Graswich Unleashed: Pain in the Foot

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Pain in the Foot

A Sacramento leaf sprained my ankle. You know the leaf: brown, about 3 inches across, probably from a liquidambar tree. The leaf was in the street. My boot landed on it and I slipped. I quickly caught my balance, but the damage was done.

Twenty-four hours later, I discovered something new: a pain understood only by people who have strained, sprained or torn whatever those tiny fibers are that commune with the bone in your left ankle and make a foot work.

The pain is excruciating. I would have disavowed everything I love to make the hurt go away. I would have agreed to wear neckties and eat frozen peas. It was that bad.

I’ve never had a sprain and always wondered about people who hobble around on crutches or canes with a big sock and one shoe, claiming to have rolled an ankle. I figured it was a pitch for sympathy, a way to loaf. They would describe how painful it was, but how painful could it be? It’s not like they broke a bone.

Now I know. When my ankle sprain was in its second day—so painful I cried when I raised my foot and rested it on a pillow and wrapped it with an elastic bandage—I thought of Billy Jones. Where was Jonesy when I needed him?

Jonesy was the athletic trainer for the Kings when I was a sportswriter traveling with the team in the 1980s. He had been in the trade for four decades. He had looked after the training needs of the Kansas City Royals baseball club before switching to basketball.

Jonesy was the first line of defense for medical matters involving players. He could diagnose gonorrhea as fast as he could reduce the swelling in a power forward’s thumb.

Doctors consulted Jonesy. He could unlock the secrets of back pain, a black hole that mystifies physicians. If Jonesy suspected a player was faking an injury, he would say, “Oh yeah, (fill in name), he got a weak back about a week back.”

Ankles were his specialty. He wrapped about 50 ankles each day: every Kings player before workouts and games, plus referees and even coaches. I watched him tape a thousand ankles. He was so fast I never learned how he did it.

The technique involved white athletic tape, a figure-eight pattern and medial side pulling toward lateral. He started low on the foot and worked up. He had strong hands and thick arms, and he cut the tape with a quick slice of his fingernail. It was poetry.

Jonesy died in Roseville from cancer in 2005, too soon for everyone who knew him, too early for my ankle. But I know what he would have done: wrapped a big ice pack around my ankle and ordered me to stick my foot into hot water an hour later. Cold and hot, that was Jonesy’s mantra.

And tape. He would tape my ankle in his magical way, every line smooth and even and snug, not too tight, the ideal pressure. I would never remove Jonesy’s tape, not even days later.

One last thing. Jonesy would ask if I planned to doubt or make fun of people with sprained ankles. He would squeeze my ankle for an instant and make me howl with pain. And he would smile and say, “Stay off it. You’ll live.”

R.E. Graswich writes a twice-weekly blog for sacmag.com. He co-hosts the afternoon news with Kitty O’Neal on NewsTalk 1530 AM KFBK and reports nightly for CBS 13.