Health

The Emotional Side to My Tarsal Coalition Surgery Recovery

Now that I’m 15 weeks/3.5 months post-op, I feel like I’m in a position where I can finally talk a bit more about my surgery recovering – the emotional side, to be precise. All surgery recoveries can be an emotional roller coaster (and I think that I’m in a position to say that authoritatively as someone who has now had 5 ankle surgeries, 2 knee surgeries, and 2 oral surgeries). This surgery, though, has been a super rollercoaster only comparable to when I had the same surgery on my other ankle. So I thought I would share what this recovery has been like with you guys. I hope this will help anyone else going through a surgery like this so they will feel less alone, or anyone who cares for or about anyone going through a similar surgery.

As a quick recap, back in March, I had a subtalar fusion done for my tarsal coalition. In this surgery, they also cleaned up damage from my RA. Read more about my surgery here.

In March 2018, I had a subtalar fusion done for my tarsal coalition. Additionally, my surgeon cleaned up arthritic damage in my ankle. While the physical part of recovery can be very difficult, so can the emotional side. Today I'm sharing that side to prepare you if you're having this or a similar surgery.

Mentally preparing myself – Like I mentioned, I’ve had this surgery before. Back in 2009, I had a subtalar fusion with cleanup of arthritic damage, which is exactly what happened this time, except the type of arthritic damage was different. The “benefit” of having had this surgery before is that I knew how rough and long the recovery would be, but I also knew/know that it’ll be worth it in the end. Knowing what was coming, though, didn’t help my pre-surgery anxiety. Especially because my surgery got pushed back! On February 9, I confirmed with my surgeon that I needed surgery and it was scheduled for March 15. Then I got an ear infection and it got pushed back to March 26. So I was very antsy by the time it was time for surgery!

Getting through the worst of it – When I had my left ankle done in 2009, the first 72 hours were terrible. Absolutely terrible. To quote myself in my blog post explaining what happened, “hell is having major surgery and then not being able to keep down pain medication.” I didn’t think the same issue would happen this time, but I knew that if any moment of recovery was the worst, it would be the first 3 days. So when I was in the hospital after surgery – they admitted me for 2 nights – I stared at the clock and counted down the hours in the hospital waiting to get through the first 24 hours, then the next 24, etc. But the pain wasn’t the only tough this to get through. That I expected. What I didn’t expect was how bad my POTS would be. It was so strong that I used a walker for the first week instead of crutches because I was so dizzy that it wasn’t really safe for me to maneuver 2 things that I needed for balance. It was so discouraging to be in so much pain but also be so dizzy.

Frustration with slow healing – Despite knowing how long the recovery is, I got frustrated with how slow it is pretty early. I expected to feel notably better by the fourth week, even if “notably” meant a small improvement. Instead, I barely felt better by then. I was finally able to do things other than just watch TV, but it wasn’t as much as I wanted.

Kate shares the emotional side of her recovery from a subtalar fusion, done for her tarsal coalition and arthritic damage. Click To Tweet

Getting back to blogging and going to HealtheVoices – But I was determined to get back to my normal life, so at around week 3, I started blogging again. It was just a little bit, and then I had my infusion and was out again, but it was definitely mind over matter. It took me 5 days to write my first blog post after surgery! I was also determined to go to HealtheVoices, which was a little before week 5. I was been accepted before I had surgery, and once my surgery got pushed back, I asked my surgeon if I could go. He said yes, so I was definitely going to make it happen! That was such a fun conference, and overall, it was so good for my mental health. I was out and about with my people! I’m so glad that I was able to go.

Discovering how big my screws are – Unlike in 2009, I didn’t have an x-ray done until I was 9 weeks post-op. I really appreciated this because, in order to get a good x-ray, you have to put weight on it, and putting weight on it 2 weeks after is miserable. But this meant that I didn’t get an idea of how bit my screws are until May. My surgeon told me that “we use smaller ones now,” and I naively believed him. Nope, found out that my screws are both nearly 4″ long. It’s fine, I really wanted to have 2 surgeries in 2018 (sarcasm). This is so frustrating because my screw in 2009 was 4″ and it was almost too big for my foot; whenever anything around me vibrated, it vibrated inside my foot. This was so painful and made it difficult for me to ride in cars, be around loud bass beats, etc. As soon as we saw the x-ray, my mom and I agreed that my chance of another ankle surgery went up by a lot. The earliest I can get this done is August, but since I’m still in my walking cast, I don’t know yet if I’ll have the same problem this time around. It’s a pretty safe bet.

Massive fatigue – Oh my god the FATIGUE. UGH. Don’t get me started! I had forgotten exactly how intense this was, which was very unhelpful. I wish I remembered how bad this was. How bad was/is my fatigue? For the first 2 months, I needed 6 cups of coffee (literally six) or else I took a 1-3 hour nap in the afternoon. Now, I “just” need 4, and ideally a latte in the afternoon. Why has this been happening? Because in addition to regular surgery recovery, I’ve been growing bone for the last 3 months.

Tarsal coalition, tarsal coalition surgery, subtalar fusion, arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, ra, rheumatoid arthritis surgery

Applying to jobs – At the beginning of May, I decided to start applying for jobs. I finished my editing internship at the end of April, and because I was starting to do better (albeit with a ton of fatigue), it was time for job applications. I can’t underscore enough how nerve wracking this was. I knew to apply to part-time jobs because there’s no way that I’m able to work full-time right now. But I still didn’t really know how much part-time I would be able to do. I can’t do 40 hours a week, but what about 30? How about 20? I had no idea. But I really wanted to work and get back to a normal life. I applied to over 20 jobs, and I kept not hearing from anyone. It was so discouraging. I still felt poorly physically, and I was feeling poorly emotionally, as well. I knew logically that many people now have to apply to tens of jobs to just hear from one, but it’s something else to experience that. But I finally ended up getting one, which I started 4 weeks ago now.

Crutching at my graduation – While I finished my MA in December, my school didn’t have a winter graduation, so I went to the spring one. Unfortunately, I was still on crutches for that. Part of me didn’t mind because I didn’t want to feel crappy, which I would if I tried to walk. But the other part of me was sad about it. When I look at my pictures of my grad school graduation, there will always be crutches in them.

Injuring my wrist – And of course I injured my wrist. I mean, why not? The night before my graduation, my family went out to dinner. As mentioned above, I was still using crutches. The restaurant we went to for dinner had the tables on the ground floor, but the bathroom was down in the basement. It was rather hot and humid, and when I went downstairs to use the bathroom, the tiles were moist from the humidity. I was mostly okay, but at one point, one of my crutches went out flying under me. I was so focused on protecting my ankle when this happened that I don’t remember exactly what happened to my wrist. What I do know is that within several days, my wrist was hurting terribly. After a week of bad pain, I went to the doctor and it turned out that I sprained it in this instance, but I also had an irritated ligament from being on crutches for two months. This meant that I had to get off of two crutches ASAP, which was so difficult. My ankle really wasn’t ready for it, but it was super necessary. I went to one crutch, which I’m still using sometimes. This was so hard physically, but it also was emotionally. I had relatively recently begun being mostly self-sufficient again, and suddenly that was taken away from me because it was so painful for me to walk with only one crutch.

Starting my job – I know, I know, I’ve said this about ten times in the last month, but I started a new job in mid-June. This was great because I finally felt like I was back in the world! The timing of my surgery meant that I finished my MA degree, dealt with pre-surgery stuff, and had surgery. So going to work again was a great feeling because it had been a solid 6 months since I had something taking up my life like school. I’ve really been enjoying my job, which is awesome.

Most recent post-op appointment and frustration – Two weeks ago today, I went back to my surgeon for my 3-month post-op appointment. The great news is that the subtalar fusion is almost finished. And by that I mean it’s 90-95% done. The bad news is that I’m still in my walking cast. Do any of you Americans live in the the eastern part of the country? Remember that terrible heat wave we’ve been dealing with? Yeah, I’ve been in a large walking cast that entire time. It has been almost 2 months in this thing and I’m over it. The reason I’m annoyed about this is that my surgeon flat-out lied to me in May. Apparently, when I had the same surgery in 2009, I was still in this position 3 months post-op. I just don’t remember because I don’t remember exactly what my recovery was like at every stage 9 years ago. Now, let me be clear: I’m definitely not ready to be out of this cast. I had just been under the impression that I would be out of this dang thing before July 4 and here we are, July 10, and I’m still in it. Oh, also, I’m going to be in this for at least 2 more weeks. And my surgeon repeated “at least” multiple times, which is frustrating. Like, I get it, George*: this surgery recovery takes forever, especially considering that I have rheumatoid arthritis, and I’m impatient. *George is my surgeon. In real life, I refer to him by Dr. [name] or by his full name (because I love his full name). But if you’re in the Boston area and want an ankle surgeon recommendation, let me know because I adore him.

How I am now – Emotionally, I’m okay. I’m mostly frustrated and tired of being in this much pain. And I’m so over the fatigue! The fatigue is getting better, but it’s still there. I’m also getting anxious about figuring out if I need to have my screws removed. I’ll find out if they need to come out from whether or not they feel terrible when I get out of my cast. I’ll find out from pain. It might be fine, but it probably won’t. I’m worried about that, especially because I don’t want to have another ankle surgery. 5 is enough, you know? I’m glad that I’m through the worst of the recovery, but I know that I’m nowhere near the end. I’m 3 months in, and it will be another 6-9 months of recovery, depending on if I need another surgery.

Like this post? Check out:

My Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment + How I Got There, Hacks for Living with Chronic Conditions, 10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Received My Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosis, Tools for Pain Management That Aren’t Medications

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