You may think being a podiatrist is funny business, but Don Griffith takes it very seriously; enough that he's made it his life's work.
"I've been in practice for 40 years, 37 of those years here in Petaluma," he says.
Griffith had an office in San Francisco for 20 years, and has been providing medical outreach to San Quentin inmates every Wednesday for the last 36 years. He is modest and diffident about his achievements, although one can only imagine what a change for the better he makes in his San Quentin patients' daily lives.
"When most of them come to me, their feet are in bad shape," says Griffith. "I saw one patient Wednesday who had three ulcers in his foot. I've seen patients with bullets in their feet. It's because when they're first processed in, their medical conditions aren't normally assessed, and it's usually much later that someone notices that they're having problems with their feet. Also, they've never had much in the way of foot care."
How does someone get into the foot doctor business? "I had a friend who was into it and he talked me into getting into foot medicine," he replies.
Name: Don Griffith
Occupation: Doctor of podiatry.
Born: Santa Maria and raised in Chico.
Family: Married to wife Carol for 49 years. They have five children, 13 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Currently reading: "Just medical journals."
Favorite hangout: "Our cabin in the mountains outside of Chico."
Little known fact: "I am the great-grandson of the chief of the Cherokee Nation, William Downing."
Griffith, who grew up in the Chico area, did his undergrad studies at Chico State and then went on to study podiatry at the California School of Podiatric Medicine, San Francisco, "which is no longer open in San Francisco," he adds. "It moved to Oakland." The name was changed to California College of Podriatic Medicine and then it merged with Samuel Merritt College and moved to the Oakland campus in 2002.
Dr. Griffith says that the most common problem he sees in patients is ingrown toenails. "We cure them with surgery — we trim the nails and the patients no longer have pain, so there is no need for pain medication."
The second most common problem that brings patients to Griffith's office is heel pain. "It's caused by being overweight, poor shoes or diabetes. We treat it with cortisone injections and orthotics, and we recommend proper-fitting shoes. Probably 30 per cent of my practice is seeing diabetics. Their blood sugars run high and cause problems with the blood vessels and nerves in the feet. I tell my patients to examine their feet every day and look for anything that 'isn't normal.' I do nerve testing (for diabetic neuropathy) as well."
If your feet seem to you to get longer or wider as you grow older, you're not imagining things. Dr. Griffith says, "Feet don't grow after women reach their menses and men hit about age 18, but what does happen is the ligaments stretch. Pregnant women will especially notice this as their foot ligaments stretch a lot with the added weight," he adds.
Dr. Griffith believes in conservative treatment as much as possible, trying to avoid surgery unless it is the only solution to the patient's problem. His advice to everyone is to "Be careful in choosing your footwear."
What about Earth Shoes and Birkenstocks? "I see they're making a comeback, and they probably do no harm, although the lower heel doesn't make a lot of sense."
What about high heels? "I don't see any patients in Petaluma for high heel problems, but I did have a few in San Francisco."
He cites another common foot problem, saying, "We see a lot a patients for bunions. The only way to get rid of them, unfortunately, is through surgery. Those treatment things you see advertised don't work."
What are his recommendations for athletic shoe buyers? "I show my patients how to choose shoes. For athletic shoes, I tell them to pull the insole out of the shoe and see if it still fits. I check the fit for my patients at no charge."