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

by Stephanie Mumford Brown

I am Stephanie’s right foot, and the mic is mine this time.

That mouthy left foot of hers emerged from bunion surgery muffled in a wad of splint, padding, and bandage that looks like a medieval mace on the end of her leg. And weighs about as much. (For the medical backstory from Lefty’s point of view, check out Footnotes Part 1.)

600px-Helmeted_Medieval_Knight_or_Soldier_(4) (1).jpegSo, with Lefty muted for a few weeks, I get to report on the lapiplasty procedure that straightened out her bony distortion. And, in view of some pointed discussions I’ve had with Stephanie about when it’s my turn for debunionization and how I’ll behave in the meantime… she thought it wise at least to let me take my turn the podium.

Here's what I can tell you about the surgical experience: nothing. The orthopedist came in, drew a few lines on Lefty with a marker, and said some cheery stuff. The anesthesiologist came in and asked Stephanie a thousand medical questions, agreed that this was probably the healthiest patient she would see that day, and then with the help of some nice nurses, put Stephanie’s body parts to sleep.

Only from YouTube animations do I have any idea what went on over there on the other side. The surgeon split and rejiggered a joint at the top of Lefty’s foot and tacked it in place with titanium brackets. This is the best way to straighten her out permanently, not by shaving off the offending bump.

While he was at it, he aligned the rest of her metatarsals so the pathways to her toes look more like downhill ski runs than slalom courses with moguls. This extra added attraction, adductoplasty, is something only 30 percent of patients need, so Lefty must feel very special. Or she will, when she comes out from under the covers.

None of us body parts have a clue as to how it went. Except for this: The surgeon afterwards declared Lefty a “before/after model.” Humph—he hasn’t met ME yet.

With my front row seat, I can tell you a lot more about the recovery process. Maybe a lot more than you want to know, but if you’re at all athletic, isn’t that what really scares you--how the hell am I going to DO NOTHING for HOW LONG?!!!

I have two core pieces of advice. First, get a live-in helper. In Stephanie’s case, this entire adventure couldn’t have happened had she not met Mr. Perfect 18 months ago. (No, he’s not perfect, nor is she, but they’re perfect for each other.) Mr. P also supplied a recovery essential she doesn’t have in her own home: a bathroom five steps from the bedroom.

Second, build your upper body strength. Stephanie vowed to devote her non-walking recovery period to doing so, and she was only about six months too late. Meanwhile, she’s got to use her spindly arms and shoulders to hoist around 145 pounds with a walker, maybe 155 with that mace on her foot. (OK, maybe not.)

I have lots of other advice that’s less universal, but what the heck, plenty of people told Stephanie what recovery would be like so now it’s my turn to tell you. Of course, the first thing I have to tell you is, your experience may vary.

Pain. Pretty bad the first night; don’t go home without filling your opiod prescription. Then it’s surprisingly un-bad.

The foot pain fades away in a day or two, then you’re hitting the Tylenol only to deal with sore leg muscles from lugging a truncheon around and sore shoulders you should have beefed up last year.

Exhaustion. Worse than pain and longer lasting. Ninety minutes of slicing and dicing left a major “insult” that Stephanie’s whole body had to answer to. That’s a big job.

Roughly a week after the battle wound, the rest of us body parts were returning to normal aside from the cudgel-leg. And that opened up a new problem….

Boredom. Days and nights start to feel endless. At first Stephanie filled time with low-demand audio and video input because she was too beat to hold up a book, let alone pay attention to it.

Then reading joined the menu. Classic British mysteries have been particularly satisfying. Procedurals are all about process, as is healing, and everything comes out OK at the end.

Going Soft. Biggest fear of all, right fellow runners? Recovering from this sort of surgical insult is trickier than the typical muscle tear; it involves persuading bones to stick to each other--requiring time, care and following orders about weight-bearing.

Still, Stephanie found legit evidence online that boosting circulation helps bone healing, not just muscles, so she started moving Lefty over under upside down in bed. And of course, she’s now using free weights to catch up with her strength-training vow, as well as contorting herself into various yoga-ish postures on the floor.

Expeditions to other parts of the house offer the mental relief of a change of scenery, as well as exercise. Stephanie enjoys the Butt-Climb Challenge on the analog Stairmaster. Exploring the kitchen to procure her own snacks requires one-legged balance training at the refrigerator and some ballerina-barre moves at the counter.

Righty’s bottom line: This is voluntary disability, deal with it. For Lefty and the rest of us body parts (including the brain), it’ll be over in a few months. Then if it’s a hit, we’ll do again—it’ll be my turn during the next off season.

In the meantime, we have a new appreciation for those who live with these obstacles indefinitely. We no longer take mobility for granted, we know it probably won’t last forever, and Lefty and I intend to take good care of our renovated selves to stay on the run as long as possible.

Next month: THE BIG REVEAL.

StephanieMemford.jpgStephanie 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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