One Month In: My Accessory Navicular Removal Journey
When I was in fifth grade, I hurt my foot. They x-rayed it, saw no abnormalities and sent me home, telling me to be careful and then continue as normal. I was then on crutches off and on for the next 8 months, and as a fat kid, was essentially told to suck it up. I received the lowest grade in my entire life in gym class that year. It wasn't until 7 years later, when I partially tore 2 ligaments in my same ankle and had x-rays done, that I was asked, "When did you break your bone in your foot in half?" by a foot specialist who saw an old break site and my navicular bone in 2 pieces (the navicular bone is one of the largest bones in the foot, near the ankle). Other doctors think that it may have always been in two pieces (a condition called an "accessory navicular"), which is suspicious considering they saw no abnormalities in my first x-ray in fifth grade, which is when I still have no doubt that at some point over those 8 months the injury was incurred. Either way, the treatment was removal of the accessory piece and a 12-month recovery. Because I was about to enter my senior year basketball season and was shooting for MVP of the league, surgery was clearly out of the question and I let the ligaments heal (barely) and got straight back to playing.
Over the next decade, there was never really a good time to not be able to walk for 12 months, especially as a field ecologist with many more field seasons, and as a person with an active lifestyle (~90%+ of my hobbies are physical activity based). It wasn't until 3 years ago that I began the process of getting on the wait-list for surgery, after 2 summers in a row of barely being able to hike after a rock hit the tender spot of my navicular bone on a scrambling trip. I was put on the waitlist, and while waiting, the foot functioned well when it did... and really bad when it was bad. I had a few bad sprains mid-foot, sometimes in the back country and sometimes when out alone, that at times left me sitting alone for hours before I could crawl to safety. Somehow I generally lucked out, and with the additional assistance of adrenaline, I got back to civilization before I could not weight bear for several subsequent days. However, it was clear that this liability was not worth the risk for the rest of my life.
My time for surgery finally arose in April, 2017. However, I was about to head to Europe for a summer of hiking and climbing (Italy, Slovenia and Scotland), and requested to have my surgery at the beginning of November, after I finished TAing and field course and around the time I would then mostly be writing my thesis. It was set up as a two-part surgery, because after 17 years of walking on a broken bone with an additional condition of fallen arches, your foot compensates and your other bones get out of alignment. On November 10, 2017, I had the first stage of my foot surgery which involved the breaking of my heal bone to put it in line with my leg, and a calf-lengthening procedure. On December 1, 2017, I had my second surgery to remove the accessory bone and relocate the ligament that goes up my leg that attaches to the navicular bone.
Before going in to the surgery, I was worried about how my mental health would fair with a 6-12 month recovery, especially because I have a history of depression which has not flared up for 1-2 years now. I also had a knee injury the summer before (summer 2016), which kept me away from many of my main physical activities for several months. Thus, I already knew how tough it could be and that this would be much harder. I began taking on new hobbies that were not reliant on physical activity, such as ukulele, painting (again), board games (again), learning Spanish (again) and blogging. My biggest fear was that I would see myself as less of a human, with lower value, and that I would be left behind while my friends (who predominately are all activity partners: climbing, skiing, hiking, etc.) went on to enjoy the things I would miss so much. Thus, I also feared that I would be seen as less of a human by those I care about in my life.
Post-surgery Recovery: One Month Out
Luckily, my fears did not become a reality! I began a meal train before my first surgery, and so many friends jumped on board immediately. So much, that others could not sign up for weeks or at all before all week days filled up. Further, people were stopping by every day, outside of meal train commitments, to check in on me and take care of me. As a result, I have not yet felt lesser of a human at all! I do get antsy being cooped up indoors all days most days, but I had many friends come over to take me for walks.
Me with my knee scooter on a walk with Lianne, where I bought myself a new ukulele.
I had, however, quickly developed a new fear after my surgery: the fear of going outside on my own, because I was worried that I might wipe out or pass out (with my low blood pressure) while alone and hurt myself, or potentially get mugged as an easy target (this last one was a less rational fear admittedly, but not an impossible thing!). Thus, I was pretty reliant on my wonderful friends to help take care of me.
The actual physical aspect of it has been a lot of ups and downs. Immediately after each surgery, I was on a large dose of opioid pain killers. The same post-surgery pattern occurred each time as well: Friday = surgery; Saturday = immense pain despite pain killers; Sunday-Thursday = recurring vomitting (some days keeping zero calories down) and head ache. The first round, I also had low blood pressure the first week and was prone to blacking out while trying to make my way to the bathroom, or while in the bathroom. It was rough.
Despite those aspects, the bones are healing nicely and now I have 2 pins in my foot, which is pretty exciting and new! I also currently have a much atrophied calf muscle, which will only become more atrophied with the next 2 months of non-weight bearing. Luckily, by 4 days after each surgery, I was in low enough pain (3-4.5/10) each day that I only needed pain killers when trying to sleep.
X-ray after surgery 1.
Leg, 2.5 weeks after surgery 1.
The day before my second surgery, I was even able to tie my foot up and go one legged climbing with Nicole and Sarah at the Aviary! I stuck to 5.7s and 5.8s mostly (the Aviary 5.8's are really hard with only one leg), but had a wonderful time with repeated pull ups, and rocking on to a high left foot. I am hopeful to get more sessions like this in come January.
Climbing a reachy 5.8 with one foot at the Aviary.
Despite how rough it was physically in term of my health (and still pretty rough mentally despite doing great overall), three days ago was my first time in a month where I lost my positivity. My positivity remained high for the first month with the knowledge that I was on the road to recovery, many board game nights with people I care about, and the heartfelt actions of all of my friends. But three days ago, I was still vomiting and weak after 5 days and I waivered. I was suddenly fed up with being so sick (5 days is an unreasonable amount of time to be vomiting constantly) and with the inability to walk- let alone to ski and climb!
Luckily, Thursday was the first day that I was not ill and I was able to enjoy being alive again. I had a few friends over for board games, which lifted my spirits immensely! Thank goodness my waivering positivity diminished so easily. Yesterday, I found additional inspiration in a video by a mountain biker named Jason who broke his ankle and was on a knee scooter in a terrain park. Today, for the first time in 8 days since my second surgery, I left the house, and this was my first time leaving the house and going on a walk all alone without being escorted. And it wasn't bad. In fact, it was lovely! I almost bailed a few times (sidewalks in Vancouver are surprisingly uneven!), but did not wipe out and certainly did not get mugged (the sun was still up though, and that fear applies mainly to late at night). The next few months are bound to have lots of ups and downs mentally, but with the support of my friends and positivity, I know I will get through and be back to climbing and skiing in no time!