June 2019

Patient Perspective – Beyond Bunions: Feeling Footloose and Fancy Free 6 Years After Surgery

By Karen Bakar

I’ve never been one to gaze admiringly at my toes while lounging at the beach – or heaven forbid, take pictures of them with a tropical sea background to post on Instagram. I was cursed with ugly feet – wide and stubby (thanks Dad!) – and because of that, I’ve never bothered to try and adorn them with pedicures and polish.

To add to the shame, I inherited the dreaded “B-word” from my grandmother – bunions! The unsightly knob on the side of my left foot wasn’t something I took much notice of until I was around 40, but it quickly became an excruciating part of my existence; so much so that in 2013, after much hemming and hawing, I succumbed to the podiatrist’s knife and underwent a bunionectomy.

As I expected, the recovery was painful (but truthfully, not quite as painful as I had been warned), and it was slow (slower, however, than I anticipated). I also encountered my share of bumps in the road. In July 2013, 6 months post-surgery, I wrote a Patient Perspective piece in Lower Extremity Review documenting my experience. Six years later, LER asked me to do a follow-up to close the loop on my journey and answer the all-important question “Was the procedure worth it, and if you had to do it all over again, would you?”

I’ll cut to the chase: Yes, it was absolutely worth it, and yes, I would do it again in a heartbeat! For those wavering about whether to go forward with the procedure or feeling frustrated by a recovery that seems to be taking longer than expected, I’ve put together what I hope are helpful answers to a variety of questions people have asked me over the years.

The soft boot worn immediately after surgery.

How long did it take to achieve 100% recovery?

Realistically, for 100% recovery, I would say a year, which is longer than I expected. When I wrote my Patient Perspective back in 2013, 6 months post-surgery, my foot was almost back to normal, but I still noticed occasional puffiness, and my toes hadn’t fully regained their full flexion. It wasn’t until about 12 months that I felt like I had a completely normal foot. Today, it still looks and feels great; toes crossed it stays that way!

Do you ever experience pain?

On very rare occasions I’ll feel a flash of pain from out of the blue. It isn’t associated with any sort of action or bumping of the foot; it’s like the bunion is still there, but then I look down, and thankfully it’s not. The best analogy I can come up with is that it reminds me of the “phantom pain” amputees sometimes report in body parts that no longer exist.

Would you have a bunionectomy on both feet at the same time?

Somebody recently told me they have a friend who had bunion surgery on BOTH feet at the same time, to which my jaw dropped. I would never wish this scenario on my worst enemy. My podiatrist, Brian Elchinoff, DPM, in Concord, California, said he recommends patients wait at least 12 weeks before having the procedure on the other foot, and ideally 6 months. In fact, he requires patients who insist on having both done concurrently to sign an agreement to use a wheelchair after the surgery. This ensures both feet are adequately protected during the critical first few weeks of the healing process.

How visible is your scar?

Amazingly, it’s barely visible – you really have to get up close and look for it. I attribute that to my podiatrist’s skill, but apparently good genes play a role too! Dr. Elchinoff explained that how a scar looks after a bunionectomy is in large part dependent on the quality of the suturing. Genetics, however, is another factor, as some people have a predisposition to hypertrophic (wider and raised) scars. In this situation, patients can use special  gels and silicone bandages to minimize scar thickness.

Examples of shoes the author still was unable to wear five months after surgery because they cut across the incision area.

Are you back to wearing “normal” shoes and are there certain styles you need to avoid?

Getting back to wearing “fashionable” shoes – and for the first time, being able to wear strappy sandals without a bunion bulging from the side – was probably the milestone that took the longest to achieve, about 12 to 18 months. I’m happy to report I’m now able to wear whatever shoes I want, and the wide-toe clogs that were once a staple of my wardrobe are mostly collecting dust in the closet. Still, I try to avoid wearing heels or traditionally uncomfortable styles except on special occasions.

Do you like how your feet look now?

While I am still cursed with wide and stubby feet, I catch myself every so often admiring how relatively normal they now look. The gnarly protrusion that once caused me such agony is now a gentle, unobtrusive curve, allowing my foot to slip nicely into most sandals. I still don’t polish my toes though, and you won’t find my feet anywhere on Instagram!

Karen Bakar is a marketing and communications expert and freelance writer who lives in Walnut Creek, California. Her original LER article is among the most-often read online at lermagazine.com.

Physical therapy helped significantly improve forefoot range of motion in the operated foot.

Physical therapy helped significantly improve forefoot range of motion in the operated foot.

2 Responses to Patient Perspective – Beyond Bunions: Feeling Footloose and Fancy Free 6 Years After Surgery

  1. Aria says:

    I’m 16 days out, and having a hard time, though I think it’s easy compared to a lot of what I’ve heard about. The first four or five days, I did need pain meds. I made it through natural childbirth at home with a baby coming chin-first, and through three dry sockets when I had my window teeth removed (nursing my baby was my priority), but needed oxytocin after this. As someone who so rarely takes even Tylenol that it’s pointless to keep on hand since it’ll expire instead of get used, it takes a lot for me to use any pain meds, much less a narcotic or opiate. I’ve always sucked it up, so not being able to do so this time was kind of a big thing. However, the pain is nearly entirely gone now.

    There’s almost no swelling left. Astonishingly little. I’ve been driving since day 11, and nixed the crutches after day 3 because they annoyed me. I’m going down the stairs in my house sideways.

    But my toe is so incredibly stiff that there’s serious doubt I’ll able to return to ballet. The pain was unbearable at times, causing me to have to skip days going out in Paris as well as miss ballet classes there, so it really needed to be done, but the loss of something that is as vital to me as oxygen has my anxiety through the roof and my depression hard to handle. I had a cheilectomy on my right foot, and about half my range of motion back already. But my left side is so stiff that I wish I’d just kept the pain.

    Also, before surgery, PT was already part of the plan. It won’t start until after x-rays in another 11 days to check on bone-healing.

  2. Bill Beaton says:

    I am glad to hear that your experience with Bunion surgery had a good outcome. Today that surgery in the capable hands of well trained podiatrists is extremely successful. The timing of your successful recovery sounds right in line with what we expect.

    Since bunions are an inherited biomechanical deformity increasing with miles and decades, I was wondering if your podiatric surgeon recommended custom molded corrective orthotics for you.

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