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Foot Surgery: How to Survive with Spirit and Sanity Intact

Foot Surgery: How to Survive with Spirit and Sanity Intact

It was a difficult decision, but you have decided to no longer endure the pain, irritation, and deformity of a bunion or hammer toe. In my case, it was a severe bunion, with my big toe moving aggressively towards my other toes, which informed my decision towards major foot surgery. My husband had undergone bunion surgery more than ten years prior, and this difficult experience, both for him as a patient and for me as a caregiver, had warned us both to plan ahead.

The devil is, in fact, in the details. Knowing that you will not be able to stand up for at least three weeks and walk with limited mobility in a surgical shoe or boot for eight weeks requires strategic planning. It’s easy to remember to gather books, DVDs, and magazines before surgery, but much more can be done to make your confinement a stress-free experience.

  • Contact your doctor’s office and pick up prescriptions ahead of time for any medications or devices, such as crutches, that you need. Your doctor can also sign a form for a temporary disabled parking sign.
  • Most insurances do not cover crutches or other assistive devices until two days before surgery. Make sure you know what your insurance will cover and when and where you will need to pick up the supplies. A roller scooter called a kneeling walker, like a Roll-About, is a lifesaver and will give you more stability than crutches. Knee walkers can be rented from your local medical supply company or online.
  • Freeze the ice packs ahead of time. Icing, even weeks after surgery, will help reduce foot swelling. A small cooler by your bed filled with ice packs will allow you to change them frequently immediately after surgery. A practical way to keep ice packs on the foot is to secure them with a long Ace bandage.
  • Even after stitches come out, you’ll want to put a dressing on your scar to minimize irritation. Purchase gauze, surgical tape, and elastic “tape” in advance.
  • Your doctor may recommend purchasing a compression sock to minimize swelling. You can also wear a tight Ace bandage or purchase an inexpensive forefoot compression sleeve at . Note that you will also need a large, loose sock to slide over your swollen foot. My husband’s wool tube socks were perfect.
  • Your foot should be elevated as much as possible throughout your recovery. They gave me a handy foam block at the hospital. Have pillows ready or purchase a block of foam, about 5 “high, from a craft store.
  • Place a small table next to your bed. Have everything you need close at hand, such as a water bottle, lip balm, TV remote control, telephone, and medications. Another table or similar tray next to your sofa is useful. A 4-legged cane with a curved handle placed next to the bed can act as a handrail and will aid in getting into and out of bed for the first few weeks after surgery.
  • Stock up on easy-to-prepare meals, like microwaveable frozen foods. Even after you can walk, a trip to the supermarket will not be practical. Have plenty of bottled water on hand.
  • Catch up on your clothes. Laundry basements will be difficult to handle, and if your washer and dryer are located in your basement, it will take weeks until you can wash. Take inventory and wash casual clothing ahead of time, and make sure you have a few pairs of baggy pants that can slip over your surgical boot.
  • You are more vulnerable when bathing. Your doctor may allow you to get your foot wet as soon as a week after surgery, even with the stitches still in place, so your foot will still be very sensitive and unable to bear weight. You will want to have the following for a safe bathing experience:
  • Shower stool
  • Shower head
  • Grab bars around the tub
  • Shower gel and wipes (instead of soap)
  • Large plastic bags (if your doctor recommends keeping your foot dry)
  • You will want to have a comfortable, easy-to-don shoe that is close to the height of your surgical boot. Since your foot will be elevated most of the time, you will also want a comfortable shoe for your non-surgical foot. I found that most of my shoes were the wrong height, so it was a convenient way to shop for shoes while confined.
  • Will you need to climb stairs? Using crutches is dangerous; until you can walk in your boot, it is best to find an alternative method. I went up and down on my butt; my husband wore construction knee pads and walked up the stairs on his knees. Plan a strategy and practice ahead of time.

The final, and most important, question is how to keep your spirits during a prolonged recovery. Make a list of projects that can be done while at home and on the couch: photos you’ve wanted to organize, books and movies you’ve planned to catch up, the computer game you’ve never had time to learn. Gather your project supplies before your surgery. Think of this healing time not as forced confinement, but as a period of rest and relaxation. Advanced planning will not only be easier for you, but also for your caregiver.

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