Updated: Jul 29, 2020
After months—or maybe even years—of pain and struggle, you’ve finally decided to get that foot surgery.
Maybe it’s a bunion that’s continued to get worse as you’ve gotten older. Perhaps your arches have flattened out over the years, or progressive arthritis has slowly taken away your mobility. Whatever your worries may be, there’s now one inescapable truth: you’ve reached the limits of conservative care, and surgery is the only way to restore your previous lifestyle.
In the long run, you’ll almost certainly be happy with your decision—even wonder why you waited so long. But in the here and now, facing an elective surgery often leads to feelings of anxiety and concern. Will everything turn out okay? Can I really take care of myself during recovery? How will I cope?
These feelings are normal and understandable. That’s why we’re here to help you through the decision-making process, understand your responsibilities, and de-mystify the entire process so you can feel as calm and comfortable as possible.
Am I a Good Candidate for Surgery?
We alluded to it above, but surgery becomes a consideration if the following conditions are met:
Pain (or loss of mobility) is a significant, daily occurrence that limits your everyday activities. In other words, your condition is having a noticeably negative effect on your ability to live the kind of life you want to live.
Relevant conservative treatments have been attempted, and did not work (or are no longer working). Typically, the first response to foot pain includes non-invasive approaches such as medicine, physical therapy, or orthotics. Surgery is considered more of a last resort in case the alternatives fail or are not indicated.
If you meet the above criteria, we’ll start talking with you more seriously about your surgical options. We’ll of course make sure that any procedures we recommend will be safe, considering all the relevant factors (age, health status, and any other potential contraindications).
How Should I Prepare Myself?
It’s important to remember that surgery isn’t just a specific procedure that only lasts from a few minutes to a few hours. It’s part of a larger process that extends both before and after the “day of surgery” itself. Preparing yourself physically and mentally for each step in the process will help you attain the best possible outcome.
For simplicity, we’ve separated this into different categories for easy reference.
Familiarize Yourself with Your Condition, Surgery, and Surgeon
At Gulf South Foot & Ankle, we highly value patient education. The more informed you are about your medical condition, the particulars of your surgery, and the credentials and experience of your surgeon and surgical center, the better your results will be.
So, do your homework! Don’t be afraid to ask all kinds of questions, including:
Anything you want to know about your condition. How common is it? Are there any alternatives that haven’t been tried?
Anything you want to know about the surgical procedure being considered. What are the advantages and disadvantages? What are the risks? What are the best case, worst case, and expected outcome scenarios? What are the anesthesia options? How long is the expected recovery time?
Anything you want to know about the qualifications of your surgical team. How much experience do they have using this specific procedure? What emergency procedures are in place? Is the facility licensed and accredited? Should you get a second opinion? All these questions (and others) are 100% fair game.
Also, remember to fully inform your surgeon about any medical conditions you may have or medicines and supplements you may be taking. On occasion, such things may lead to undesirable side effects during surgery.
Prepare Your Body and Mind for Surgery and Recovery
The healthier you are before your surgery, the better. Now, obviously, that doesn’t mean you need to hire a personal trainer and completely overhaul your physique just for a bunion surgery. But you do want to be and feel your best before your procedure. This will help reduce the risk of complications and improve and shorten the recovery and rehab process.
We’re talking things like:
Being sure to eat a healthy diet and drink lots of water, as long as possible before your surgery is scheduled.
Working on establishing a healthy sleep schedule so you feel well rested on the day of (and the days before) your surgery. You may need to swear off afternoon caffeine and avoid screens before bed for a while.
Considering stretching, yoga, bike riding, or other gentle exercises to improve your aerobic fitness and core and limb strength. Regardless of your current state of fitness, a little extra improvement can go a long way toward helping you get around more easily after surgery.
Quitting smoking. The importance of this point cannot be overstated. Smoking can interfere with anesthesia. It dramatically increases the risk of post-surgical complications and lengthens recovery. It makes breathing more difficult. If you’re a smoker, we urge you stop as soon as you can, as far ahead of surgery as possible.
Talking to your doctor about your alcohol consumption (and be honest). It may be wise to cut back (or temporarily stop) with your drinking, since the effects of alcohol on surgery and recovery can be unpredictable.
Prepare Your Home, Environment, and Caregivers for Ease of Recovery
During the recovery phase after your foot surgery, reduced mobility may make many everyday tasks much more difficult—or even dangerous. Anticipating these challenges and making accommodations for them beforehand will make your life much easier—and reduce the risk of an accidental injury or setback. (Speaking with a social worker or occupational therapist is a great idea.)
Some common-sense suggestions include:
Clean and organize your home thoroughly before your surgery. Get rid of any low-lying clutter (cords, magazine racks, boxes, etc.), especially in and around walkways. A clean home means less trouble navigating and fewer obstacles and tripping hazards.
If your bedroom is upstairs, set up a sleeping area on the main floor. Especially during the first days and weeks after surgery, you’re going to want to reduce the number of trips you have to make up and down the stairs.
Move everyday items to within easy reach. You don’t want to have to climb stairs, stretch up to the top of the cabinet, or dig behind a wall of boxes to access key necessities like clothing, toiletries, food and cooking supplies, etc.
Stock up on supplies. Make sure you have plenty of food, drink, toilet paper, etc. on hand so you don’t have to venture out to the store during the early stages of recovery.
Recruit and schedule caregivers. At bare minimum, we recommend having at least one responsible and able-bodied adult—spouse, friend, adult child, parent, etc.—spend the first few nights with you in case they are needed. Throughout the rest of your recovery, having caregivers over on a regular schedule can help with key chores and activities—and provide immediate assistance in case of an emergency.
Install night lights throughout your home so you can navigate in the middle of the nigh without fumbling around or tripping.
If necessary, install grab bars, shower chairs, or other assistive devices to help you get up and down and in and out of the shower, bathroom, etc. with as little difficulty and risk as possible.
Prepare for the Surgical Procedure Itself
There are some additional specific things you’ll have to keep in mind to make the day of surgery itself go as smoothly as possible.
No food or drink (even water) after midnight on the day of your surgery. If you have any food in your stomach and vomit while still under the effects of anesthesia, it could get into your lungs, cause you to choke, or lead to other serious complications.
Wear loose-fitting clothes. The surgical site will swell, perhaps substantially. Your clothing and footwear must accommodate this.
Remove any jewelry, makeup, nail polish, watches, and even contact lenses, body piercings, or hairpins. In other words, all removable accessories and items should be left at home.
Be prepared to answer questions about your health history, allergies, medications you’re taking, conditions, etc. It may help to write it all down beforehand, or even bring your current medications along with you to the appointment, so you can answer these questions fully and accurately.
Make sure you have at least one caregiver ready for you in the waiting room who can drive you home after your surgery.
Every surgery is different. For some conditions and procedures, you may be back on your feet within a couple of weeks. For others, it may be 2-3 months. Our surgical team will always make sure you have all the information you need about the specific post-surgical home care procedures, recovery timetables, rehabilitation exercises, and other need-to-know facts of your case.
The Gulf South Foot & Ankle team is always happy to answer your questions or set up an appointment with one of our foot and ankle specialists. Just give us a call at the location closest to you:
Metairie: (504) 708-4810
Covington: (985) 809-1464