Footnotes: A Medical Journal – Part 4, Footloose

by Stephanie Mumford Brown

Let me reintroduce myself: I’m Lefty, the grumpy extremity at the end of Stephanie’s leg.

Grumpy a year ago because I was deformed and aching. Grumpy now, because 11 months after surgery I’m ready to go again but the rest of Stephanie isn’t keeping up.

Let me briefly revisit my painful past, as context for my present.

I was young and slim for decades—my bunion busted out circa 2001 after I started walking 18 holes of golf (that’s 5 to 7 miles) in ill-fitting shoes. Still, the promontory and I got along remarkably well until Stephanie started running, got silly, and decided to train for a half marathon in 2021. She finished respectably for a newbie, but I engaged in a job action that turned into full-fledged strike by the end of that year.

                                                The old Lefty

In January 2023, Stephanie took action.  Actually, a guy with a knife did—90 minutes of slicing, dicing, and grafting that concluded with installation of titanium brackets to keep my reorganized metatarsals in place.

The procedure was lapiplasty, a newer method for correcting bunions that does more than the traditional bone-chopping. Lapiplasty deals with the underlying cause of the deformity, unstable joints, so the fix heals faster and lasts longer.

After surgery, I spent three weeks in a massive bandage, three weeks more in an ortho boot, and most of the spring in Stephanie’s manfriend’s roomy shoes. The rest of Stephanie rapidly transitioned from flat on her back to mobility with walker, then cane, then support-free. By May she was walking 18 holes again, and in the autumn she returned to running. More or less. Mostly less—more on that shortly.

But I’m back to normal, right? No way. Lapiplasty didn’t repair or restore me, it remodeled me.

Not to be viewed while eating: Lefty before and after surgery

Lefty’s New Normal: some answers to obvious questions

                                               How do I look?

The new Lefty

Not bad. My eastern shoreline still has a promontory, but instead of the Rock of Gibraltar it’s now more like Miami Beach (without Biscayne Bay).

I’m a half-inch slimmer across the instep than pre-op. I will never return to my A-width Italian pumps from the 1990s, but at least I won’t bust through the seams of my Hokas anymore.

The post-surgical swelling has shrunk; my skin still boasts Rorschach ink blots of discoloration. I’m not pretty, but I shouldn’t gross you out in the locker room or on the beach.

How do I feel?

In a word, okay. Which is much better than I used to.

I’m sore at times, but not in pain. It’s the sort of soreness that muscles, tendons, and ligaments feel when they’re getting back in shape—the foot has about a hundred of them—and when they’re learning to operate properly instead of compensating for a deformity.

How do I perform?

I can only bend about half as much as I used to—so much for Stephanie’s ballet career (which ended around age 8). Interestingly, bending less doesn’t seems to impede my running stride and may even help achieve that desirable mid-foot landing.

The performance problem is the rest of Stephanie’s body—even if, yeah, it’s my fault—so I hand the mic over to her now.

And how is Stephanie feeling?

Ummm, okay. Which is not quite as well as I wanted to.

It’s taking longer than expected to get back to running—not because of my foot, but because of my heart. This turns out to be the downside of foot surgery: during the recovery period, your cardio capacity goes to hell.

Rowing machine and bicycle didn’t sufficiently compensate for the ability to step out the front door and run, really run, for several miles. Long golf-course walks rebuilt stamina but not aerobic fitness. I further found, during this long hot summer, that my heat tolerance had declined along with my cardio capacity.

The VO2 Max rating on my Garmin watch has been ego-deflating. Instead of having the oxygen-processing capability of a woman half my age, I’ve been trending toward…normal human.

All this changed my timing for Righty’s surgery. Instead of December 2023, she’ll wait until off-season 2024, lest my fitness fall further. Righty isn’t as achy as Lefty was, so my surgeon agreed she could probably stand another year of hitting the road while I try to return to double-digit miles, or at least kilometers.

Still, I almost pulled off a fairytale ending for this report. I began easing my way back into running in mid-September, setting as my goal a return to the Fall Back Five, a trail race at Saratoga Spa State Park on the first Sunday in November.

I took a trial run at Spa the week before the race to see if I could do 5 miles at the modest pace of my 2018 debut. And I beat my goal time, so I registered!

The next day I tumbled into worst head cold I’ve had in eons (not Covid; I tested). Every day I woke up declaring I was starting to feel better, and by noon reality set in. This went on for nearly three weeks, and in the meantime my race plan washed away in a flood of snot.

No Cinderella story here. But Lefty would never fit into that glass slipper, anyway.

                        Old Righty Coming Nexxt in 2024

Stay Tuned!


Footnotes: A Medical Journal (January 2023)

Footnotes: A Medical Journal – Part 2: The Kindest Cuts

Footnotes: A Medical Journal – Part 3: The Big Reveal


Stephanie Mumford Brown is Chief Wiseacre at Wiseacre Press, where she’s trying to compile the missing assembly instructions for the second half of life. She's a former journalist and marketer, now focusing on sports writing, opinion pieces, and fiction.

Click here for her other articles




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