David truly on its last legs

David is none too keen about getting a hammer to its legs time after time. It hurts really bad. Galleria dell'Accademia/Getty Images

News item: Researchers say Michelangelo's David has microfractures in its legs and that its ankles may be too thin to safely support the five-century-old statue's 12,000-pound weight. Museum officials insist that the beloved work of art is safe.

The doctor's eyes were focused on his computer screen, so he didn't see the new patient bump his head on the examination room's door frame or notice the examining table sag under his weight when he leaned against it.

"What's your name?" the doctor asked, his eyes still fixed on the screen.


"David what?"

"Just David."

"Yeah, well, good luck getting your insurance processed through the Affordable Care Act with only a first name," the doctor said. "OK, take off your pants," he went on, before looking at his patient. "Oh. Ummm, never mind, I guess."

The doctor rose from his chair and walked over to the examining table. "So, what can I do for you? Doesn't look like you need a change in diet -- you look like you're sculpted of marble."

"Carrara marble, actually. Which might be the problem. There were a lot of flaws in that block. Whatever, it's my ankles and heels. They hurt like hell all the time. It feels like I'm standing on red-hot nails. It hurts more than when that psycho attacked my feet with a hammer a couple decades ago."

"Hmmm. Sounds like it could be plantar fascia or Achilles tendinitis. Or both. Are your heels worse in the morning when you first get out of bed?"

"That's the thing, Doc. I don't get out of bed in the morning. I'm never in bed. I stand all day long, 24/7."

The doctor laughed. "You sound like my nurses. Always complaining they're on their feet all day," he said. "But like I tell them, standing a lot is not necessarily bad. It beats sitting on your butt all day. Have you seen the recent research on how sitting too much increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer? Standing up regularly is good for you."

"Try standing still for 500 years like I have. That includes more than three centuries outside in the Palazzo della Signoria. More than 300 years in the rain, the wind and direct sunlight. Without so much as a windbreaker."

The doctor stared at him. "Uh-huh. Right. Five-hundred years. You are a piece of work, David."

"That's what people always say."

"Anyway, let's see what the problem is." The doctor felt around the back of David's ankles with his fingers. "Wow. That feels pretty solid," he said. "In addition to everything else, I would say you've got severe calcification in your ankles." He felt some more lower down. "And in your heels." He felt some more. "And in your whole foot, actually."

"Is there anything that can be done?"

"A lot of physical therapy. Electrotherapy. Plenty of stretching. Massage. Less running. But the best thing is get some orthotics to wear in your shoes."

"I don't wear shoes."

The doctor shook his head. "Well, that could be another cause of your pain. I know there are all those recent books claiming humans are meant to run barefoot, but don't you believe it. We need protection. We need support. So always wear shoes. No more running barefoot. And no flip-flops, either. Those are killer on your feet. And wear the orthotics."

"How much are the orthotics?"

"Not much. Just $300."

David tried the orthotics, which turned out to cost $300 a piece, not for the pair. Plus a fitting fee. And they didn't help. The doctor told him to give them a month. He did so, reluctantly. And they didn't feel any better. In fact, they felt worse. The doctor had him come in for another fitting but the new pair didn't help, either. Nor did all the different shoes -- ones for pronation and ones for supination -- that he tried.

He consulted several doctors and orthopedic specialists, each citing different causes of his pain and offering different approaches. He would feel better initially, but the pain always returned. He tried several months of physical therapy. Electrotherapy treatment. Spin classes. Yoga. Hot yoga. Cold yoga. Nothing worked.

After nearly a year of therapy and sitting in waiting rooms listening to other patients complain that the pain in their feet and ankles wasn't going away, either, David finally tried surgery. It was expensive and required several months of rehab and recovery. Even then, his feet and ankles felt only marginally better. And only for a week or so. Then the pain returned, worse than ever.

In the end, David resigned himself to the fact that the pain simply is never going to go away. After receiving endless medical bills totaling tens of thousands of dollars that his insurance did not cover, he returned to the Accademia Gallery in Florence. Grimacing in pain, David took his pose again and grimly prepared himself for the next wave of tourists invading the Gallery.

"At least Goliath's pain was over quick," he thought. "Why couldn't Michelangelo have just carved me lying in the arms of the Madonna, Pieta-style?"