The Game’s a Foot


I inherited many wonderful things from my mother and maternal grandmother—my thick, dark hair, an appreciation for all things Italian, a talent for sewing and knitting, and a love for family. One thing I would gladly have done without—a bunion. It started out as a small bump on the inside of my left foot near my big toe, hardly noticeable when I was a teen. In my 20s and 30s, I enjoyed wearing three and four-inch heels, so uncomfortable, yet so sexy. Putting all that pressure on the front of my foot took its toll. The bump grew and so did the pain. Shopping for shoes became almost as onerous as shopping for a bathing suit. I slowly began to replace my Ferragamos with Aerosoles. I could visualize my grandmother’s orthopedic sandals. And the way my mother winced as she squeezed her foot into her heels. I was following in their painful footsteps.

Riding the subway, I would stare at those ads for various foot doctors, promising miraculous results in record time. The “before” and “after” photographs were impressive, although obviously bogus. I sought out non-surgical remedies, following the advice of a yoga teacher to bend my toes against a wall every night. I bought a night splint to force my big toe back in line, but gave up wearing it after a week.

I’m no stranger to surgery, having undergone several operations on my knees, the result of pounding the pavement as a runner, including finishing the 2003 New York City Marathon. But I wasn’t ready to sign on for bunion surgery. Perhaps I was influenced by what my mother and grandmother endured. They put up with the pain and never had surgery. And I couldn’t help but feel that part of the reason I wanted the bunion eradicated had less to do with the pain and more to do with aesthetics. Even the best pedicure couldn’t disguise that big, ugly red bump. So, I kept my vanity in check and decided to delay as long as possible.

That decision was reinforced when I witnessed one of my good friends go through the same operation. She tried to hold out, too, but when her foot began to throb continuously, she realized she had no choice. After her surgery, she hobbled around on crutches, her foot in a boot. When her foot healed more slowly than she had hoped, her time on crutches increased to ten weeks. I couldn’t imagine having my mobility curtailed for more than two months. As long as I avoided tight shoes, I could get by and did, for three more years.

The situation seemed to change overnight. Suddenly, every pair of shoes that I owned, including my running shoes, caused my foot to ache. Whether I was exercising in the gym, riding my bike, walking to the subway, or just food shopping, the pain would soon have me limping. The warm weather gave me the freedom to wear sandals, but even my prettiest ones were uncomfortable and seemed to spotlight my deformed foot. I knew the time had come.

I got a referral from the physician who had performed my last knee surgery. His nurse informed me that he was booked until November. I was incredulous. Was everyone in New York suddenly signing up for bunion surgery? “No,” his nurse responded. “Broken ankles.” Hmmm. She gave me the names of three more doctors, and I finally found one who had an opening.

I was asked to visit radiology the morning of my appointment. Later, when I met with the doctor, the x-ray of my left foot was visible on the light box. I stared with a mixture of curiosity and horror. Viewing just the bones of my foot, I could see how much my big toe had turned inward, forcing the metatarsal bone to migrate out. The doctor termed my condition as “moderate to severe.” He asked if I was experiencing pain, and nodded when I said yes. I confessed that I was hesitant because I had a friend whose recovery was prolonged. That’s when he gave me the tough talk, explaining in great detail what was involved, not only in the operation, but also during the recovery period. He didn’t sugarcoat the message. And I heard him loud and clear. While some people might view a bunion as a minor inconvenience, the surgery to correct the problem is major. There would be pain, but that could be managed. The most important point? No walking on the foot for six weeks.

If I was going to be on crutches for six weeks, I preferred managing that feat without having to worry about heavy coats and icy sidewalks. My family seemed stunned that I had signed on for the surgery so quickly. I was grateful that they supported me and, from beginning to end, have helped me rest by waiting on me hand, and yes, foot.

The surgery was done on an outpatient basis, in that morning, out by evening, returning home with my foot in a cast. Because my leg was numbed during the procedure, I was pain free for more than 48 hours. When I finally began to feel some discomfort, I took pain medication. To stay off my foot, I used crutches or a small wheelie device with a cushioned area for kneeling, keeping my injured foot in the air.

After two weeks, I went back to the doctor to have the cast and stitches removed. My family crowded into the examining room, as eager as I was to see my new foot. We were not disappointed. The transformation was nothing short of miraculous—no bump, no bunion. A new foot!

I still have two more weeks to go on crutches. I empathize with anyone who has to navigate the city in this manner. Some people are polite, others not so much. I’m grateful to my trainer for all those exercises that have helped me build up my upper body muscles. Zipping along on crutches requires a great deal of strength and energy.

I decided to write about my experience because I’ve received so many inquiries from friends and acquaintances who have also contemplated having this surgery. Was it worth it? Definitely. But my doctor was right. The bunion may appear as just a small bump, but getting rid of that small bump is a big deal. Staying off the foot is critical to the healing process, so arranging things at home and work is essential. As with all surgeries, finding the right doctor is key.

There will still be enough of summer left so that I can finally wear those sandals I have tucked in the back of my closet. I’m glad I will be pain free, but I’m also glad my feet can now come out of hiding.

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