Right, Left, Right, Left: Marching on to Foot Surgery (Times Two) – Update

Long plagued by inherited foot problems like bunions, hammertoes, and overly constrained tendons, I finally decided to take a break from racing and deal with some necessary foot surgeries. Although I had originally registered for the Ottawa Marathon on Memorial Day weekend, our recent plans to concentrate on more local races meant no air travel for a while and so we canceled our Canadian trip plans. With this break in my schedule, it seemed like late spring would be a good time to undergo these operations.

I’ve already mentioned the first surgery in my previous post so I will just give a quick recap here.  After I completed the Lake Minneola Half Marathon in April, I underwent the first foot surgery three days later. I’ll omit all the excruciating details but I had several things done: my big toe nail was removed completely (it had begun as a ‘normal’ black toe but never fell off and instead began to harden and grow sideways into my skin), a troublesome bunion was shaved off, two hammertoes were straightened. Since this involved not only soft tissue incisions but also bone reduction, I had the surgery done under general anesthesia. Overall, the experience went well. Three days postop, I was off all pain medications, though I had occasional breakthrough pain plus pins, stitches, casts, and bandages hampering my mobility.

When I returned for my three week visit, the stitches and hard casts were removed and I was given a splint to wear for protection and straightening, a cream to soften scars, and some range of motion exercises. At four weeks I could actually fit my foot (if I removed the cumbersome splint) into one of my wider running shoes. My toes are still somewhat painful but much better than before and I am very hopeful. I am supposed to wear the splint at night and when I am resting.

On May 19, three weeks and one day after my first surgery, I returned to the podiatry office for my second surgery. Since this operation on my left foot was to involve only soft tissue issues (a release of a tight tendon on my big toe and straightening two other toes), I had it done under a local anesthesia with only Ambien to relax me. About 16 years ago, I had had a big bunion removed and a hammertoe straightened but in the intervening years, my other toes had begun to cause problems. Since I was taking time off from racing to deal with one foot, I figured it would be wise to double up and take care of both problems, incurring only a few additional weeks’ recovery time. I fell into a relaxed dreamy haze after the local anesthetic took effect; my husband was allowed to stay with me in the surgical area and he watched the doctor and surgical nurse work on my foot while I kept my eyes shut tight.  Later he filled me in on what transpired.  I’m glad I had my eyes closed.

About midnight the local anesthetic wore off and I awoke in desperate severe pain. I quickly swallowed a narcotic pain pill only to follow it two hours later with an Advil to help it along and 3 hours after that another narcotic. I used more pain meds after this surgery than the first but I gradually weaned myself off and by the fourth day only took the occasional Advil. After both surgeries, I found using my office chair with wheels to move around the house invaluable since it gave me respite from putting weight on my feet. This especially helped after the second surgery since I wasn’t yet fully functional with my right foot.

The one-week postop visit on this second surgery was pretty mundane. The two slender pins (which stuck out a bit at the ends of my toes and looked pretty strange) and all the stitches remained intact and everything was re-bandaged and rewrapped. I can hobble along in my Velcro shoe, putting weight on my heel to distract from the obvious difficulties of walking. My balance is not so great under these circumstances but it is just a matter of giving everything enough time to heal.  My next return visit is in two weeks. I hope to have stitches and pins removed at that time and maybe – must maybe – I can begin to train for my next race.

I think it’s important to emphasize that I had these surgeries for fairly serious reasons. I had long ago given up on pretty toenails and wearing sandals. My feet hurt badly when I walked long distances and the pain I felt during my races was getting increasingly troublesome. One solution I guess would be to walk and race less and avoid any exercise that caused pain. I was told that these kinds of foot peculiarities are genetic; my mom always had difficulties with her feet. Her solution was to refrain from walking much at all, with the result that she had numerous other health problems because of her sedentary habits. She was very overweight and developed hypertension, high cholesterol, and type II diabetes. Although I inherited Mom’s foot problems, I had no desire to replicate her medical difficulties. So the surgeries were a necessary evil if I planned to continue an active lifestyle.

Post surgery, probably the hardest thing for me to accept now is my complete lack of activity during this recovery and recuperative period. I feel like I am losing all the stamina and endurance I so carefully nurtured over the last 10 years. Without any aerobic exercise during the day, I find it almost impossible to fall asleep and remain asleep throughout the night. My usual insomnia (waking up around midnight with difficulty falling back to sleep) has developed into difficulty falling asleep at all on some nights. I realize this is temporary and should disappear once I get active again. In the meantime, it’s hard to work around it.

How do I spend my days (and nights)? I am reading a LOT (thank goodness for the public library), hand quilting lots of projects, catching up with emails, and sorting through papers and books. I get up and move around every 15-30 minutes or so during the day to get at least some activity.  Now that I am past the elevate and ice stages, I am cooking, doing light cleaning (okay, not much of that, to be honest), and going on errands with my husband (with him driving since my clunky Velcro shoes make it too difficult to accurately hit the gas pedal and brake in my little Civic).

One point I would like to emphasize for any runners or walkers who face foot surgery. I think it’s important to make sure your medical practitioner understands why racing is important to you. I chose my podiatrist because he was a marathoner; I felt he would have a better understanding of the difficulties I was experiencing and why I wanted so badly to continue my racing as soon as possible. He is extremely empathetic and is working with me to recover as rapidly as medically feasible.

My next race comes up in less than four weeks. It is an 8-hour timed race in Georgia and – while I really want to complete a marathon distance so I can count it for Maniacs statistics – I will be happy to finish even a few miles as long as I can do them sans pain or problems. I will be so grateful for that.