Patience is not only a virtue; it’s something you’ll need plenty of when recovering from foot or ankle surgery. Bones take a long time to heal, and if you realize that fusing only starts around the sixth or seventh week after surgery, and that you’re looking at limited mobility for anywhere between three to six months, you can see just how saint-like you should plan on being.
You’ll likely be under a strict NWB (non-weight-bearing) order after surgery, until about the six-week mark, but it could be a lot longer depending on the type of injury. Lots of bed rest with your leg in a raised position promotes healing, but of course boredom sets in very quickly, too. Although you can’t hurry time, we’ve got some tips on how to make that recovery period a little easier.
Go shopping before your hospital stay
Ideally, you’ll want to have a stash of electronic devices at the ready so you can read, message, surf, chat and watch shows. If you haven’t spent a lot of time in front of the tube lately, be forewarned: Much like junk food, most of TV is bad for you and yet strangely addictive. If a device is new to you, it might be wise to learn how to use it before you’re confined to bed and loopy with pain meds.
Once you’ve got that device down, Stephanie Burke at Spine-Health.org has some ideas about how to pre-load it with binge-worthy television.
“Subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Videos, or Hulu to watch a season of a TV series that you had always wanted to see,” she writes. “Game of Thrones is an R-rated epic, Breaking Bad is intense and addicting, Chicago Fire is a drama with a fierce following. Or watch an older series, like 24, Cheers or The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
Ask for help
You’ll need to ask for lots of help throughout your recovery, especially in the early non-weight-bearing days, and setting up a tentative schedule pre-surgery with family members, friends and even neighbors could smooth things along. Things to think about include daily tasks such as letting the dog out or taking it for a walk, and weekly chores such as taking the trash to the curb.
Most of us find asking for help difficult, especially if it’s from people other than family members or very close friends. Clinical psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen explains why it’s so challenging and shows you how it’s done in her article “How to Ask for Help” on QuickAndDirtyTips.com. She also talks about the psychology underlying the old adage “it’s better to give than receive,” saying:
“The most primitive part of the brain — the same reward pathway activated by food and sex — lights up in response to altruistic giving. Graciously allow your helper to give you a gift of help (a gift you could really use); she or he will likely be delighted for the chance.”
Remember to schedule lots of purely social visits, too, when you’re doing your pre-surgery planning. Whether in person or online, seeing people often, even if it’s just for a short visit, can help raise your spirits and alleviate boredom. If you wait until you’re in recovery mode, you may not have the energy or desire to arrange a visit.
Get real and say thanks
Try to get a really explicit recovery timeline from your surgeon. While in some cases patients can walk immediately after surgery with the use of a special boot or orthopaedic shoe, the more usual scenario is at least a few weeks of strict non-weight-bearing recovery. In fact, if you’ve never been laid up before, you may be in for quite a shock as to how long you’ll be off that leg.
A realistic recovery schedule will let you note progress — even if it seems excruciatingly slow. Maybe this is also a good time to make a note to be nice to everyone who’s helping you during these weeks. It’s a long haul for them too, so even when you’re in pain, tired from searching for a comfortable sleeping position and frustrated from not being able to do much on your own, express your appreciation often.
Expressing gratitude and praising the people around you for the specific acts they have performed on your behalf is much more than you just being polite: You’ll actually be doing those helping you a favor. In a three-minute TED Talk called “Remember to Say Thank You,” Dr. Laura Trice explains why those two small words are so powerful.
After-Surgery Boredom Busters
Long before your doctor says you can put weight on your foot or ankle, you’ll be raring to get up and around. Sometimes, people make it to two weeks of confinement before they hit the stir-crazy mark. Others might get to three, but at one point you’re bound to hit a level of frustration and boredom, especially when the pain has lessened.
Expand your mind
This is when you need that newly found patience to kick in. If you can’t read another book or watch another movie, then try something new such as keeping a journal or blog. A blog that documents each step of your recovery can actually help someone else who is going through a similar experience, but it might be of more interest to you if you concentrate on something else entirely.
Kristen Bousquet at Stylecaster has a roundup article called The 10 Best Free Blog Sites. She says the blogs listed are “easy to use and to customize” and should get you up and running in no time.
If writing’s not your thing, maybe use the recovery period to finally organize your iPhone playlists, learn a language or take a university-level course. People who enjoy crafts might attempt knitting or start scrapbooking and see what that multi-billion dollar industry is all about. You’ll even have enough downtime to learn to how play an instrument or spend some time painting.
Throw a party
Consider treating yourself to a home spa day: Mobile spas come to your house with everything needed to give you (and your friends) facials, manicures and pedicures, and there are treatments for men too, so nobody’s left out. Perhaps make an appointment with a mobile hairdresser while you’re at it. Sponge baths and dry shampoos only go so far; let the hairdresser know your mobility issues and ensure they have experience washing hair without a sink.
In her blog, interactive murder mystery organizer Leigh Clements describes How to Throw a Home Spa Party, saying it “can be as simple or as complex as you like.” There are lots of ideas listed in the post, and with a mobile spa, you don’t have lift a finger (or toe).
Battling the post-op blues
Postoperative depression is common and can be caused by the pain medications themselves as well as that perfect mix of cabin fever, pain, frustration and inactivity. Even though clinical depression is out in the open much more than it used to be, writer Lynn Beisner says in her article Depression After Surgery Is A Real And Dangerous Thing, “we need to bring to post-surgical depression the kind of awareness that we have brought to postpartum depression.”
On the positive side, being depressed after surgery is usually a temporary condition; however, if you think it’s more than a short-lived case of the blues, don’t hesitate to speak to your doctor about getting help, which may include antidepressant medication.
The best way to recover from foot or ankle surgery is to pamper yourself, realizing that your leg now takes precedence over everything else in life. Settle in for the long run, obey doctor’s orders and don’t put weight on that leg; ice and/or elevate on schedule, religiously, and rest as much as your body requires. Be active as much as you are able, but only as much as you’re allowed: If you go to your first post-op appointment with the bottom of your cast all dirty and blackened, it’s quite possible that neither you nor your doctor will be happy with the final results.