November 25, 2015

When Your Body Works Against You 2

I have had what I thought was a bunion on my right foot since about 2009. One day while cleaning the floor, crouching on my hands and knees, I noticed my big toe on my right foot was smarting mightily. I once saw a massage therapist (who was more of a chiropractor, really) back in 2010, and he noticed my hips were out of alignment, as well as my shoulders. He pointed out the bump on my right foot, and theorized that I had developed a bunion due to wearing heels and always carrying my purse on my right shoulder.

I did have pain from it; an annoying dull ache that was there any time I flexed my foot, as well as a sharper pain if I tried to bend my toe much beyond what is necessary for walking. Sometimes the pain would flare up for no apparent reason, and I conjectured that this was related to perhaps my diet, or the weather. When I described the pain to others, I said, "it feels inflamed, like what I imagine arthritis feels like in elderly people." My great Aunt Ruth had arthritis. Her hands were twisted up in knots like ancient ropy tree roots, and when she played piano (which surely must have hurt), her fingers and wrists barely moved at all. At any rate, I could still walk, and run, and do yoga; I just couldn't flex my big toe as much on my right foot as I could on my left. For the most part, this was no big deal except when the pain rose beyond that constant dull ache. Sometimes it meant I had a severe cramp on the sole of my foot that I couldn't get rid of by flexing my foot, but other than that, I could still function.

However, I started seeing a massage therapist this past February about bursitis that had started to develop in my wrists (perhaps a story I'll tell at another time) and she of course noticed my bunion. I had recently taken up running, and while she noticed my body getting stronger, she also noticed that my right hip especially was unevenly tight. And when she worked on my right foot and tried to bend it a reasonable amount to match the flexibility of my left foot, it was quite painful. Not that these massages were anything like your typical image of a relaxing, spa-vacation massage. No, these sessions left me feeling pummeled, kneaded, and battered like pizza dough. They are designed to keep your body limber, not designed to make you feel soothed. They do help you feel relaxed afterwards, but it's definitely not a relaxing experience at the time. It kind of feels like you had a hard workout session.

My foot was clearly giving me signs that all was not well. The pain was not being alleviated, despite my efforts to keep it limber, avoid heels, and switch to a smaller, cross-body style purse to take the pressure off my right side. The bursitis in my wrists was fading away, but the pain in my toe seemed to be getting worse. I noticed I couldn't flex it as far as I used to. I kept trying, despite the pain, but it seemed like I was losing mobility.

So, earlier this summer I finally made an appointment to get it checked out. My doctor, who was a very experienced orthopedic surgeon, had me walk barefoot around the exam room. "This doesn't look like a bunion," he said. "It looks like you have arthritis in your toe." Whaat?! Well, that would explain why I likened the pain to arthritis! But I thought of arthritis as being something only old people have. He did an X-ray on my right foot, and said I only had a very mild bunion, but that wasn't the real cause of my pain. The X-ray revealed that I broke my toe! Back in 2009! Apparently I stubbed my toe so hard that it broke, and bone fragments were now lodged in my toe joint tissue. And those bone shards had created bone spurs (that bump) which I had mistaken for a bunion. I do vaguely remember stubbing my toe so hard at one point that the pain lasted for days, not minutes. But I didn't do anything about it at the time, because I thought, "yeah, it hurts, but if it was really BROKEN, I wouldn't be able to walk on it, right?"


So, my diagnosis was Hallix Limitus, which means the joint is losing flexibility. If I didn't do anything about it, I would eventually have Hallux Rigidus complete loss of mobility in the joint. The doctor gave me several options, ranging from major surgery such as a Bunionectomy (since I do actually have a small bunion in that joint as well) to wearing custom orthotics. I opted for a less invasive surgery called a cheilectomy, where the surgeon makes an incision and shaves off the bone spurs to get rid of the bump, but doesn't fuse the joints to a metal rod as in a full-on bunionectomy surgery. That means my recovery time would be severely lessened.

We scheduled the surgery for Friday, November the 13th. Everything went smoothly and I'm now at home resting and writing this with my foot elevated. Every half hour, I have to do bicycle kicks in the air to help prevent blood clots from forming in my legs and traveling up to my heart and lungs. It's going well, except it's giving me heartburn thanks to my aforementioned acid reflux problem.

I go back on Wednesday to get my dressing changed, and the week after that to get the stitches removed. The doctor said I probably won't gain back any of the flexibility I have lost, but he says there are exercises I can do to attempt to improve it somewhat. He assures me, however, that I will no longer feel pain in my joint, and I should be able to resume all my normal activities in a month. Nevertheless, I am motivated to do my flexibility exercises diligently in an effort to be able to bend my foot as much as I could in my pre-injury days. I miss being able to dance with wild abandon. I miss being able to moonwalk.

"Why do you want to be able to moonwalk?!" my mom asked.

Because moonwalking is awesome, duh. Indeed, it is the proper way to exit a room after throwing out a witty response at a party.

Now if only I knew exactly the right witty response to say in any given situation….