Lately I’ve been obsessed by a subject we don’t like to discuss in polite circles. And yet it’s a common problem: the lowly plantar wart. Even the name “wart” is disgusting – no one wants to admit they have ever had one themselves. Well maybe their kids did, but they didn’t. The virus that causes warts is HPV, and even though it’s different from herpes or HIV, talking about it is almost as taboo as mentioning a sexually transmitted disease.
Yet I have a plantar wart on the ball of my foot. It has been with me in some form or another for the past eighteen years. As best I can tell, I picked up the virus from a pool deck or locker room while I was pregnant with our youngest child during the summer of 1995. The only relief I could get from the heat and excess weight I was hoisting that summer was to swim – well, to move up and down the pool with a kickboard.
As much as I love my son and the time I spent being pregnant with him, I don’t care for this reminder of my pregnancy. But my body seems to delight in the wart virus. I’ve lost track of all the times I’ve destroyed the outer manifestations of its presence. Liquid nitrogen — freezing the wart. Salicylic acid — killing it slowly with OTC remedies. Lasers — involving brief pain but multiple treatments. Mini-surgery — carving it out of my foot. And as a last resort, injections of bleomycin — an anti-cancer drug that kills all cells in its path.
All of these treatments have worked. For a while. The wart has died back, stopped bothering me and let me walk, run, play tennis with no pain. But then it’s returned. I’m reminded of this clip from The Godfather III:
I guess I’m in that small percentage of the population whose immune system does not resist the virus. While that makes me an excellent candidate for the wart vaccine that is supposedly under development, at the moment I still have a plantar wart on the ball of my foot. And it’s acting up, despite having been laser-treated all winter, then injected with bleomycin. AND — it’s my peak tennis season.
So my dermatologist ordered some new stuff for me – Candida antigen, a therapy that has been in use for some time, although it is not yet approved by the FDA for treating warts. Who cares about FDA approval, I said. Candida boosts the body’s immune response in the area where it is injected, hopefully causing the body itself to get rid of those nasty wart cells. From patient information on Candida, it typically didn’t involve much pain. Sounded good to me.
And for the first ten days, everything went pretty well. There was slight itchy-ness, like an allergic reaction, but no big deal. Then it started to hurt. I played tennis a couple of times last weekend anyway. Although my foot ached the first time I played, I rested it and was able to get through a two-hour match the next day. To be honest, however, my foot throbbed during the last set, and I was hiding my limp from everyone (even my partner), because I worried our opponents would take advantage of my gimpiness.
By the next day, I could barely walk. I went back to my doctor, began some additional medications and started letting the foot calm down while keeping it elevated, icing it, drinking wine, etc. The wine was for me, but it couldn’t hurt the foot, I figured.
Do you know how much you can get done when you don’t spend half the day on the tennis court? This week I haven’t been driving to/from matches, playing, rehashing or socializing with my tennis friends. I feel I should be productive during my “time off,” and yet I’m dying to get back to tennis again.
In theory, I should be dealing with all kinds of chores outside of tennis, so that when my foot feels better, I can return with 100% focus. But in practice, I find myself wondering what’s on The Tennis Channel, or whether the online tennis gurus have posted any new videos. Oh, and don’t forget: the French Open starts in eighteen days (Monday 5/21).
After playing tennis many times in spite of foot pain, I’m frustrated it’s now hurting too much for me to continue. But maybe this time, we’ll get rid of the problem for good. That would be nice – like so many other things, I didn’t really think about my foot until it started to hurt. We take our bodies for granted until parts of them stop working.
Personally, I’d like the disgusting thing to go away, just as much as I’d like the pain to dissipate. Maybe that’s going to happen, maybe not.
No matter what, the plantar wart reminds me that we all carry hidden things we’d prefer not to talk about. Stuff that crops up and affects us from time to time. I have a new appreciation for the old saying, “Accept me, warts and all.” I hope I keep it in mind, even after my foot stops hurting.