Three weeks ago I had foot surgery. I am blessed with good genes on my mother’s side of the family, but I am also cursed with bunions, passed onto me by my maternal grandmother. My grandmother, who died at 97 years-old, never had any health problems except for the pain in her joints and the bunions which made it difficult for her to walk in her last years.
Knowing my heredity, I was not surprised when my feet began to ache and it became more and more difficult to find shoes for my ever-widening feet. When I was 26 years-old the podiatrist recommended foot surgery to remove the bunion and correct the inward drift of my big toe on my right foot. The surgery was uncomfortable, but not awful, and I bounced back quickly. I was up and around in a couple of days, using a fashionable orthopedic boot, and traveling for work one week later. My right big toe is now straight, has a barely visible scar and my right foot is pain-free. My left foot is another story.
All these years I have watched as my left big toe began to turn inward and my bunion grew more outward. Shoes and walking have become more painful. So much so, that I knew I needed to do something. The podiatrist agreed and we scheduled surgery. She warned me that I would have to take off at least two weeks from work. I protested and told her I only had a couple of weeks of vacation and couldn’t possibly be out of commission for that long. I made arrangements to be out of the office for one week and would be available to work from home during that time. I assured my husband that although I would not be able to take our son trick-or-treating, I would be able to pass out Halloween candy, attend soccer games and drive carpool. I had been through this surgery before. I knew the drill. At least I thought I did. Here is a list of the top 10 things I learned from this surgery:
1. 51 is Not the New 26.
When I told my very young and very pregnant podiatrist that I had been through this procedure before and I didn’t intend to take two full weeks to recover, she warned me that my body was no longer 26 years-old and it might take me longer than my intended week off from work. I shrugged off her remarks as coming from someone who didn’t understand that being a working mother of 4 means that you cannot stop moving. Ever. Besides, I knew what my body was capable of, I had endured 32 hours of labor, two c-sections and was driving carpool one week later!
Boy, was I wrong! No matter how confident I felt going into the surgery, how youthful I feel emotionally and mentally, my body knows a different story. At least this lesson reminded me that I need to continue to work on building bone mass, and flexibility.
2. Healing is Hard Work.
Even after the pain had subsided and I stopped taking Vicodin, I was exhausted and had no energy. Walking from my bed to the recliner wore me out. I had a mental list of household chores I planned to do while I was home following surgery. I also thought it would be a great time to write for NaBloPoMo like I have done before. Needless to say, I didn’t get around to reorganizing dresser drawers, cleaning switch plates or blogging much. The only thing my post-surgery body wanted to do was rest.
3. Vicodin and Crutches are Not a Good Combination.
The doctor gave me a prescription of Vicodin to fill before my surgery. I picked it up the week before and thought I probably wouldn’t need it since I have a pretty high tolerance for pain. Yeah, I’m Super Woman like that. After my last foot surgery, I only needed Tylenol to dull the pain. After this surgery, I could feel my foot throbbing as soon as I came out of anesthesia. My parents brought me home from the surgery center and I immediately fell into the recliner and doubled down on the Vicodin. Later, I used the crutches to get myself to the bathroom and nearly knocked down my father as he tried to help me navigate my way across the room.
Taking Vicodin before a conference call from home with your boss, and your boss’s boss is also not a good idea.
4. Obstacles are Everywhere.
Ruts in the road, door thresholds, sidewalk cracks. When I began using the crutches I encountered obstacles everywhere. It took me over a week to figure out how to ascend the two steps into my house and the step up into my bedroom. I couldn’t attempt the steps without my husband and son by my side. I was constantly looking around for anything on the ground which would trip me up. I would walk an extra 50 feet on crutches just to avoid a curb or uneven road. Consequently, I moved so slowly that everything I did took twice as long, and required a lot of effort.
5. Asking for Help is Humbling and Liberating.
My parents drove me home from surgery and stayed with me for the first day. The second day I was home by myself and I spent most of it in bed, unable to move. I couldn’t even get myself a glass of water. It was humbling because I am pretty independent and I realized I needed help, and it was terrifying since I was not prepared for a long recovery, and I had not arranged plans for my family to do without me for any length of time. I ended up calling other moms to arrange for my kids’ rides, receiving meals from a church friend, and asking my husband and children to pitch in with cooking, cleaning, and even bringing me things. During the second week of recovery with still limited mobility, I called my mom and tried to hold back tears as I asked her to come stay with me for a couple of nights. She came and my family and I got some much-needed TLC. It was a relief for me to know that when I asked for help, I received it.
6. Knee Scooters are Liberating and Terrifying.
After the first week on crutches I ended up with aching elbows, a sore neck and stiff back. My cousin, who had endured a broken leg, recommended a knee scooter. It took some effort working with insurance but I finally got one. The scooter allowed me to move more easily and even carry things in the attached basket. I used the scooter when I went to the movies with Diego and his friend. I thought I’d show off my mad scooter skills, but didn’t realize that thing could go so fast. The boys yelled, “Brake, Brake!” as they watched me head towards parked cars in the sloping underground parking garage. Diego was so excited about scooter, he begged me to let him have it when I no longer needed it.
7. Qi is a Real Word.
So is Sup, Er, and Ut.
I’ve always loved Scrabble and during my post-op recovery period I played a lot of online Scrabble. I improved putting down legitimate high scoring words, even if I don’t know their meaning. I even beat my husband at a couple of games.
8. My Dog is a Good Nurse
Molly joined our family a few years ago. She has always been a sweet dog, but her hyper, needy nature often irritated me. I didn’t really appreciate her loving side until I had to spend three weeks home and immobile. She sat with me on the recliner, lay down on the couch beside me and she crawled into bed with me. When I got up to hobble around on crutches, or glide around on my scooter, she was right beside me. She never left my side and was so protective, I was afraid I would run over her on the scooter or clobber her with a crutch. She was such a good companion and caretaker, I know that if she had thumbs she would have gladly changed my bandages and given me medicine.
9. There Are Good People Everywhere.
Whenever I went out with my scooter or crutches, people offered to help me. They opened doors, cleared the way, reached up, bent down, just to accommodate me. While we were in Las Vegas for the weekend, one (drunk) guy even slurred out words of encouragement and tried to fist bump me when he saw me in a wheelchair.
10. We are all TAPS (Temporarily Able-Bodied People)
I didn’t realize how much I need and rely on my physically able-body until now. Before surgery and recovery, I would become impatient with less able-bodied people as they crossed the street, crowded aisles in the grocery stores or moved, so slowly. This experience helped me to appreciate my own physical abilities and be more empathetic to those with disabilities. It also helped me realize that we are all only a surgery or accident away becoming less able-bodied.