Tag Archives: surgery

state of the feet: eight* months

I realized today that it’s been exactly eight* months since I had surgery on both my feet. The fact that I even noted this milestone has very little to do with my stellar significant date recall, and much more to do with the ongoing saga of confirming, communicating, consolidating, and paying off the medical bills with “date of service, 3-19-14” listed at the top of them all.

I’m not even sure that this warrants a post of its own, but I have been thinking about my feet a lot lately – sometimes with great impatience – and maybe it might be helpful for me to put a little more thought into where I was eight months ago, and where I am today.

This week the weather took a pretty serious nosedive towards a winter that’s still over a month away. That, coupled with the number daylight savings time did on my afternoon sunlight reserve, has forced me indoors for physical activity. In past years I’ve ramped down a bit in the winter, letting my body settle more fully into the seasonal changes – hibernating just a bit. But this year I’ve been more reluctant to do that – I spent all of spring unable to walk much at all, my summer was spent in physical therapy teaching my feet and toes to bend again enough to walk without pain, before running again, and my fall was spent chained to a desk full of study materials. So now when I should be settling into a good book and the couch, I just want to stretch and move and run.

We joined a nearby gym / rec center this fall, and for the first time in ten years I’ve had a place to go indoors to workout. I’m grateful for this option, but when I set out to run three miles last night, I quickly realized that was thirty-three laps around the track. Want to know how exciting thirty-three laps are? Slightly more exciting than running in place on a treadmill, but considerably less exciting than actually running on pavement in a park. Considerably less.

Three miles is comfortable to me now. I started running again – in tiny quarter mile stints at first – back in mid-July. It was slow, and I really had to concentrate on my form and do a lot of extra toe exercises to increase my mobility there. I’ve seen the x-rays of my feet – there’s some serious hardware from my big toes all the way down to the center of my feet. I’m sort of amazed that my toes can bend at all. By September I was comfortably doing four to four and a half miles, but after that point my toes would start to complain. And then in October I dropped a table on my right toe, and everything regressed yet again. I developed an infection and started a serious round of antibiotics. I’m also using this really expensive, non-insurance covered nail lacquer that might help save the toenail that changed from purple to black this week. At the very least, I’m trying to keep the toenail in place to act as splint so that a new nail will grow in correctly. The nail bed no longer hurts, which is great, so I’m back to running again. Inside, on a track, round and round and round again.

Eight months ago tonight, I was experiencing the worst physical pain of my life. I’m not excluding childbirth either. Or wisdom teeth extraction. Or the way my scalp feels when I let the little one fix my hair “like Elsa”. Tonight I soaked in the tub and looked at the scars on my feet. They are fading, but still very obvious to me. I remember the way it felt to not be able to walk on my own – even if it was for a short, finite amount of time. I remember what it felt like to not be able to take a shower or soak in the tub for seven straight weeks. I remember how it felt to put on real shoes again after two months, and slide behind the wheel of a car again, and slowly increase from a steady walk to a slow jog on a level path. I’m grateful for so many things this year. Especially these eight month old feet, bruised and battered as they are.

*Updated to correct my math – eight, not nine!

state of the feet: week seven

Last night I posted a photo on Instagram of dinner prep and it looked so colorful and fun and it wasn’t a photo of feet – a subject that has dominated my IG feed lately. Hopefully this is the last post about them that I’ll write, and my horizons will re-broaden again beyond my rather limited world of work desk / passenger seat / bed. IG followers – thanks for your patience.

Here is where I’ll admit (again) to my weird sort of phobia of google searches. I refrain from writing very specifically about certain things because I have a strong enough grasp of where most of my website traffic comes from, and I suppose I don’t really want pictures and talk of my feet to direct a lot of people here. I feel kind of guilty about that because I do think that the internet can be a tremendous support web of information and shared experiences, but still – they are my feet, and the process was sort of gory and gross. Please forgive my vague references, and I promise not to share the gory photos from the middle with you. (I grossed enough friends out with them already.)

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You will notice the severe angles of my big toes – they’ve always crossed under my second toes, and almost forty years of this criss-crossing had wreaked some havoc on the shape and condition of the bones in my feet. Wearing any shoes outside of athletic shoes was nearly impossible without pain, but worse than any sort of fashion limitations were the increasing signs that I couldn’t really push off surgery any longer. I was starting to experience numbness in various places on my feet, stabbing pains in my big toe strong enough to wake me up in the middle of the night – and don’t forget the stress fractures – turns out the wacky bone structure meant that the center bones in my feet weren’t bearing as much weight as the outer bones, so those center bones were getting soft. In fact, the bones in the right foot were so soft that the surgeon had to forgo the pin he planned to use, and had to use staples because the bones were too soft to support the pinning.

My feet were essentially filleted from just below the toenail to halfway down my feet, and since I’m already grossed out by typing that, I’ll try to gloss over the rest. Bones were cut and straightened and screwed and stapled and pinned back together and then I was done! Ready for the most relaxing six weeks of my life – free of any responsibilities outside of toileting and minimal hygiene, with no one to think of but myself.

Turns out I don’t really enjoy thinking about myself so much.

Week seven has been a busy one. I had the external pin removed (without numbing, just plucked out of the skin and at least three inches of bone by my doctor). Don’t get me wrong – I was thrilled to have it removed. The end occasionally snagged on the delicate webbing between my two toes – often in the dead of sleep, so that I would wake up and feel like a fish hook was caught there, and I’d have to (first) get over the fear of moving my feet in the slightest and (second) slowly wiggle my toes enough to unsnag the hook. The pin and I did not get along, but I was certainly not excited about the prospect of the removal. Here’s the (encouraging) conversation I had with my nurse prior to the procedure.

Me:  Tell me this doesn’t hurt.
Him:  What’s your tolerance for pain?
Me:  Tell me it’s quick.
Him:  It can be. It’s pretty deep in the bone and requires a lot of pressure to remove.
Me:  Tell me something positive.
Him:  I’d recommend lying back and not watching.

I was feeling pretty sick at that point, particularly because he told me that the stitches removal was no big deal, and they hurt like nobody’s business, so my trust level with him was nada.

Turns out the removal was easier than the anticipation. Pin out meant a shower for the first time, driving again, shoes… things that seem so encouraging and progressive and worth celebrating. But there hasn’t been a light switch moment for anything. It’s all a slow progression towards the end goal – which for me is feeling like I never had surgery – something my surgeon has said will take about a year to achieve. Each day is better than the last one. I’ve been driving (carefully, and only to and from work), I’ve had the initial appointment for orthotics that will help retrain my feet to walk again, I’ve got new shoes – they aren’t so fabulous, but they work and I’ll take them, and I started physical therapy with a foot expert, so I’m learning and training at the same time. I can’t take a single step without shoes for awhile, which means that every task I do in the morning and the evening takes a little longer – dressing, showering, relaxing in a chair for a moment with feet up, and then remembering that I want something that I forgot just across the room. Shoes on, shoes off, shoes on.

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still a little puffy, but straight!

Everywhere I go, I get confirmation that I’m working with some of the very best – my surgeon, my physical therapist, the person creating my orthotics, even down to my shoes. If you are dealing with the same issues and need any recommendations, please feel free to contact me by email. I’m more than happy to share my good fortune – because I’m trying to look at all of this mess as just that.

What a crazy weird thing it is to take a crooked body and make it straight. I know it’s not a heart or a brain or a spine, it’s just feet. But man, feet are important, and I’m glad to get back up on mine again. You have no idea.

state of the feet: four weeks out


Funny thing about this little online community – we’re not so different, are we? Over the years I’ve met so many people through this blog – they stumbled upon it somehow, or I’ve stumbled upon their space, and then a conversation was started and it goes from there. Occasionally their lives seem quite a bit different from my own – different jobs, different house, different region, different family, different age, different worries – and then they’ll mention a book they are reading or a poem that they like or what they had for dinner the night before or what they are secretly struggling with, and something pushes me beyond just silently reading from afar, and I leave a comment, or send an email. A real ‘hello’ out into the world, to someone not so different from me after all.

I currently have a gang of pain companions – all of us finding ourselves recovering from surgery at the same time. I went in for scheduled surgery and found out Lauren was in for very unscheduled surgery (darn appendix). My friend Becky dropped off dinner at my house one night and then wrote a post that week about her experience with back surgery following a pretty intense period of pain. I checked in on another online friend who hadn’t posted in awhile and discovered she was dealing with very similar pain issues in her back and was contemplating surgery of her own.

We’ve all connected in our own funny little circle now. Lauren reminds me that healing hurts a lot, but isn’t half as difficult as remaining still enough to heal. I remind Stacey that the second week post op is easier than the first, but the third and the fourth are no picnic because there are no shortcuts here. Becky reminds us all that those six weeks will drag on for an eternity and then you blink, and it’s been six months and you can tie your shoes again without pain, and maybe without even remembering the pain.

So where am I now, four weeks out? By the stats alone, I’d have to say better. Stitches are out, swelling is going down a bit, I’m able to stand and to walk and to sit at my desk with my feet on the floor for longer portions of the day. But that’s not really the complete picture. The pain levels in my feet have gone down slightly, but the gains there have been replaced by setbacks in the rest of my body. Every muscle aches, particularly my upper back that I threw completely out of whack the other morning when I tried to maneuver across the bed to lean over and turn off the alarm. My skin is peeling off in sheets, particularly around my feet. No matter how hard I try to get clean at the sink, I still smell. 

Tougher than the physical stuff is the mental stuff. I described it this way to friends at work, and to my husband too. All of the things that I do to keep me happy, healthy, sane – I can’t do any of them right now. Go for a long walk in the garden or for a run in the park, jump in the car and meet a friend for coffee or run through the drive through and grab a cup on my own. Walk around the mall and shop for a new spring outfit or for a birthday present for my sister. Visit the bookstore. Soak in the tub. Take a hot shower and cry and cry and cry it all out. Leave the house without it requiring the other three to drop everything they are doing to accommodate me. Leave work when I’m ready or when I need to. Make dinner, chopping vegetables and arranging them in little bowls. Feel independent, competent, helpful, contributing. Wear something other than yoga pants or the sad pair of boot cut jeans that fall off my hips, but fit over my enormous, ridiculous feet.

And above everything else, I’m really just sick of talking about it. Enough already, let’s move on. But my feet control everything now – they tell me what I can and cannot do, and it’s hard to pretend like they don’t consume the lion’s share of my brainspace each day. Right now they are throbbing – tired from overuse and a string of ten hour work days and weeknight errands and too many stairs at home, and maybe – since I’m up – I’ll just switch out one load of laundry, knowing full well that it’s too much.

That should be Week Four’s motto: When not enough is still too much.

Thanks for listening, and for letting me know that we’re all in this together. No matter what “this” is at the moment, I’m awfully glad we’ve met each other along the way.