Ten years ago my life went through two milestones: menopausis and hallux valgus. I indicate here their latin names, to give me an opportunity to use my new, expensive and comprehensive Oxford dictionary. Both milestones have been handled rationally: the first one with hormone patches, the second one in doing absolutely nothing about it.
Today, the patches are only a memory. On the feet side, however, my walking ability kept degrading; I had to switch from the women's to the men's shoe department, with a size climbing from 41 to 43.
Recent X-Rays have induced my G.P. to suggest an operation. In the old days, women had to bear their bunions (the common name for hallux valgus) over their lives. It is only now that the new surgery techniques are readily available in Ireland.
A few weeks later, I'm sitting in the office of the Orthopedic Surgeon, explaining my case and asking questions. Dr G. is a man of few words, strictly to the point. He speaks to me and to his dictaphone at the same time, making sure that no detail is lost.
I tell both (him and his recorder) that I am not afraid of this surgery. Indeed, I used to assist veterinary surgeons while they were repairing animals' bones, holding in turn drills and screws. Dr G. reacts immediately by turning the screen of his computer sideways, for me to see. He fumbles with his keyboard for a few seconds and the picture of a naked foot appears. "Wait a second," he says. The image becomes a video; a scalpel enters the stage, followed closely by a miniature saw, complete with its buzzing; the mini-drill comes next and the screws play their grand finale. Practically no blood at all.
For some mysterious reason, I feel like fainting. I have just been watching my own operation! To make sure that all is clear to me, Dr G. draws a sketch of the bone after splitting. He shows me how the two pieces are sliding against each other before the screws hold them in their new position. "Two months recovery is the norm. The patients can move around on crutches, walking on their heels," he comments, for the benefit of all listening ears. I am impressed; and convinced ...
A short discussion follows about having both feet corrected in one shot. It has the great advantage of going through a single cycle of surgery, medication and impairment. But most people would hesitate, out of concern for their daily life. I reassure him: I will be adequately supported at home. If I have no problem, he has none either; and off we go.
My only experience of hospital dates from the birth of my two children, about 40 years ago. After reading on the Web all the potential complications of an orthopedic surgery, my head is stuffed: phlebitis, gangrene, burst scars, extreme pain, long recovery, crutches and even broken leg during the physio exercises. Still, my expectations are high, especially on the long term pain relief.
I have just settled in my clinic bedroom. A young man wearing a green pyjama-like outfit enters; that's Brian, the anaesthetist. He asks me if I prefer a local or a general. He takes me by suprise because I did not think that it should be up to me, the patient, to make that decision."Which foot, right or left?" is the next question. "Both" is my answer; but he disagrees: " that's not possible, here we operate only one foot at a time." I explain that the surgeon has agreed to do both. He hesitates and leaves the room for a further investigation of the case.
Clara, the nurse, comes next. "Which foot?" she asks. She gets the same answer, but reacts differently. She looks up her file and confirms that the surgery will indeed include the pair. She explains that it will be a "first" for her and for the clinic, as most patients are not keen on the idea of a 2-feet impairment. She then leaves the room to prepare X-Rays and E.C.G.
To keep myself busy, I sharpen my pencils and sit by the window with my copybook. In addition to its manicured lawn and automnal bushes, the small garden of the clinic provides a spectacular view of the city. A scarf of fog is weaving its way around the trees of the hill. Totally relaxed, I find myself daydreaming and scribbling.
The assistant, Helen, collects me and we are walking towards the theatre room, through corridors, stairs and lifts. Clara and Brian install me on the transfer bed and we discuss the respective merits of the local and full anaesthesias. The local one is sufficient for one foot but, with both, a peridural is needed as well, so that a general may prove to be best after all.
The surgeon, wearing his green outfit with a matching hat, is now joining our bubbly trio. He has just examined the morning X-Rays and announces that the surgery will be a little more complicated than anticipated: some of the bones have fused and he cannot guarantee a full recovery of all the joints. If I want, he can operate one foot today, check the result, then do the second one later, in a few months. The four of us are exchanging meaningful glances.
I bring up my case: for ten years now I have felt every modification of those little bones. I realise very well that most of the damage cannot be reversed. My hopes reside in the comfort level; a reduction of the shoe size will be a bonus.
Thus reassured, the surgeon confirms the verdict: two feet, general anaesthesia. Time to go to sleep; the team helps me to it, quietly.
I wake up in the corridor, while returning to the room. It's marvellous, I feel absolutely no pain at all. Brian tells me the nerve blockers are still active. Back in my bed, I stay alone, with the promise of a light meal.
Helen comes again, to instruct me about the bedpan. This notorious device is no longer the enamelled barbarous contraption from bygone days. This model has probably won an award for its cheerful design and bright colour. But I can assure you that no one from the designer team has actually tried its efficiency and comfort!
Soon, the Physio brings me the crutches I had reserved. She explains the adjustments and sets them up at the head of my bed, before announcing "See you tomorrow". The food tray is then brought to the starving patient and I don't leave one crumb on it.
I feel just great. Time for me to tackle my first activity. While attempting to reach for my camera - in order to immortalize the two bundles of cotton that my new feet are - one of the crutches falls down on the side. It carries with it the emergency button and its cord, which get stuck between the bed and the night table. After securing my two cocoons, I bend my body and plunge my arms into the gap, to catch up the accessories - with success.
All this makes me realise that the night table is situated on my right. Being right-handed, I would prefer the table to be on my left. It would make things easier to reach. I hesitate. Should I do it myself? I could carry the little furniture over my bed. Should I ring someone for the relocation? But the staff may already have enough of me, with my incessant questions. Finally, I opt for a simpler solution and decide to reshuffle the content of the night table. A more elaborate arrangement should improve the handling efficiency, without disturbing the establishment.
After more twisting and rolling of my upper half, the contents are scattered on the bed. First the crafts accessories: a sewing kit with canvas and colourful DMC cottons, my copybook, fancy colouring pencils decorated with sheep, their matching sharpener and the pencil case shaped as a cow. Then the objects I cannot dispense with: camera, CD player and electronic Sudoku.
All that takes me some time. Suddenly, an idea is crossing my mind: is there a surveillance camera in the room? Thinking of it, probably not; or else, they would have already spotted me and I would certainly be on my way to a different kind of hospital.
c 2012 Victor Sullivan