Medieval Torture Device; Socialized Medicine

Having a baby under Canada's socialized medicine, I had zero complaints about socialized medicine. I could get into my GP within 24 hours most of the time. We didn't have to spend hours fighting with various insurers whose policies change as often as Facebook seems to change privacy settings. And given basic pregnancy was dealt with by GPs, obstetricians had time to see high-risk pregnancies like me.

So after our darling, curly-headed daughter was born, I wasn't too worried when my GP sent me to an orthopedist. Metatarsus Varus was the diagnosis. Boot and bar was the prescription. Sounded so innocent. Just a pair of boots screwed onto a bar.

The boot and bar in early days.

In the beginning, she was to wear it 23+ hours a day, with time off for a bath (or a break). Her turnout would be gradually turned out until her feet were parallel to the bar. An 180 degree turnout that a ballet dancer would spend a lifetime working towards.

What's the big deal you ask? Well, try it. And then sleep in that position. Fat chance. Having tried to stretch my plantar fasciitis out with a sock that pulled my toe toward my knee, I learned first hand how tortuous that was. Every night I'd yank the sock off in pain.

Our daughter made her outrage known the only way she could. She screamed and cried. Advice came from our families. "You've gotta let her cry it out." So we'd try to, until we'd rescue her from her frustration by tossing the damn boot and bar across the room.

This torture went on for about 18 months. She didn't sleep through the night, well not until we took an overnight train from Vancouver BC to San Francisco CA. The rocking action of the train sent all three of us into a well needed full night's sleep for the first time since she was born. Poor thing.

When our daughter was 2-years-old, we moved to Asunción, Paraguay. The classic Third World country where electricity went out regularly, often for 12 hours at a time, monkeys fried on outdoor electrical wires, well when the electricity worked and cockroaches ruled the kitchen.

Nevertheless we found US trained and/or US Board certified doctors. Expats talked about one OB/Gyn who was a dreamy double for Omar Sharif in Funny Girl. We took our daughter to the best foot doctor in town. When he took one look at her in the boot and bar, he barely hid his shock. "We don't use that medieval torture thing," he said in impeccable English.


What he did recommend was to put the errant food into a cast for seven days, "to soften the bones." It was high summer our daughter was miserable with the hot cast, but approaching 3-years-old she at least could understand why we seemed to be torturing her.

After the seven days, the doctor prescribed what he called reversed-last shoes, shoes that over time would encourage the foot into its proper position. The shoes were handmade since Paraguay didn't have shops that carried them. It looked like she had her shoes on the wrong feet.

For years I met a lot of strangers, especially on the NYC mass transit who'd look at me, this hapless mother to say, "Honey, your baby's shoes are on backwards."

But the reverse-last shoes worked. And I learned that sometimes the so-called Third World knows better than the First World. And that damnable boot and bar WAS a medieval torture device.

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    Candace Drimmer

    I was an accidental expatriate; love and marriage led me to it. One day I was a bandy-legged kid sitting atop my dogwood tree looking out of my small backyard world in 1950s New Jersey, wanting to move somewhere--anywhere, different. Next thing I knew my father had accepted a job in Houston TX. I was ecstatic, it was a foreign land in 1961 America. After high school graduation, my parents’ gave me a matched set of fawn-colored hardsided American Tourister luggage. Taking the hint, I went to college; well four colleges in five years--it was the 60s after all. Meeting a young hirsute anti-war, soon-to-be-Peace Corps volunteer, I fell in love. After finishing up college coursework for my degree, but before I even walking a graduation stage, I grabbed the paper airline ticket my boyfriend had sent me, my brand-new passport, and was off to the airport and Lima, Peru.

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