Why I Decided to Have a Bunionectomy

Why I Decided to Have a Bunionectomy

There was no New Year resolution for me this year, because I was already working on something new…a healthy foot. I had bunion surgery in December 2016, and so now I’m an expert. OK, not quite, but I kept careful notes in order to share them with you, because surprisingly, several of my readers are either having this surgery or need to have it. Your mileage will vary, but my story might help you all the same.

Trigger warning: there will be feet pictures…

Why I decided to have a bunionectomy

Did you know that 25% of adults will develop bunions?

Not all bunions are painful.

Severe bunions can cause other health problems, such as arthritis, knee, hip, and back problems, so it’s best to address this before other damage is done.

There is no “cure” for bunions, since it a bone growth condition. The only permanent correction is surgery.

That’s how I found myself having surgery 5 days before Christmas. I was down to exactly one pair of shoes that weren’t painful, and they look like clown shoes. Shoes with heels? Fugedaboutit. I haven’t ever worn really high heels and have worn no heels at all for the past several years.

So many people over the last few months confided that they need to have this done, but they can’t/won’t take the time off work/life to get this done. Some have even showed me their feet, and they are worse than mine! Despite the fact that surgery is scary, choosing to remain in pain seemed worse. I’m taking “steps” to so  the rest of my life’s journey is better.

This all goes back to my grandmother. She taught me to sew. She inspired me in so many ways. She made the best cinnamon rolls from scratch. And she passed down her crooked feet to me. We used to joke about it, she and I, even when I was in my teens.

ruby-demorrow-samstudebaker-15-1931

Isn’t she beautiful? This photo is from 1931, when Ruby Studebaker was 17 years old, with her younger brother Sam. She had a bunionectomy when she was older, maybe in her 70’s. By that time she could barely walk, and I don’t remember her walking comfortably the rest of her life. That weighed into my decision to do mine in my mid-40’s, while I’m still healthy enough to bounce back. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll have cute feet for the first time in my life. It could happen.

I actually started this process about two years ago when my big toe on the left foot started taking over the space where it’s neighbor should be. Crossing fingers may be good luck. Crossing toes? Not so much. Ready for the ugly before picture?

Left foot before bunionectomy

Wow, I haven’t seen that left foot in a while, and it’s obvious that something is not right with those piggies! The right foot isn’t nearly as bad, so that’s a project for another day, as indicated there to my surgical team. That’s me…not taking any chances.

I met with 5 podiatrists over the last 2 years trying to find a surgeon I felt comfortable with and would also take my insurance here in the USA. I learned a lot of “what not to do” with the first 3. One was lovely but didn’t take my insurance. But this guy I chose in the end, he clearly loves his job and is totally confident about outcomes. And we always laugh, which is surprisingly important in a podiatrist, go figure. He seems conservative in his treatment, but that’s OK by me. I want the treatment that works so I never have to go through this again. I love that he’s willing to answer any questions on my list, and he’s willing to talk about things like natural turmeric (to reduce inflammation) as part of my treatment.

My advice to anyone considering this surgery in the USA, don’t be afraid to keep “shopping” for the right doctor. Based on what I have learned from others around the world who have had this surgery, there is a wide range of skill and communication among surgeons. It’s OK to meet with a few doctors until you find the one who is best for you.

Also, the term “bunionectomy” covers over 100 different procedures, so get specifics from your doc on what procedure he or she uses, and what the post-op period will be like for you specifically. Here is a list of common bunionectomy procedures. (Good resource, but not recommending this practice or doctor.)  I had an 18 or 19 degree angle of my first metatarsal bone, which is a fancy way of saying that the bone from my ankle to my big toe was growing too much towards my right foot, and that was pushing my big toe towards my toes, and that’s what causes the lovely characteristic and painful bump. The bump itself isn’t the problem, but rather the wayward bone. Here’s what was going on inside.

foot xrays before with conditions

A lapidus procedure would cut and straighten the bone, securing it with 2 screws. Much of the big toe joint would be removed, and the tiny seismoid bones would be properly repositioned under the joint via a Modified McBride procedure. You can see those small white dots way out to the left of the big toe joint, ouch. They are supposed to be directly under the joint. The two painful conditions on the left side of my foot should be relieved with all the correction done to the right side.

At this point, you need to get the skinny on what your recovery will be like, and whether you have an option to do one or both feet at a time. Yes, you’ll hear about people who are walking the next day, or who are back to work within a week or two after a bunionectomy, but they had more minor procedures done. This is just my hypothesis, and remember that I am not a doctor, but I suspect that folks who have had both feet done at the same time are those who have had more minor bunionectomies, possibly because the repair is done more on the far end of the foot, and so there is relatively less risk to the overall structure of the foot. I feel like with the lapidus, where my osteotomy (bone removal) was closer to the ankle, there just would be no way to safely function after having both feet operated on without compromising the surgery. That might sound impressive, but some people have even more invasive and hardware-intensive procedures involving more toes! Ouch.

Knowing that I’d be completely non-weight bearing for 6 weeks and impaired for up to 12 weeks as I healed, I almost chickened out of scheduling surgery. It seemed awfully…well…inconvenient to say the least. What about the pain? Would I be able to rearrange my work and my clients? Remember, I’m self-employed, so there’s no paid vacation or sick days. Will the family really allow me to just lay on the couch for weeks? Could my feet be worse after the surgery? Although they are “obviously deformed” at least I can walk and manage the pain. But since they’ve gotten a lot worse in the last 2 years or so, how much worse will it be if I delay the surgery 10 or 20 years? How much harder will a recovery be then?

Even after I chose my podiatric surgeon, I wasn’t totally convinced about having the procedure until seeing my general practitioner to get cleared for surgery. I thought she’d give me a list of pros and cons and we’d have a deep discussion about justifying the surgery. I thought she’d tell me that I was overreacting. I thought she’d tell me that nothing in life is certain. But instead, like every other doc I had seen, she took one look at my tootsies and immediately said, “Oh, absolutely, you are doing the right thing by having the surgery now. You definitely need it. Most people have great outcomes, you’ll recover quickly at your age, and you’ll be so much happier later in life.” That sealed the deal for me.

Here’s where I’ll give a shout out to Dr. Alan Mlodzienski and the team at Penn Presbyterian in Philadelphia. My surgery honestly could not have gone smoother.

The surgery was 90 minutes, and I was home before the kids got home from school, thanks to hubby.

I begged the anesthesiologist to go easy on me, and he made sure I had no nausea.

I left the hospital with a lower leg cast and crutches, and I had a cast for just over 5 weeks.

bunionectomy leg castI took Percocet for exactly 3 days.

I took ibuprofen for another 7 days.

I was down to taking only turmeric (500 mg 3x/day) and bromelain (500 mg 2x/day) after that.

I sat on the couch for 2 straight weeks, foot elevated, and worked on organizing my digital photos and online DuoLingo French class.

I healed. And shopped online for shoes. Crazy, right?

At a little over 5 weeks, I traded my hard cast for a very sexy boot. If you are into Velcro, then this is the must-have fashion accessory for you! It’s not so much protecting the surgery site as it is forcing me to walk on my heel and not apply weight to the toe-end of my foot. Try walking on your heel, folks. It is tough to do!

post-op boot for bunionectomy

I’ll update this post as I progress. Full recovery usually takes 3-6 months, and sometimes as long as a year. I did manage to make it to the Philadelphia Home Show and spoke on Organizing and Adding Photo Memories to Your Stylish Decor with the help of my knee scooter. I even got to meet the lovely and talented Mr. Vern Yip from HGTV. I’m determined to get back out there!

Philly Home Show 2017

Taking care of myself now will let me live a better quality of life longer, and will let me take care of those I love longer and better. There is nothing selfish about doing what it takes to stay healthy. So now, 7 weeks after surgery, even though my foot still swells and I have a four inch scar, was it worth it? The x-rays say yes! Boy, I feel better just looking at that sweet puppy on the right.You can still see the cast outline in that picture. I’m thinking of those permanent screws as “shiny things for the inside.”

Foot Left foot Lapidus and Modified Mcbride Bunionectomy

I just keep thinking of my grandmother, who had this surgery done when she was in her 70’s. I’m sure without a doubt that she would have wanted me to do it earlier, trading a few weeks or months of discomfort for the ability to walk on my own two feet all the way to the end of my life. I am very fortunate to be able to plan for and to have this done.

When it’s all said and done, I just hope I’ll never have to argue with my girls to wear sensible shoes. Gratuitous 7 weeks post-op with scar shot to follow. You have been warned…

bunionectomy lapidus 7 weeks post op

One of the books I read during recovery, The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker, pinpoints something important I experienced in preparing for this surgery. Anxiety, unlike real fear, is always caused by uncertainty. Fortunately, because I had the opportunity to get organized before and during my recovery, my anxiety levels were relatively low. If you are considering having this surgery, then stay tuned for my next post on how I organized my 2-story home to accommodate my temporary stay on the first floor during my bunionectomy recovery.

Why I decided to have a bunionectomy

 

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6 Responses to Why I Decided to Have a Bunionectomy

  1. great post. I didn’t ask for or get the details on the degree of my bunion or the type of surgery he was doing. I was surprised at how little pain I felt afterwards. I had more spasms and tightening of my foot muscles. They happen occasionally now, but they are practically gone now that I can walk in my boot. I go back Thursday and hope to get the bandage removed and can clean my foot 🙂 Great job on taking care of yourself and no, it is not selfish at all to get a surgery if it will improve your quality of life.

    • I’m pretty impressed with how you’ve been recovering, girl. You are my inspiration. Getting to finally wash your foot without a bandage is lovely!!!

  2. Hi Darla! I love your post. I had TMJ surgery in October. So even though it’s the opposite side of the body I can completely relate to a number of your thoughts about surgery. Unfortunately my first surgery didn’t work so now I am shopping for another doctor to do a more in-depth procedure. I’m going to tuck your article away when I need to read it during recovery. Glad you are healing well!

    • Oh, no! Jenny! TMJ is jaw surgery, right? I hope you find a surgeon you love just as much as I love my podiatrist. Any surgery can take a lot out of you, as your body works overtime just to heal. Take care of yourself.

  3. Im so curious as to why you were casted…So many podiatrists dont cast…Im looking at several procedures on my left foot. Lapidus at 1st & 5th metatarsals (my big toe straightened)…a Tailors Bunion removal an the excision of a neuroma! I have a bit of a wait…Would love to hear back from you…

    • Diane, your experience will depend both on your particular diagnosis and your surgeon’s training. My surgeon was clear that this procedure, including the cast, is what he uses for this particular diagnosis. By the way, all of the 4 surgeons who diagnosed me gave me the same 10-12 week non-weight bearing post-op protocol and some form of a cast. However, my surgeon and I already know that I won’t have a cast for the procedure on my right foot, because it isn’t nearly as severe, and the correction will take place more towards the distal (toe end) of my foot. I’ll be walking in just a couple of weeks next time. Talk with your doc, or more than one, and get info specific to your case. By the way, I ended up being full weight bearing at 8 weeks, which I credit to following my doctor’s orders exactly, and not trying to do too much. That is the best advice. There is no point rushing back to your normal schedule only to injure your surgical site. Take care of yourself and come back strong.

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