…until I met a man who had no feet. So I took his shoes
A good friend of mine frequently reminded me that “you should never talk bad about a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes; that way, you are a mile away and you have his shoes.” Good advice. And you guessed it, today I am back at the keyboard feverishly hammering out an article on foot protection.
Before we get into the meat of the article, I want to share with you a conversation to which I was party to about which body part you would least like to lose. First of all, I cannot emphasise enough the foolishness of telling people which body part you would least like to lose, because when your enemies target you, that is the first place they are going to aim for. Some information you just need to keep to yourself. And for all of you who think you have no enemies, I only have two things to say. First, many indigenous tribes of the Americas judged a person’s greatness by the number of enemies he or she has. And second, in all likelihood you do have enemies, they are just more cunning and plain smarter than you—when they make their move you will never see it coming.
You might be wondering how the subject came up. My wife had a detached retina—a highly unusual situation for someone under the age of 50 and who had not suffered a trauma. We had to go to doctor after doctor who after eyeing me suspiciously took her away and asked her if she felt safe at home (for the record I am more of a biter than a puncher and if I ever tried to bite my wife, I would thereafter be able to carry my teeth around in a change purse—don’t mess with her, she is wiry). Anyway, she was talking to a family friend who also had a detached retina (I’m pretty sure he is in Fight Club but naturally he won’t talk about it). He said, “if I got my leg got cut off, I would be still able to get around.” Okay, I’m not buying this boast. I need both of my legs. In fact, I don’t have any body parts to spare, to paraphrase Mozart in the movie Amadeus, “I have exactly the body parts I need, no more and no fewer.” I’m still steamed that my tonsils and adenoids were taken without consulting me. Sure, I was too young to make an informed decision, but they were mine!
But enough about my lymphoid tissue or the lack thereof. I like my feet and I mean to keep them. I don’t want to leave this planet in pieces.
Protecting your feet
I wrote an article for this very magazine1 on foot protection in April of 2021 so it seems a bit thick-headed to rehash the same tips I offered there (not that they aren’t good – they are) when you can just follow the link I provided, so I thought I would talk about some deeper considerations that may not be as obvious. The following are tips for foot protection.
Always wear shoes
This sounds kind of stupid right? Well it’s not. From slippers and shower shoes to chemically resistant boots, there are scarce few instances where wearing some sort of foot protection is inappropriate. If your home is like mine (trust me, it isn’t) there are plenty of hazards from errant Legos that hurt more than caltrops when you step on them, to table legs and other obstacles on which you can stub your toes. My doctor actually suggested that I wear shoes inside the house, and I thought he was a quack, but since I occasionally wear slippers (I am a hypocrite but do as I say not as I do). I have found that I am far less likely to hurt my feet while wearing slippers than when I am barefoot.
“I don’t have any body parts to spare”
“there are scarce few instances where wearing some sort of foot protection is inappropriate”
Wearing shoes everywhere means just that (okay well maybe not in bed). I was wallowing in a lake barefoot (actually playing volleyball in the water which is virtually indistinguishable from wallowing) when I stepped on a broken clam shell that was sharp enough to cut my foot deep enough that I could have required stitches (instead I cleaned it up and used Crazy Glue to close the wound, but it still hurt like hell, and I didn’t have to take six hours or more out of my vacation time in an emergency room).
Get your feet measured before buying shoes
I have short, wide, and flat feet and for most of my adult life I wore US size 9½ shoes. Well, I tore up shoes like Sherman tore up Georgia, and it got expensive, and my feet usually hurt. Then one day I went into the army surplus store to buy some boots for walking in the snow. I was the salesperson’s first customer on his first day of work (lucky him, right?). He asked me what sort of boot and what size I wore. From her position artfully crouching behind a stack of shoe boxes, a woman leapt out of the shadows like a ninja. “How do you know you wear a size 9½ triple E?” she asked accusingly. I wanted to respond with, “how the hell do you know I don’t?” but frankly she scared me a little.
She explained that most shoe buyers have been trained to think of shoe sizes in two dimensions, but astonishingly enough feet are actually three-dimensional (go figure). The height of my foot is proportionate to the width of my foot — in other words my instep is massive and therefore I needed a size 10 shoe. I was about to protest but the woman stared into my soul, and I knew she would deftly tear out my throat if I protested. As a result, I purchased the most comfortable and durable pair of boots in my life. I changed the size of my shoe and have never been happier (as it pertains to shoes). Also, proper fitting shoes do not need to be broken in, so stop suffering for three weeks until your feet reshape the shoe.
“most shoe buyers have been trained to think of shoe sizes in two dimensions”
Know how to walk in your shoes
Walking in beach shoes requires significantly different posture than walking in trainers, and walking in trainers requires a different range of motion when walking or running than that which is required by work boots. Unfortunately, with the possible exception of athletic shoes, no one ever teaches you how to walk in other kinds of shoes. This sounds silly — “do I need to go through training to wear work boots?” The answer is yes.
How many of you have stumbled on a staircase because the shape, weight, and inflexibility of steel or composite toed shoes are so much different than the casual shoes that we wear when we aren’t working? The last time I purchased work boots (I go to a name-brand shoe store that specialises in work shoes) and asked the salesperson (who appeared to be 120 years old) for tips on walking in work boots. Instead of treating me like an escaped mental patient, he offered these useful tips:
Wear the appropriate socks
According to this wise, elderly man who has sold work shoes longer than most of us have been alive, many people will buy the correct size boot and then add as much as another full size to their shoe size by wearing thick, bulky wool socks to keep warm. He told me that it doesn’t take long before your shoes will start to make your feet hurt. And when your feet hurt you tend to walk in a way that increases the chances of injury.
Don’t shuffle your feet
This sounds fairly obvious but consider that most people don’t have a good idea of how they walk. When wearing work boots you have to pick up your feet when you walk. The movements associated with walking are deeply ingrained in our muscle memory, and while most of us don’t have to think about the mechanics of walking day-to-day, we do have to think about it when we are wearing shoes or boots that make sense.
Watch where you are walking
You might have thought that the old coot who sold me work boots was a bit soft in the head or that he thought I was a bit soft in the head, but here again, this is an important consideration that a lot of us take for granted. I mean, we always watch where we are walking right? Wrong. Too many times we walk into places where our shoes offer no protection to us. Imagine slogging through a puddle of toxic goo wearing trainers. The chemicals will quickly seep through and potentially harm your feet.
But how realistic is it for us to literally watch our every footfall? If we did, we would lose situational awareness and increase our risks of being struck by an industrial vehicle or a falling object. So what can we do? Where is the happy medium? It begins and ends with slowing down. Whether it’s a construction site, a warehouse, or a manufacturing facility people tend to lose sight of the dangers all around us in the workplace. We speed through the workplace ignoring the conditions that used to frighten us. It’s human nature, but we need to slow down and think.
“when your feet hurt you tend to walk in a way that increases the chances of injury”
Keep your footwear in good working condition
If you are like me, you like nothing better than coming home after 14 hours in a refinery and immediately cleaning your work boots. But if you don’t, you might be missing one of the most important steps in protecting you — and your family and pets — from serious risks.
In a previous job, I would walk through paper mills, oil fields, warehouses, chemical plants, movie sets, and more. Any of these locations could easily transfer toxins onto my work boots. So when I would return home I would take my work boots directly to the garage, and, while wearing rubber gloves, scrub my boots and inspect them for wear and damage. (While in the hotel I would store my boots in a hotel trash bag.) By cleaning my boots with some plain dish soap and a stiff bristled brush I could ensure that the chemicals were removed from my boots and that my boots were in good condition.
“protective footwear should be replaced at the first sign of wear”
Also, don’t be cheap and wait until your boots are torn to shreds before you replace them. Protective footwear should be replaced at the first sign of wear. The structural integrity of the shoes or boots can breakdown long before there are obvious signs of wear, so when you can see damage it’s a safe assumption that the shoe offers less protection that it might appear.
Protecting your feet should be second nature to people but we tend to take them for granted and only think about footwear after we have stepped on a shard of broken glass or a dirty nail. I hope you gained some helpful hints on protecting your feet. And if I offended you, tough. Don’t follow the tips, injure your feet and you can forget about kicking my derrière.