Recovering From Foot Surgery: What it was Really Like

Exactly one year ago, my husband and I had just gotten back from taking an 11-day trip to Japan for our 10th anniversary. That was where my foot problems had started – about halfway through the trip my left foot began hurting so much that it began to be difficult to walk very much. After months and months of wearing foot braces and walking boots, it was finally determined that I would need surgery.

I had surgery on February 4th of this year – it’s been a little more than 15 weeks now. I would say I am about 85% recovered. There’s still a long way to go on building up my leg and foot muscles since they were out of use for so long, and I still don’t have quite the same range of motion that my other foot has, but I expect that over time it will continue to improve.

I had never had any sort of surgery before, so I really didn’t know what to expect. For those who may be in similar situations, or are just genuinely interested, I thought I would write a bit about what the whole experience has been like. Each person is different and heals at different speeds, but the following is what it has looked like for me.

***I won’t include any pictures until the end – there are some who may not want to see them – THIS IS YOUR WARNING, there are post-surgery foot pictures at the end of this post***

Feb 4 – Day of surgery – I was most nervous about being put under anesthesia since I had never experienced that before. It was an outpatient procedure, I went in early that morning and was supposed to be home by the early afternoon. For those who are wondering, this surgery was to address my posterior tibial tendon, which is a tendon that supports the arch of the foot and connects to the calf muscle. (I have flat arches and the arch was “collapsing” so that my foot was not supporting me correctly.) The technical name of the surgery was super long, and the only thing I remember about it was the word “osteotomy,” which involves cutting into the bone and for my situation, placing metal grafts in two places in my foot. I ended up coming out with four incisions, three on my foot and one higher up on my calf (they had to do a calf muscle lengthening procedure).

I remember them wheeling me back to the operating room and seeing those big lights above me. I expected them to ask me to count backwards from 10, but as soon as they put the mask over my nose and mouth, I remember nothing else except waking up in the recovery area. The surgery took between 2-3 hours, and I woke up with a huge splint and wrapping on my foot. I wasn’t in a ton of pain because the doctor had injected a pain blocker into my foot which would slowly wear off over the next couple of days. It was weird not being able to feel my foot or toes, but so far it wasn’t too terrible.

Upon getting home and “walking” into the house (I was using a knee scooter) I suddenly felt extremely nauseous and threw up. I thought it was due to the anesthesia, but I would later find out it was a reaction to the pain pills they prescribed me.

Weeks 1-2 – The first two weeks were definitely the hardest and most painful. The pain blocker wore off on my foot and while I was glad to be able to have feeling in my toes again, I finally understood why it had been necessary in the first place. How do I begin to describe the pain? I was alternating between hydrocodone and ibuprofen, and pretty much taking the maximum doses. My foot was super swollen, though I couldn’t really tell at the time because it was wrapped up, and the swelling hurt. The bandages felt tight and uncomfortable against my skin and sometimes my foot would have this all over tingling sensation like it was falling asleep, but like a painful version of that…

I realized quickly that every time after I took my hydrocodone I would start to feel really nauseous, and ended up getting prescribed an anti-nausea pill. I remember laying on the couch in the living room unable to move or open my eyes because I was so nauseous, but the anti-nausea pills really helped.

I had planned to take one week off of work (you know, back when people went into the office to work) and work from home the second week. Let me tell you, not much work happened that second week, I was still in a lot of pain and just needed to rest.

Side note: You know how certain songs can remind you of certain events in your life? Well, I now have the same feeling about two t.v. shows: The Witcher and Assassination Classroom. These two shows were ones I watched in this two-week period, and now every time someone mentions them or if I see something about them, I’m reminded of my time recovering from surgery.

Feb 10 – Six days after my surgery, I had my first follow-up appointment with my doctor. They unwrapped my foot and for the first time I got to see what the damage was – it was not pretty (pictures below if you’re interested!) There was a lot of bruising, as well as discoloration from the iodine they had used on me before/after surgery. They changed all the wrappings but I was still supposed to be in the splint for a while. I also was still not allowed to wash my leg – so as you can imagine bathing was very interesting. (I basically took baths with my left leg sticking out of the bathtub, a bit of a tricky maneuver but doable.)

Feb 20 – This was the day I got my stitches removed, and the morning of I was allowed to actually wash my foot and leg with antibacterial soap. I remember peeling the dressings off and starting to cry because of how pitiful (and gross) my foot looked. I had expected the bruising to be better, but some of it actually looked worse. Only one of my incisions had “real” stitches, and the other three had the kind that eventually dissolve, although they still removed the ends of those that were sticking out of my skin. There had been talk about doing a hard cast on my foot, but I ended up lucking out and just doing the splint and wrappings. This was really nice because most of the pain I felt was due to the swelling, and it was nice to unwrap my foot every once and a while to ease some of the pain. At this point I was mostly off of the hydrocodone, except sometimes I would take it at night to help me sleep.

March 5 – This was the last day I had to be non-weight bearing, so my knee scooter adventure had lasted about 4 weeks total. And boy, it certainly was an adventure! There is a crazy curved ramp at my workplace that was actually pretty scary to ride down, so I was thankful to be able to “walk” with crutches… at least at first. I soon found out that crutches are pretty awful. I remember going to the break room at work and getting a cup of coffee, then thinking, “what do I do now?” I realized I could not hold the cup of coffee and use the crutches at the same time, so I just stood there and drank my coffee until it was gone. Instead of the splint, I was back in the walking boot, but would slowly begin to transition to wearing a normal shoe, once my foot was not too swollen to put a shoe on.

Week 8 – Eight weeks to the day after my surgery, my doctor told me everything was looking great and that I was a fast healer. At this point the coronavirus was a big thing and I was working remotely from home; all of us (including patients) were wearing face masks at the office. My doctor told me I should try to walk in a normal shoe most of the time, and by that point I was already using the crutches sparingly (really just using one at this point). She also strongly recommended physical therapy since at this point I had not walked normally for a long time.

Week 9 I started going to physical therapy twice a week at Rebound Sports and Physical Therapy here in Abilene. The staff have been great, and I feel like they’ve navigated the coronavirus stuff well with the precautions they are taking. I remember limping through the door that first day, not really knowing what to expect. The first 10-15 minutes of each session, the doctor just kind of stretches and manipulates my foot (and yes it does get a bit painful at certain moments.) She measured how far back my foot was able to bend, and told me that I didn’t have enough range of motion to have a normal gait (hence my limp and Frankenstein-esque walk.) My big toe also was not able to bend much at all, which kind of freaked me out, but has gotten so much better since starting PT.

Some of the types of exercises I’ve done at PT have included using a little balance board and moving my foot back and forth to work on the range of motion, using a resistance band and moving my foot in different directions, and moving my big toe up and down while keeping my toes on the ground (this one was super hard and was more of a mind game – give it a try!) As I’ve progressed, the exercises have focused more on strengthening my muscles by doing things like heel raises and tossing a tennis ball against a wall while balancing on one foot.

Week 12 – 12 weeks to the day after my surgery (on April 28th) I had my final appointment with my surgeon, Dr. Clawson. They did a last round of x-rays and told me I was going to be released as a patient.

Weeks 14-15 About six weeks into physical therapy, I started to have days where I felt like I could walk and hardly even think about it. I guess I would say I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel at this point. Physical therapy has been an interesting experience, the healing and pain levels have been an up and down thing instead of a straight linear progression. For example, I would have a day where my foot might really be hurting and sore, and then the next day it would feel so much better. It was a two steps forward, one step backward type of journey. I’m not sure what this means except that the body is really interesting (and complicated) in how it goes about the healing process!

Today (May 25) – As of today, I’ve completed seven week of physical therapy and am 16 weeks post-surgery. I knew it would be a long and tedious process, and I’m glad to be past the worst of it. My foot is not perfect, I’m still waiting for that glorious day when I can do a heel raise while standing only on my left foot (this was a test my doctor had me do in the office that helped determine that my tendon was messed up), but I’m not there yet. I’m longing for when I can go on a walk around the block without limping or feeling sore, and I’m dreaming about a day when I might be able to go for a jog again.

I don’t regret the surgery, and I think it was the best course of action since my foot just seemed like it was not going to get better with all the other treatments I was trying. I’m thankful to have come as far as I have and I look forward to posting again soon in the future with even more positive progress.

Thanks for reading!

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Pictures – below are where the pictures are going to start, the first one is just of me the day of surgery with my foot bandaged up (a safe one) but after that the more gruesome pictures begin – again, you have been warned!

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Day of surgery – Feb 4, 2020
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Feb 10th – 6 days after surgery
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Feb 10th – 6 days after surgery
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March 13 – 5 weeks post-surgery
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12 Weeks post-surgery

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