Post-Op: The Lists

My foot surgery was months ago now, and as my mobility improves, things that were important in those early weeks after post-op will soon be dismantled or forgotten.  I learned so much before my operation, as I talked to folks who had had foot surgery, I felt well-prepared when the day finally came.  Since there is a possibility I’ll need surgery on the other foot one day, so I’m making some lists of things to do and buy now, for that future self, and any reader who may benefit.

Note that I tried to minimize special-purpose purchases, knowing that my pack-rack tendencies would want to keep whatever I bought.  Also note that while Amazon is happy to supply most purchases, your local medical supply pharmacy (Hornsnyder’s for us locals) is a terrific resource.  The 20% off coupons for Bed Bath and Beyond came in handy, too.

First, the to-do list:

  1. Make arrangements for extra help, to cover things you normally do.  My mother volunteered for this critical role, and we scheduled the surgery with her availability in mind. For two solid weeks, nearly 24 hours a day, she made sure I was fed, had clean clothes, and took my medications on time, in addition to getting my daughter to the bus.  Mama also provided that extra support to give me confidence for simple tasks that seemed daunting (taking a shower?! eek!).  Thanks, Mama!
  2. Decide on what kind of wheels you’re going to use for the non-weight-bearing phase of recovery.  I’d seen a friend on a knee scooter, and chose that (see purchases below), but an aunt used a walker successfully, another friend rented her knee scooter, and a wheelchair would work if your pathways in the house allow.
  3. Get ready for crutches.  Unless your house has a ramp to get in and out, you’re going to have to use crutches to go up and down a few steps in and out of the house, right from the first day you come home from the hospital.  Get crutches, and get lessons — from the doctor’s office, and/or on YouTube — so you know how to adjust the crutches for your height, and how to use them on steps.  Your physical therapist will help with this later, but that could be weeks after the surgery date.
  4. Take up and put away all of the throw rugs.  Those extra surface changes and loose edges require more force to push over when you’re on wheels, and are tripping hazards when you’re on crutches.  You can put them back down later, and use this as an opportunity for a little celebratory redecorating if the rugs are looking a little sad.
  5. Set up a recovery bedroom with these features:
    1. Separate from anyone who is working or going to school. You’ll be up at all hours taking medications, and distracting yourself from pain with some form of entertainment.  Being out of commission will be disruptive enough to the family, without adding sleep deprivation to the mix.
    2. On the ground floor.  Going up and down stairs takes energy that will be in short supply, especially the first few weeks.  Then it’ll be up and down on your bottom, requiring arm strength and strength in your good leg.  And then one-at-a-time on crutches.  Even weeks into recovery, some nights a trip up the stairs is just too much.
    3. A chair by the bed.  Family members taking care of you and visiting with you will need a place to sit.
    4. A bedside table.  You’ll want water, phone, tissues, over-the-counter meds, entertainment electronics (tablet, remote control, etc.) and  within reach, along with any small snacks that are needed to go with “take with food” medications.
    5. Recharging capacity for mobile devices, within reach.  I put in lots of hours on my tablet and cellphone, and it helped to be able to plug them in without getting out of bed.
    6. Extra pillows to elevate your foot.  Molded bed pillows work the best to give a stable platform, and a folded foam pillow can provide the required knee support.
    7. Natural light when you want it.  Being able to see outside was a real pick-me-up, and while initially I asked others to open or close the blinds, later it was important that I could get my wheels close enough to the window to reach the controls.
  6. Set up a recovery bathroom.
    1. Usable shower.  Our house had a shower on the ground floor, but it needed a bench for me to sit on, a hand-held shower head, and something to hold my soap and shampoo.  Our shower had no grab handles for getting in and out, but I found that one crutch, braced against the edge of the tile, and the second on the other side, were sufficient.  (A suction cup handle we tried wouldn’t stay attached to the tile.)  This is one place where your local medical supply store may have the best solution for your situation.
    2. Your personal toiletries.  Everything you’d put in a kit bag for a long trip, needs to be in this bathroom.  It helps build self-confidence, to be able to do normal things, like brushing teeth and taking vitamins, without extra trips around the house.
    3. Easy toilet access.  Getting a raised toilet seat was suggested, and one with arms would have been nice, but I found that I could get up and down just fine using a crutch and the counter for support.
    4. A privacy curtain.  Our ground floor bathroom was small, and I couldn’t close the door with my wheels inside.  This was easily remedied with a compression rod, and some lightweight curtains from another room.  I basted the hem to be above the wheels, so the curtains wouldn’t catch as I rolled in and out.
  7. Put together your recovery wardrobe.
    1. Favorite tee shirts are good for morale, and can help to spark small talk in the doctor’s office.
    2. A few simple long-sleeve tees or mock turtles in favorite colors are good, too.  They can be dressed up with a scarf, for trips to church or other places where slogan tee shirts don’t suit the occasion.
    3. Large, soft socks.  The skin of your foot can be very sensitive for weeks after surgery.  You likely won’t be able to pull covers over it, so a sock will keep it warm.  There are lots of soft socks out there, but often they are for diabetics, so they are a little tight. Knee socks would be nice for wearing under the walking boot, but be sure they fit over your calves.
    4. Bottoms with wide leg openings and elastic waistbands, and more shorts and capris pants rather than long pants, will help in getting things on and off with a big dressing, a cast on your foot, or sensitive toes that don’t appreciate pushing against denim.
    5. A cast cover to protect your pillows and sheets.  The dressing is soft, but cast put on later is very rough, and will abrade your pillow cases and sheets and blankets.   You have to wait until the cast is put on, so you know the exact dimensions, but my cast was about the same size and shape as the dressing.  I got mine online, but the local medical supply has them, too. CastCoverz has loads of nice fabrics, from wild to mild.   I went for a wild one.

As you get more mobile, two more things to consider:

  1. Get your normal shower ready for a slippery foot.  The tiles on our shower floor had always seemed grippy enough before surgery, but part of recovery includes putting lotion on your foot to keep the taut skin pliable.  You may, later on, be prescribed an anti-inflammatory lotion as well.  Those lotions will make your foot slippery, so that getting in and out is feels treacherous.   We ended up getting two loofah-style bath mats to cover our shower floor.
  2. Locate (or purchase) a trekking pole, or a pair of trekking poles, or a cane that you really like.  At some point, crutches will be more support than you need, and more bulk than you want.   The little extra support from a cane or pole helps to get up and down when you’ve stiffened up, helps keep you moving with a more normal gait, and takes up less space in your car and in restaurants.

We did spend some money to make things easier during the recovery. There were ad hoc purchases here and there (e.g. compression rod, extra shorts, socks), but the ones below required more shopping research and/or assembly.

  • Wheels.  My friend’s scooter was loaned out to another friend, and renting one was going to be as much as buying, for a clunkier model, so I bought my own from Amazon and assembled it.  It had a basket, essential for carrying things around, and also had an extra set of”off-road” wheels for outings on rough terrain.  I also spent extra money for a sheepskin cover to go over the vinyl seat.  The cover didn’t add much cushioning, but provided a way to secure an extra layer of padding, and could be removed when I needed to use the seat as a footrest.
  • Hand-held shower head.  The “recovery bathroom” had a regular fixed shower head, but as I’d be sitting, I needed one that I could control.  The one we chose from Orchard Supply had a strong magnetic mount, that made retrieving and replacing the shower head much easier than a hook would be, for someone sitting down in the shower.
  • Shower seat.  We chose a teak bench from Bed Bath and Beyond and outfitted it with rubber feet that provided just enough traction so the bench wouldn’t slide on the tile when I sat down, but still allowed me to push it across the tile for better positioning inside the shower.  This bench looks nice enough to serve elsewhere in the house, once I don’t need it in the shower.
  • Ottoman.  I wanted to prop my foot up, without any weight on the injured area before surgery, and the healing area afterwards, while seated on the couch.  We didn’t have an ottoman in our living room set, or a recliner with a built-in footrest, so I found an ottoman at Pier 1 Imports that worked with our decor, and was cheerful, to boot.

I’m still on the road to recovery as I write this, and I’m thankful for three modern amenities not listed in this post:

  • For accessibility legislation that has provided handicapped parking spaces, wide enough to allow me to get in and out with my wheels.
  • For disability insurance that has provided funds to help keep the household financial wheels on, while pain and fatigue have put job hunting, interviewing, or working, beyond my capacity.
  • For mobile technology on my tablet and phone, which have allowed me to stay connected and entertained, without requiring me to get out of bed.

But most of all, I’m thankful for everyone who has helped me along the way:

  • the doctors, nurses, radiologists, and technicians who diagnosed, operated, and supported my recovery
  • the family members who have provided hands-on support and care here at home, on top of everything else they were already doing
  • the friends and family who gave advice, and much-needed social stimulation
  • the strangers who helped me with little things when I ventured out from my home — holding a door, carrying a plate or a purchase, or just offering a word of sympathy

And finally, future self and friends who are about to have surgery, remember this:  It will be painful, but medication will help.  It will slow you down, and keep you from doing things you want to do, but be patient with yourself (remember this meditation talk?).  Healing will come.  You can do it.

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