easy affection between us—this teasing and shared humor that is more delightful than anything that’s come before. Maybe I won’t be a runner anymore but I can still WALK. And the doctor suggested I could learn to cycle—which opens a door to a passion that I might share with my husband. 


Still. I can’t help it. I wish I’d been paying a bit more attention.


To subscribe or unsubscribe to this free (if sporadic) e-mail newsletter, send e-mail to  (Your address will not be used for any other purpose.)  If you would like to forward this column on, please do so in its entirety.  Feedback welcome.  Back issues can be found at


(c) Barbara Cooper 2007



Barb Cooper is the mother of Ana (9) and Jane (6). She lives in Austin, Texas and she wasn't that strong of a runner anyway.