When the moon hits your eye...

Cow-Calf Commentary

Achilles was laid low by an arrow in the heel. As the story goes, Achilles smote Hector at the gates of Troy. With his dying breath Hector predicted Achilles’ pending demise. Hector’s brother Paris fired the fatal shot from ambush. The god Apollo is said to have guided the missile.

As I’ve mentioned before, I damaged my own Achilles tendon (the big tendon on the back of the foot, connecting the heel bone to the calf muscle) years ago, largely through my very own efforts.

Way back in the day, in the age of my naval youth, I had to do a lot of running to keep myself fit enough to do the job of rescue swimmer/paramedic. I hated running, but it was the price of keeping the job, so I did it. On the beach (ashore, as opposed to underway on the aircraft carrier) it was easy, and I ran with like-minded bunch. At sea it was harder. I ran on the roof (flight deck) or on the hangar deck. Those venues were tricky and I have the scars to prove it. At a guess I ran 1,000 miles on the boat in the course of about 2,000 days underway.

As it turns out, running on steel decks, particularly when shod in boots, is an ongoing trauma. Over the years that pounding caused a lot of unanticipated damage.

Back in the early 2000’s I began having a lot of pain in the back of my heel. X-rays revealed rather a large bone spur, and we decided to treat it conservatively.

Everything went well until, on Groundhog Day 2007, the tendon failed, and that required immediate surgery. The surgery went well, and I lived happily ever after. Well, until last year.

Last year (as you might have read in this space) I developed osteomyelitis in the heel bone where surgical anchors had been placed to fix the Achilles tendon. Osteomyelitis is a bone infection, and it’s just not a good thing to have. It took seven months of IV antibiotics and another surgery to fix the problem, but fix it we did.

The post-surgical healing process was rather long and difficult. They had to dig all of the infected tissue out of my heel bone, and a lot of it -- just over a third -- was infected. They replaced the bone tissue with a matrix of ground bone and delayed-release antibiotic crystals, so it took time for my own new bone to replace the matrix. They also had to re-anchor the Achilles tendon to the heel bone, this time using more advanced and smaller anchors which, hopefully, will reduce the chance of an infection starting again in the future. All of this took time. Although I was able to regain nearly full mobility within about three months of the surgery, complete healing took more than a year. Along the way I occasionally overstressed the healing tissue and that always set me back with pain, swelling, and reduced mobility.

The most difficult part of the recovery process was caused by seven months of antibiotics. The antibiotics saved me from losing my foot and perhaps my life, so I can hardly hold a grudge. Still, such a long course of antibiotics upset the balance of good and bad bacteria all throughout my body. We rely on good bacteria to do many things within our body, from digestion to warding off disease and illness, and an upset in that good/bad balance can take a very long time to recover from.

So it was that I really didn’t begin to get back to normal until this April, more than a year after the surgery. The upside is that I did get back to normal, though, and now as most of July has passed I’m feeling better than I have in more than a decade. On balance, this has been a hard but ultimately good experience.

You might be wondering what any of this has to do with the moon hitting your eye.

Last Friday evening, July 20, I went outside and spent a couple of hours looking at the moon. Why? Well, last Friday marked the 49th anniversary of the first manned landing on the moon.

I’m old enough to remember 49-years-ago, watching Mike Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong roar into the heavens from Pad 39A on July 16. Four days later I watched in awe as Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Moon in Eagle, while Collins remained in orbit aboard Columbia. As the warm summer day turned to evening I watched as the first men clambered down out of the LEM and walked about on the actual surface of the moon!

If I try hard enough, and particularly if I’m looking at the actual moon, I can recapture some of the wonder I felt on that sultry summer evening so long ago. My memories of that night are still crystal clear. I remember that when then the broadcast ended I stepped out into the summer night and looked at the moon. It was almost due south and was a waxing crescent, nearly at first quarter phase. I could see the Sea of Tranquility. I looked and looked and strained as hard as I could but I could not see any sign of Eagle on the surface or Columbia in orbit. I was slightly disappointed that I could see no sign; it seemed that such a momentous feat should somehow be evident to my naked eyes. On the other hand, I didn’t really need to see a sign. I knew, as I know today, that something wonderful had happened.

Last Friday as I looked up at a waxing gibbous moon – more than 60 percent full – it just wasn’t very hard to recapture that same sense of wonder. I stood anchored on two healthy feet and enjoyed the view, giving thanks all the while for the immeasurable blessings of my life.

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