Six Months After My Bunion Surgery: Recovery & Coping Strategies
I had bunion surgery on my left foot exactly six months ago. Compared to some horror stories that I have read online of others who have had the same procedure, I think that I fared pretty well. If you look at the photos below you can see the progression of my healing over time. I went from having a gaping hole in my foot that looked like something from an old Frankenstein movie, to just having a bit of a blurry scar. Even though my foot was very swollen and sore for quite some time, at this point the swelling has gone down significantly and the soreness is basically non-existent—except at the end of a long day, or right before a rainstorm.
Recovery Photos at Seven Days, Eight Weeks, and Six Months
Removing the Metal Pin Was Painful
The next big event in the recovery process was removing the metal pin that had been holding my toe straight. This procedure was scheduled for six weeks after the surgery, and by all accounts was supposed to be quick and painless. But in my case, this in-office procedure was more traumatic and painful than the surgery itself!
On the day that I went to have the pin removed, the doctor’s assistant at first sprayed the area with an antiseptic that was supposed to double as a slight pain reliever (with “supposed to” being the key phrase here). He then grabbed the end of the pin with something that looked like a pair of needle-nose pliers, and pulled. This is when the pin was supposed to just slide out, but I guess things had been going too easily for me, so it was about time for something to go wrong. As he pulled, the pliers just slipped off of the edge of the pin. The vibration from the pliers slipping off of the pin sent ripples of pain throughout my foot and shivers up my spine.
He grabbed the pin again, and the pliers slipped off again. Every time he pulled it the pin would move just a fraction of an inch, but because it was now wet and slippery from blood, the pliers slipped off more easily each time. After the fourth time he looked at me with sorrowful eyes and said “I am so sorry, I know that I am hurting you, but there is no other way to do this.”
He made two more attempts and then let me take a breather, realizing that that each attempt was causing me excruciating pain. While he waited for me to recover he explained that at some point I must have put too much pressure on my foot before the bone had finished knitting together, because it appeared that I had somehow bent the pin. This explained why it was now so hard for a supposedly straight pin to come out of a straight hole.
After about three more attempts, the pin finally surrendered to our attacks and slid out. Wow, the pain that I felt the moment that the pin came out has got to be somewhere on the level of what I imagine natural child birth to feel like! I had to sit completely still, tightly gripping my foot for about a minute, waiting for the pain to subside. But after a few minutes all was back to normal, so my foot was bandaged and I was sent on my way.
Coping After Surgery: Stairs, Carts, Parking Permit, Shoes
For those of you who are contemplating going through this procedure, let me pass on a few nuggets of wisdom that I picked up during this experience:
No stairs! At the time of my surgery I lived in a two-story Atlanta townhome where both bedrooms were on the second floor. Thank God that I had enough forethought to move my bed down to the first floor the day before my surgery. No, it wasn’t very fashionable to have a queen-sized bed sitting in the middle of my living room for two months, but there was just no painless way to climb the stairs on a broken foot (and believe me, I tried!). And while you are at it, think about moving other things that you will need closer to your bed (or wherever it is that you will spend most of your time):
- your medication
- the remote control
- a pitcher of water and a glass
- the telephone and/or cell phone charger
- the lamp or light controller
Right now you don't might getting up to retrieve these things, but in the first weeks after your surgery, and especially the first few days, getting up for any reason will be the last thing that you will want to do.
Get acquainted with drivable shopping carts. Since you are not supposed to put any weight on your foot for the first few weeks while the bone heals, you won't want to push an ordinary shopping cart around Wal-Mart. Your doctor probably won’t recommend it, and it may lead to your inadvertently bending the metal pin in your foot. (If you don’t understand why that would be bad, you need to re-read the section above where I talk about how painful my pin removal process was!) The drivable carts at the supermarket will allow you to do your shopping (if you must do it yourself) while you stay off of your feet.
Get some help. Being a single woman who lives alone I usually revel in my independence, but even I have to admit that there are times when it would be nice to have someone around to help with everyday tasks. For example: when you are on crutches, and you are trying to get grocery bags from the car to your front door, or trying to carry a simple plate of food from the kitchen to your table. You really do need both hands for the crutches, so you have no way to carry anything else. If you really don’t have anyone who can help out on a regular basis, be sure to have a cart or basket on wheels handy. That way you can place your grocery bag or plate of food in the cart in front of you and push it from behind while you walk with the crutches.
Get legal parking. Bet you didn’t know that having foot surgery qualifies you as legally “handicapped”, at least temporarily anyway. At my first check up appointment (which was two weeks after my surgery) my doctor gave me a form that I could take to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a Temporary Handicapped parking placard that was good for 6 months. Those handicapped parking spaces really came in handy when I went back to work, especially since I was on crutches and still in quite a bit of pain. Six months have gone by now so mine will expire in five days, and I will miss it sorely. I don’t necessarily need it anymore as my foot doesn’t usually hurt, but I certainly have grown spoiled by being able to park at the front door of any store or establishment I visit! This will definitely come in handy your first few weeks after surgery, so be sure and ask your doctor for the form.
Flip-flops rule! Even though I am pretty much pain-free at this point, I still have some bad days every now and then. Whenever I try to wear heels that are too high or even flat shoes that are too hard my foot will start to pain me and I will begin to limp. Or sometimes when a rainstorm is expected, my foot will throb for some reason (really). What I learned is to keep some flip-flops, sneakers or other very comfortable shoes in my car, my purse, or my desk drawer at work. There has been many a day that I would gladly have walked barefoot through the streets had I not had my handy flip-flops around. This might be my most useful tip. Believe me, this is huge!
Well, that is all the wealth of my wisdom on the subject of bunion surgery and its recovery. If you are contemplating having this or a similar procedure done, the best advice that I can give you is to think beforehand about how you will get around and get everyday tasks completed. Then make arrangements or put processes in place that will allow you to still get those things done—albeit with some assistance from friends, family, or baskets on wheels.
After My Foot (Bunion) Surgery - This is an article I wrote about my experience with the surgery itself.