I had my fifth foot surgery two days ago. You could almost call me an expert now. Not that I’d want to do the surgery; I slept through all of them! But I know a lot more than most people about being the patient.
This is part one of two blog posts on what I’ve learned through all this. This one is way off my usual topics for this blog. I’m writing it for anyone who might gain from practical lessons I’ve learned. (Part two is here now.)
The Disrupted Life
I don’t know of any other outpatient surgery that’s as disruptive to your life as surgery on the feet. Maybe some foot operations that don’t require long laid-up periods. I hope so. But I’ve had work done on tendons, a stress fracture, a real fracture, and a bone fragment, and each of those operations required me to keep my foot elevated above my heart 24/7 for five to seven days.
(I was blessed with structural flaws in my feet that are to blame for all this.)
So even though I don’t feel sick and I’m not in pain, I’m stuck in bed for days anyway. For the fifth time in six years. And I’ve learned some things in the process.
If you’re facing a similar surgery sometime soon, these ideas will help you make it through the first week or two a lot more easily. Part two will come soon, with more general lessons I’ve learned for anyone who’s going through repeated struggles of almost any kind.
This isn’t medical advice. If anything in here ends up looking like medical advice, or if anything I say conflicts with what your doctor says, listen to your doctor, not me.
I want to make it especially clear that I’m not saying foot surgery means you’ll be down for days like I am this week. This post is only for those who do have those instructions from the surgeon.
1. Get Ready
I’ve done a lot of traveling. Packing for a long trip is easy compared to preparing for five to seven days in laying in bed, and being somewhat self-sufficient there. You’ll have help in the household, obviously. If not, don’t even bother trying. But you’ll want to be able to take care of yourself as much as possible.
I’m sure you’re thinking about ways to pass the days, ways to keep up with your food and medicines, and so on. Here are a few things you probably haven’t thought about.
2. Avoid Frustration; Keep Things in Reach
Stuck in bed is stuck in bed. Do you have any idea how frustrating it can be if something you need falls off your bed and rolls away? Or if your cell phone charger cord falls out of reach behind the headboard?
No, actually, you don’t know. I guarantee you don’t know — unless you’ve already lived through it. You don’t want to know, either.
So go out before your surgery and buy a whole bunch of shoestrings and tie everything to your bed you can possibly tie there. It will never fall out of reach.
Where do you even put things, though? A bedside stand my be the best place if you’re in a smaller-sized bed. If you’re in a queen or king bed, though, there’s an even better answer: Put an ordinary kitchen tray right on the bed next to you, and use it to hold your small pile of necessary things. It’s the right height, and you won’t have to move it out of the way to get up.
Don’t just put things down on the bed. Not your cell phone, not even your laptop. It will get lost in the sheets and covers, I guarantee. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could lose a whole television in there. (Again, you have no idea, unless you’ve been through it.)
The worst annoyance of all is when things fall off the foot of your bed. Especially your foot-elevating cushion, which can be oh-so-easy to kick around. So stack some furniture there as a barrier, or else fashion a fence by criss-crossing rope between the legs of your four-poster, if you have one, and covering the rope with towels or a blanket.
3. Where to Put Your Feet
That’s the short answer. Your doc will want you to keep your surgery foot elevated.
Did you think some pillows would work to hold your foot up? Experiment in advance and make sure. If you’re thinking of building a leaning tower of pillows, plan on it being a crashing and failing tower of pillows instead. Repeatedly. Unless maybe you can prop it against a wall.
My best foot cushioning system has employed one very firm and large couch cushion on the bottom, with one ordinary pillow stacked on top. That combination stays put. If you have to use regular pillows, at least tie them together.
4. How To Sit Up
You’d never guess this would be an issue. For me, though, it’s been the worst source of post-surgical pain by far.
One surgeon instructed me to dangle my feet over the edge of the bed once every half hour, every waking hour, starting the day after surgery. (I’m not sure, but I think that might be an unusual instruction. Whether it is or not doesn’t matter; you do what your doc says.)
What he wanted, in other words, was for me to pull my feet up in the air from the pillows, then lift myself up from the elbows, then turn and sit up.
Exercise fanatics call this a crunch. (Close enough, anyway). Do it very often and it’s awful. It’s excruciating. Vicodin is no match for the pain in the abs.
Here’s what is a good match, though: a rope to pull yourself up by. Tie it near the foot of the bed. Attach the other end someplace where it can’t fall out of reach.
I use one even when I’m not being asked to do it over and over again all day. You’ll be doing some crunches, even if it isn’t every half hour. You’ll really appreciate the help a pull-up rope can give.
5. How To Close a Door
This one will matter more after your first several days of enforced immobility, but it’s worth preparing for in advance.
Would you believe it can be really hard to close a door?. (I told you these were things you wouldn’t have thought of.) If you’re on crutches, and if you’re going through the dorway in the direction you need to pull the door shut behind you, you have no free hand to pull with, and your crutches are right in the way of where the door needs to go. If there’s a step up or down it’s even worse.
So get some more shoelaces. Tie one to the pull-side doorknob of each of your most-used doors. Tie a two-inch loop in the free end. When you leave a room, just slip that loop loosely over one finger, walk through the doorway on your crutches, and the door will follow you shut.
6. How To Call For Help
No, I’m not talking about calling 911, but getting the attention of whoever needs to bring you that drink of soda when you’re thirsty. Yelling, “Hey, you!” is one answer. Forgetting to say “please” and “thank you” is no answer at all; they’re probably working a lot harder for you than you are.
But what if they’re in another part of the house? You could use cell phones, but my wife and I think a nice-sounding bell is simpler If your house is too huge for that to be heard everywhere, you’ve got a problem I’ve never had. You might consider a whistle (rude but quick, and maybe not a bad idea to have one in the bathroom anyway) or a $10 pair of walkie-talkies, which I think are easier than phones for this sort of thing.
7. Around the House
At some point you’re going to (finally!) start moving around the house again. At first it might just be do the same thing, elevating your foot, in a different room with different scenery.
The earlier you start making the shift, the more important it is to have your other locations prepared in the same manner, and to practice in advance to make sure you can safely transfer without putting weight on your surgery foot.
8. Surviving and Thriving
There’s more to it than just surviving. In a day or two I’ll share about really thriving in spite of conditions like these. Update: it’s published here.
Image Credit(s): pixabay.