Days Seven through 12
It's amazing how much I can sleep. There must be something about this surgery that's more traumatic than it looks, because the sleep feels necessary. I know painkillers make me drowsy, but 12 hours a day? On the other hand, sleeping helps pass the time.
Regarding the painkillers — I tried something this time that turned out well. I keep a little notebook by my bed and write down every dose of meds I take, including the time, the type and the amount. I never have to guess how long it's been since the last dose, or wonder if I should take one pill or two this time. Since I'm taking senna to counteract the side effects, I keep track of that, too. It seems fussy, but you don't want to abuse this stuff. It doesn't improve your memory, and I have no one here during the day to help me recall details. Since I'm not exactly pressed for time, the record-keeping is easy and worthwhile.
I planned to start exercising last Wednesday, and actually began on Saturday. Close enough. I've been losing weight anyway; the meds kill my appetite, and the meals coming out of my amazing Husband-Nursemaid-Chef's kitchen are low-carb. On top of that, everything I do requires twice the normal physical effort. But it's not enough to keep me from losing muscle. I need more activity.
A note about getting around the house during the first two or three weeks: You'll be using a rolling device you rest your knee on. Your opposite leg will be doing most of the work – although keeping your balance on the device requires some thigh work on the surgery side. The foot that's on the floor needs to be supported and protected, both from anything on the floor and from the wheels on the device. Wear a lightweight shoe you can slip in and out of easily; my choice is made by Easy Spirit, and the model name is Traveltime.
Back to the exercise issue: A whole weekend of football on TV helped. I sat on the couch or lay on the floor watching, doing ab crunches and bicycles in the air during the breaks, or hoisting the 3-lb. Kettlebell around with my arms. I can hook it on my (good) foot to do more effective leg-lifts. Mustn't get carried away, though, or the surgery foot starts complaining. You don't want to set that thing pulsing to a heavy aerobic beat.
Monday, another girlfriend brought lunch. This is Minnesota, after all, where nobody says, "May I come and see you?" when you are ill or mourning. Instead, they ask, "What kind of food shall I bring?"
Occasionally, visitors from other climes helpfully point out that the weather stinks here, and then ask why we stay. One reason is because the place is full of kind people who bring food whenever there's trouble. This time, I enthusiastically suggested, "Chicken salad!" and after months of good-fats-only, the taste of actual, real-live mayonnaise almost made me forget that my foot hurts. And after days and days of solitude, company is such a treat. (Unless you're a serious introvert, tell your favorite people ahead of time that you'll be accepting callers.) Another afternoon of happy talk buoyed me up for more days propped up in bed, tied to the ice-water machine, popping Vicodin and considering a nine-letter word for antechamber to fill 71-across.
The first post-op exam normally comes two weeks after surgery, but because of the location I preferred and the surgeon's office schedule, I ended up going on day 12.
I was so excited about getting out of the house; I was coffeed-up, coiffed and dressed an hour early. Jon had to take me. I hate being unable to drive, but that's how it is with the right foot. Rolled down the hall to the stairs on my roll-about. Down the steps on my rear end; it's the safest way to go. Out to the car on crutches. Jon thought we should take the roll-about, and I was glad to have it. As you'd expect, the orthopedic medical center is completely handicapped-accessible, with long, straight hallways. I got around like a rocket in there.
Pretty Good News, Considering
The check-up was informative and a little surprising.
First, the cast comes off. They use a harmless, electric hand-saw that sounds terrifying and chews up cast material in short order. Then the stitches come out (ouch!). I got a good look at my foot for the first time post-surgery, and three things struck me.
One, the surgeon had initialed my foot just above the black-magic-marker "YES" they put there before surgery. (Fixing the wrong foot is frowned upon.) I wondered if that was an indication of pride in his work, or a way of letting me know who to sue if I ended up with four toes. Neither – just another precaution. Secondly, the foot looked really good compared to my other one, years earlier. The color was off, but it was straight and well-shaped, and not too angry looking. And also, there was a different incision pattern this time. I had to know why.
The surgeon explained that since my last adventure, technology has improved and the "hardware" he installed is different from the stuff in my left foot. It has a plate on the outside edge (approximately where the bunion was) and screws that go almost halfway across my foot to hold it in. It offers better odds of providing me a normal joint on the bottom of my foot, below the big toe (my left foot is still uncomfortable walking on extremely hard surfaces) and — get this — it cuts healing time almost in half. I'll believe that when I'm doing the lindy hop in about six months, but meanwhile, it's less painful than the left one was at this point.
Next, x-rays, of course. Handily, they can now x-ray a foot from any angle while you're reclining. When the pictures came back, I chatted with the surgeon about what's next. Everything looks great, he told me, (I was so proud!) so call this number and set up a physical therapy appointment for a week from now.
NOTE: Three years ago, I had a conflict and blew off my PT appointment. Then I allowed other priorities to prevent me from rescheduling. Don't do that. With no therapy, I also ended up overusing the foot, using it incorrectly, and causing irrepairable damage. I'm fine with the results of my first surgery, but if I'd followed the rules, my left foot would be in better shape than it is.
In addition to setting up a therapy appointment, I'm directed to keep the foot off the floor until the PT gives me the nod to put weight on it, and plan to see the doctor again in a month.
"That's it? No cast?" I asked. Three years ago I had more than one cast. The first one went almost to my knee, and the second one stopped below the ankle. No more casts, I was told. Just be careful. (Well, my foot has four sizeable, partially healed gashes in it, and no protection. Rock climbing was not in my plans.)
I had brought along my meds, which turned out to be a good idea because the activity of moving around, stitch removal, x-rays, etc. made the pain flare. I also took with me the state application form for a disability parking tag, which requires the doctor's input. He quickly filled it out and added an indecipherable signature. A few minutes later, his wonderful assistant, Rhonda, asked me to show it to her so she could check his work. She added a couple of things, clarified a comment or two and handed it back to me with a smile. "He doesn't always get it right."
He gets the surgery right; that's the important thing. And he has a staff that doesn't miss a trick. When you're scared and in pain, being surrounded by happy, helpful, knowledgeable people makes a huge difference. When you choose a surgeon, make sure the staff treats you like you're their only patient. You'll need them more often than you may anticipate.
And that was it. I put on the black boot-thingy they give you and left there a little uncertain...not very happy about having to protect this vulnerable foot from the slightest bump. But it's a toss-up, because the cast is uncomfortable and itchy. And without it, I can take a shower — if I don't get the foot too wet.
In fact, that sounded so appealing, I figured out how to do it the next morning. First I wrapped my right foot in Saran Wrap; it was easier than figuring out how to keep a plastic bag from leaking. By sitting on the edge of the tub with the liner curtain under me, I could wash my hair without being upside-down in the sink, use my exfoliating scrubby thing and all my moisturizing stuff — it was heaven! A word of caution: You must be strong enough to lift yourself up and out on only one leg, and you're forced to balance on one foot for a minute or two, so don't take chances. Have help there with you, be positive the shower rod is strong enough to be used for balance, and be sure you're up to the task.
Don't know what to expect at physical therapy, but I'm glad to have the opportunity. I suppose it will be about learning to put weight on the foot and stretching out some muscles that are painfully tight now. I'm so anxious to walk, but I have to be patient. Cautious. Sensible. Realistic.
This is driving me crazy. My PT appointment will be on day 19.
To be continued...