Joy Magazine

Feet first

Art Birnbaum receives a foot massage from Glenda Rackleff.Photo by Denise Baratta

Art Birnbaum says one of his secrets to a long life is happy feet. That's why the 99-year-old Ashland resident is such a booster for Glenda Rackleff, a nurse with an uncommon specialty.

Rackleff is a foot- and nail-care nurse. During a treatment at Skylark Assisted Living, where Birnbaum is relishing a tea-tree oil soak, the nurse is concerned about swelling in his ankle. More than 2 pounds of edema is troubling, she says, so she encourages him to call his doctor.

Birnbaum soaks next in a specially prepared, green, environmentally friendly nail-fungus solution, then Rackleff uses a full-spectrum OttLite to inspect and monitor his skin integrity. She checks for pulses in his feet to determine proper circulation and then carefully and thoughtfully begins nipping his nails. This is followed by filing with a portable, electronic device and a luxurious shea-butter massage.

Rackleff and Birnbaum met more than three years ago, when he inspired her niche in the nursing field. If he had not begged a local family-care practice for help with his feet, Rackleff might not have pursued the path she now walks.

Rackleff's practice, based at 1218 Rose Lane in Ashland, is called Feet First Footcare. Michael Jasperson's physician told him to see Rackleff before a total knee-replacement surgery last August.

"At first I thought, 'What do my feet have to do with a knee surgery?' " he says. But properly treated feet are not likely to get an infection.

"I thought I would be out of there in 15 minutes," says Jasperson of his first appointment. But he received more than an hour of care and says he found the whole process to be surprisingly interesting.

Rackleff does not polish toenails pink or even promise pretty feet. As a registered nurse with 30 years of experience, her work is not about giving pedicures, but preserving mind, body and "soles" for the long run.

Rackleff, herself, loves folk dancing, with English country dancing a hobby for most of her adult life. Yet when she developed plantar fasciitis — a painful and difficult-to-heal problem that causes tremendous discomfort — she learned about the loss of a beloved pastime because of chronic pain.

Asking for help with your feet is embarrassing to many people, "yet when they hurt, it is hard to enjoy life," says Rackleff.

"To get this certification, I had to complete special training only available to nurses, accrue hours within the field and finally pass a national board exam," explains Rackleff.

"Feet provide emotional and physical balance and connect people to the earth. I touch people's feet, but not in a scary way, and it makes them feel cared for and respected."

Patients come to her with complaints ranging from calluses, rough spots and corns to hammertoes and hip problems. Many assume that because they live healthful lifestyles, their feet will be healthy. But feet often bear the brunt of active pursuits that can strain muscles, tendons and fascia.

Friction from ill-fitting athletic shoes can produce calluses or corns. Hiking downhill can ram your toe into the end of your shoe and cause the toenail to fall off, possibly encouraging nail fungus. And despite popular belief, plantar warts are not caused by poor hygiene but a virus.

For more information, Rackleff can be reached at 541-326-6033.

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