After My Foot (Bunion) Surgery
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On February 10th, 2011 I had corrective surgery on the bunion of my left foot. Even though I’d had the same procedure performed on my right foot about ten years earlier, I thought that I might benefit from a refresher course on how best to manage on only one foot for several weeks. I scoured the internet in search of a first person account of the surgery but could find only general medical advice, so I decided to keep a diary of my own recovery while it was still fresh in my mind. It is possible that someone in a similar position might find my experiences useful.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a bunion is an enlargement of the bone or tissue around the joint at the base of the big toe. The big toe may turn in to point toward the second toe, and in extreme cases, can even force it beneath the second toe. This can push the remaining toes out of place and cause even further discomfort. Bunions are most often caused by an inherited faulty mechanic structure of the foot. It is not the bunion itself that is inherited, but certain foot types that make a person prone to developing a bunion. (My older sister has bunions just as I do, but she had decided that she would rather go to her grave with deformed and painful feet than have the corrective surgery for fear of pain. This is from a woman who has given birth to two children – while I on the other hand refuse to have kids for the exact same reason. Different strokes for different folks I guess. )
My road to bunion surgery started over 15 years ago while I was in the Marine Corps. My 2nd year while serving in the Philippines I discovered that wearing combat boots had suddenly become very painful. Upon visiting the base medical clinic I was advised that I had bunions on both feet, with the right foot being worse off than the left. It was recommended that I have surgery on the right foot first, which at that time entailed exposing the enlarged joint and then filing it down to smooth out the bump. I had the surgery as advised, but had to revisit the subject five years later when the bump returned and the pain along with it.
But by this time the preferred procedure was not to drill the bump down (because as had been confirmed by me, they just grew back). Instead, the procedure of choice was now to cut the big toe bone and properly realign it, using a metal pin to hold it in place until the bone healed in its new position. The pin would then be removed after 6 weeks or so, leaving the foot healed and properly aligned, albeit slightly swollen and sore for a few weeks more.
So I had the “re-do” performed on my right foot about 10 years ago, and as of this date the bump never returned. Now, that the pain in the left foot has gotten to a point that it can no longer be ignored, the time to have that one done.
The last time that I had this outpatient surgery, the doctor put me to sleep and when I awoke it was all over. I had a half cast on the bottom of my foot held on by yards and yards of bandages. But this time, my doctor (whom I really like and respect a lot) says that he prefers to keep the patient totally awake, while using a local anesthesia. At first I was not keen on the idea of being totally awake while someone sawed my big toe in half, but when my doctor advised me that there would be less risk of complications from anesthesia as well as a shorter recovery period while in the hospital, I was willing to try it (as long as I couldn’t feel anything).
The first difference that I noticed upon arriving at the hospital was that they would not require me to undress and change into one of those surgical gowns that leave your butt hanging out. Apparently you only have to do that when using general anesthesia, and as I was only using a local I could keep on my comfy and warm sweats.
My doctor then gave me a Xanex (I guess to keep me from freaking out during surgery) and had even suggested that I to play some music from my cell phone to myself using headphones so that I wouldn’t have to listen to the sounds of snapping bone during surgery. (Good call Doc.) He then gave me five or six shots in my lower leg in order to numb it. I didn’t think it would work, but it did. I watched him attempt to tickle my foot, and I couldn’t even feel that anyone was touching me at all. As he had predicted, I felt absolutely nothing at all. About twenty minutes later it was all over and I emerged from surgery with five stitches in my foot as well as a metal pin to hold my big toe straight. That was the easy part.
As I live alone and had remembered from my first surgeries how difficult it was to get things done on one foot when you live alone, I decided to prepare this time. I cleaned my home really well, bought enough groceries to last me at least 2 weeks, and precooked a few meals. Also, as had I intended to move from my current home in 4 months anyway, I put all of my living room furniture in storage and moved my queen size bed downstairs into my living room. I know that sounds a little crazy, but I knew that I was going to catch hell trying to get up and down the stairs of my townhouse with a broken foot and no one there to help me but my two crazy cats. This turned out to be the wisest decision that I have made in a long time, because as I predicted, I was basically an invalid for the first week.
The hospital provided me with crutches, but let me tell you in case no one has ever mentioned this to you, crutches suck. My arm pits were sore from where the crutches rubbed against them, the palms of my hands were sore from me keeping death grip on the crutches , and I could only move 4 or 5 steps at a time before I had to catch my breath – believe me, they need to market them as a workout! I realized at day 3 after the surgery that I had forgotten to purchase cat litter, and the litter box was full. I used the crutches to get to my car, and then jumped into one of those drivable shopping carts once I arrived at the supermarket. I was able to refresh my supplies and even get them into the car with no problem, but getting them from the car into the house was a brainteaser. The 2 small plastic grocery bags I could carry with no problem, but the 20 pound plastic container of cat litter was another issue. I tried to put it on the ground and push it with my good foot as I crutched along, but I didn’t make much progress. Thank God that my neighbor with the noisy kids that I always complained to myself about pulled up right about then. She sent her little girl over to carry the cat litter to my door for me. I gave the girl 3 dollars, but that small gesture of kindness had actually been priceless to me at that moment.
My doctor had advised me that absolutely no weight should be put on that foot for at least a week, and believe me – it hurt so bad that putting it on the ground was the last thing that I wanted. But right around the 5th day after the surgery, the pain started to subside, and I found that I needed less pain medication. By the 7th day I could bear to put my put on the ground if I favored that foot and walked so that weight was placed only on the heel and outer side of my foot (avoiding using the big toe at all).
I am as of today at day 11 after the surgery and I am getting around pretty well, inside of my home anyway. I have an appointment with my doctor 4 days from now (exactly 2 weeks after the surgery) to have my stitches removed and to get the dressing changed. If all goes well I am scheduled to return to work on the following Monday, as I am out on 14 days paid disability leave until then. That will be the next test – getting around at work.
I will file part 2 of this series after I go back to work. Even I want to know how that turns out.
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Six weeks to six months after bunion surgery, swelling continued to go down. Cope with bunion surgery by rearranging your bedroom, your shopping, your parking, and your shoes, and asking for help.