Foot Surgery

I inherited a bunion from my mother. It slowly developed as I aged, becoming more pronounced every year. About 5 years ago, it also started to hurt. For a few years, the pain came and went, usually appearing at times I was exercising regularly. About two years, it started hurting all the time. It constantly ached, and the aching was accompanied by intermittent stabbing pains. Last autumn, I threw away several pairs of shoes and replaced them, which really irritated my bunion. The pain was extreme, and I threw in the towel. Upon returning to Germany after Christmas, I started doing research and went to my GP for a surgery referral.

Small, but mighty. That thing caused me SO MUCH pain.

I had briefly considered the surgery several years ago when the pain began, but I had heard the procedure and recovery times were brutal – something like 6 months. There is no way I could take 6 months out of my very active lifestyle for foot surgery. Thankfully my research produced a doctor in Munich who operates on bunions (or Hallux Valgus) with a newish method called the Bösch Method. In this particular surgery, part of the bone below the joint is cut away. The doctor then shifts the joint over to meet the bone and a wire is inserted through the bone and comes out the toe, holding everything in place. The wire stays inside for only 4 weeks while the bone heals. A bandage and special orthopedic shoe are also used during this time. The patient can walk immediately after the surgery, although only on the outside edge of the foot and without rolling the ball of the foot. After four weeks, the wire is pulled out (OUCH!), and the bandage/shoe stabilizes the joints for the final 2 weeks of healing. At 6 weeks post-op, normal shoes can be worn again!

The boesch method.

The doctor in Munich had rave reviews. He has a clinic in Munich and a clinic in the UK, so there was plenty of information in English. Some reviewers even wrote that they flew from the United States to Munich specifically for this procedure. Apparently this doctor is one of few world-wide who will operate on both feet at once.

My surgery was March 12, 2018. I strategically chose this data as it fell AFTER (cross-country) ski season, but far enough BEFORE hiking season to allow for ample recovery time. I’m also flying to Kansas in early May, and didn’t want to be handicapped during that trip.

Surgery prep was extensive. I had several pre-op appointments, blood work, EKGs, etc. This was my very first formal medical procedure of any kind. I’ve never been to the hospital or ER, never had anesthesia, or even an IV. I was a little nervous. On the morning of the surgery, I enjoyed a nice long walk to the clinic, arriving about 5 minutes early for my 10:30 call time. I sat in the waiting room for awhile, and was called in around 10:40.

Cheerful pre-op photo.

I was taken back into the operating area, which can only be described as a perfect model of German efficiency. This place was organized and operated with military-esque precision. I was led into a small changing room where I took off my pants and put all my things in a locker. From there, I went to one bed in a row of beds, separated by a curtain. The nurse gave me my first blood-thinner shot, put in the IV with a flush of antibiotics, asked me which foot was to be operated on and (hilariously) marked that leg with a big green X. My surgeon stopped by for a quick chat, and then I was ushered into the OR. I laid down, 3-4 people buzzed around me in a rush of activity and the anesthesiologist introduced himself, strapped me down and injected the sleeping meds into my IV. I remember a terrible taste in my mouth, and I asked “Was IST dass?” (what is that?) to which he replied “The anesthesia.” and then nothing.

The next thing I know I’m waking up in recovery, again in a row of beds with curtains between, and asking the young male nurse “Wie spät ist es?” What time is it? 11:15. I meant to ask for the time right before they put me to sleep, but I forgot. Considering the sequence of events between leaving the waiting room and the surgery, I estimate the operation began at or a little before 11:00 a.m. So I was under for about 15 minutes. They told me the surgery would be quick, but I couldn’t believe just how quick it was! And how does an anesthesiologist administer such a perfect dose of meds to keep me asleep for so little time?? Modern medicine is amazing.

Immediately post-op, in the recovery room.

As soon as I woke up in recovery, a nurse came by and took out my IV, then immediately sat me up in bed. I was sort of eager to ride out that post-anesthesia, drugged cloudiness by having a nap, but the efficient Germans needed me out of there. Another nurse brought my bag, clothes and shoes from the locker, and yet another brought tea and cookies – the first food or drink I’d had since the day before. I had a look at my foot. it was wrapped tight, covered with an ice pack and completely orange from (what I assume was) a dunk in iodine. It was also completely numb. The surgeon gave me two injections in the nerves to block the pain. I sat in the bed in kind of a haze and observed the activity around me while sipping tea and nibbling tasteless cookies. The surgeon came by again to report that everything went well. The staff called my wonderful boyfriend to pick me up, and when he arrived at 12:30 they helped me out of bed. The young male nurse took off the ice pack and was startled to see that my four small toes were completely purple. He ran over to the nursing station for back up and an older, (obviously) seasoned nurse came over and announced they were just cold. She warmed then with her hands and some color returned quickly. Age=wisdom.

I hobbled out the door and slowly back to my boyfriend’s flat. I was AT the clinic a total of 1 hour and 55 minutes. That’s nuts.

That first afternoon and evening at home were quite relaxed. The foot was numb, I was fairly comfortable. But I knew it was short-lived. For pain relief I was given ibuprofen, paracetamol (tylenol) and one another med to help me sleep. There were three pain control regimes (for light, middle and severe pain). In anticipation of the nerve block wearing off, before I went to bed I took one ibuprofen. I woke up at about 0100 in some pain, and then took the pills for “severe pain” anticipating it would be worse. At 0530, I woke up in a lot of pain. My foot was simultaneously on fire and being stabbed with knives. It was brutal. I iced the foot for awhile, that didn’t help much. I got up to go to the bathroom, and thought I was going to pass out or throw up or both. I have quite a high tolerance for pain, but experiencing that level of pain AFTER taking all the medicine available to me, well that’s when the despair set in. Around 0700 I ate something, took another round of meds, tried to sleep a bit and then had to get up and go into the doctor’s office – halfway across Munich, in the middle of a no-cars-allowed pedestrian zone. The best way to get there was public transport. The hobbling/crutching through the city was exhausting. At the office, I got another x-ray, and the doctor took absolutely no sympathy on me telling my boyfriend “She’ll be fine, it’s supposed to hurt” when he mentioned how much pain I was in that morning. The doctor also scolded me for using the crutches, saying something like “I made the foot so you can walk on it, now walk on it!!” Yikes. Aye, aye, Captain.

We managed to get back home and I spent the day resting and icing my foot. My dear friend Jane brought a meal over, thank you, Jane! And thankfully, the foot did eventually get better. The following nights I woke up 2-3 times each night in pain and took more meds, or got more ice. By the end of the week, I was hobbling around pretty well even without the crutches. One week after the surgery I finally slept through the night!

Now the swelling is almost gone, and I’m quite mobile! I’ve even hobbled home from work a few times. There are 3 benches on the footpath between my office and home. I use each one of them! 😃 Even though I feel good, there is still a metal rod going through my bone and sticking out my toe. That’s not comfortable, ever. I’m excited to get it out. Because the rod essentially means I have an open wound – I also have to keep the foot completely dry. Not easy in rainy, soggy Garmisch. I wear a plastic bag over the foot, but inside of the shoe when the weather is poor. I can’t shower, so instead I bathe with my foot/leg hanging over the side of the bathtub. It’s awkward, but functional.

That was a long one! Thanks for sticking with me. Stay tuned for a follow-up blog on how much this surgery cost me. Spoiler alert – not much.

Hello, again!

I’m baaaaaack! Or rather, the blog is back. It’s been awhile, eh? Although the blog was down, I never stopped writing. I’ve been collecting random thoughts here and there, and even found time to formulate entire blog posts. I look forward to sharing those with you. Here is a quick update from the Alps:

Spring might be my favorite season in Garmisch. The valley is verdant, and hills are snowy.

Since I’ve been absent from the blogosphere:

  1. My Mom, cousin Lisa and Aunt Janell came for a visit and it was WONDERFUL. Blog posts to come.
  2. I went on holiday to France/Belgium/Luxembourg.
  3. I was back in Kansas twice for my annual September and Christmas visits.
  4. My German has improved.
  5. I gained two new, precious Goddaughters. One here in Germany and one at home.
  6. I climbed a few more mountains.
  7. Our winter was spectacular! I skied (cross-country) to my heart’s content.
  8. I’ve started making my own kombucha, and it’s delicious.
  9. I had foot surgery, more on that later.

The Ph.D continues. It’s hard. It’s slow. Every time someone asks me when I’ll finish it goes even more slowly (this is a fact, ask anyone). Sometimes I hate it. But I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, and for that I’m grateful and happy every day.

Scotland, Day 3

This is part four in a series of posts about a trip I took to Scotland in August 2016. The fun begins here and continues here and here, so read those blogs before this one!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Evil Dictator (joking…) TP did indeed wake us up at 0500. We packed up our camp in the dark, postponing coffee and breakfast. My legs were more sore that morning than the night before, especially the ankle.

We loaded the canoes and hopped into the water as the sun was rising – creating a beautiful pink/purple gradient across the sky. On our way out of the loch, we stopped next to a waterfall, and I climbed up to fill our fresh water jugs, which had become worryingly empty.

Climbing up for freshwater.

We paddled down the loch, officially called a “Sea Loch” since it was, indeed, salt water. The forests of kelp below our canoes were another tell-tale sign we were on the ocean. We reached the entrance to the channel and continued down it, when both the Captain and I spotted something puzzling ahead. Figures on a huge rock in the distance. As we grew nearer, we realised it was a large colony of sea lions! I didn’t expect sea life in such numbers, and so near us. AG and I steered clear of the group, as I was scared they might try to jump into the canoe. As we passed, several of them dove into the water, and then followed us. It was unsettling, but magical, to see them pop up around us unexpectedly.

TP watching silently as sea lions circle the canoes.

Near the end of the channel, we found a picturesque beach and deemed it perfect for breakfast. We pulled the canoes up on the sand and set up breakfast on the rocks. I also hadn’t expected perfectly beautiful white-sand beaches in Scotland, and scurried around picking up seashells and collecting my souvenir bag of sand.

My iPhone dominated the trip photography. In particular, the panorama setting seemed to be made for Scottish landscapes.

The gentlemen preparing breakfast.

Canoe parking only.

The Captain and I compare wounds from the previous day’s capsizing shenanigans.

Our little beach from above.

Our breakfast stop was approximately an hour, but in that time, the water receded noticeably, and the small channel between the shore and an island, through which we had rowed, was nearly without water. We promptly forgave our fearless leader for the early wake-up call, and continued on our way.

At the end of the channel, we reached open ocean. The wind, to this point, had been quite calm, but there was still a noticeable swell. The swell energised and excited me, but intimidated the Captain. We quickly realised we had conflicting fears about this stretch of the trip. I was subconsciously using strong steering strokes on my right side to point the front of the canoe out to sea, away from the rocks at the shore, and the water crashing upon them. As a result of the unfortunate capsizing incident the day before, I suddenly had a great fear of rocks. The Captain, on the other hand, was terrified of open water, and was constantly steering the canoe away from the sea, towards the supposed safety of land.

Needless to say, it wasn’t working.

We had a quick heart-to-heart and came up with a sort of compromise midway between our respective comfort zones. I still screeched at him every time I thought we were too close to the rocks, and he still begged me to turn the canoe every time we got too far out to sea. Thus began a series of jokes in which our “Captain” explained his “salt-water allergy.” He told us his allergy came on after he had “sailed the seven seas.” To which TP and I laughingly replied “You means the seven SEES? The Eibsee, Staffelsee, Walchensee, Plansee….” The word “see” means “lake” in German, and is pronounced “sea.” The aforementioned “sees” are all close to where we live in Germany. Cue hearty laughter.

As we continued up the coast, we encountered more sea lions, and then, unfortunately, more wind. Although the wind slowed our progress, it allowed ample time for sightseeing. It was fascinating to pass the small cottages and tiny villages scattered along the coast. Very few seemed to have electricity or permanent residents. We fought the wind along the coast, stopping occasionally to take a break. We were determined, however, to reach our special destination before low tide.

A short rest and strategy/destination discussion between boats.

Finally we pulled the canoes around the final point, and into a small harbour, at the tip of which was….A PUB! We arrived at about high noon, and of course said pub didn’t open until 1300. We wandered around this tiny village, really more of an rural outpost of about 5 buildings. One such building was a mouthwatering smokeshop, where we swapped stories and laughs with the shopkeeper, and then splurged on thick slices of oily smoked salmon, traditional Scottish oatcakes and whiskey fudge. The women in the smokeshop was not the first, nor the last, to express surprise at finding a Brit, a German and a Yank traveling through rural Scotland in canoes.

The tiny harbour town with beer on tap, Amen.

Nothing beats the Royal Mail!

We took our treasures back down to a rock near the sea and ate the salmon for lunch, with the rest of our bread. My God, it was absolutely delicious. The clouds had cleared and the afternoon was warm and beautiful. The pub opened and we went in for a much-needed pint. We lingered at the outdoor patio, looking bedraggled compared to the other tourists gathered there, who arrived in cars and camper vans.

We couldn’t quite see the canoes from where we were sitting at the pub, but assumed all was well. When we finally left to walk back down to the water, we realised the tide was coming in faster than we expected, and water had already reached our canoes, slowly pulling them away from the pier. Oops!!

TP has bad knees, and I had a bad ankle, so The Captain was tasked with running down to the sea to rescue our canoes. Neither he nor I wanted to swim again. He caught the canoes, and I stopped outside a tiny depot/post office/grocery store/library/health clinic to use the community free wifi and wait for the shop to open, hoping to get some beer to take with us. The shop didn’t open at the time posted on the door, and I wasn’t willing to wait around indefinitely, so I climbed down the rocks to the canoes, and again we were off!

The next segment of the trip was short, but completely exposed, and straight across the bay. If we thought the first day was difficult, it was nothing compared to equally strong winds across the open ocean. The Captain and I were both worried about capsizing, and there was more than one rogue wave I thought would tip us over. Occasionally I would stop paddling altogether to throw myself in the direction of an oncoming wave in an attempt to keep the canoe straight, and upright. Slow and steady wins the race, and eventually we made it to the shelter of a large island for a break. The final stretch was shorter, but equally exhausting, and we finally beached, grateful to be on terra firma.

On this, our third night, TP had guided us to a hiking hut, called a “Bothy” in the UK. It’s essentially the equivalent of a rustic DAV Hutte in Germany. These huts are run by volunteer organisations and vary in amenities. In fact, last week (in real time, so Mid-March 2017), TP sent me an article from the BBC, which not only discusses bothies, but highlights the Bothy in which we stayed! It’s called “Peanmeanach.” Check it out here: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-39205436

This Bothy was apparently one of the nicest, with a room for cooking, and another with wooden, built in bunks, as well as a large upstairs area for sleeping/drying clothes. It was extremely well organized and stocked with supplies and even some food! Nonetheless, it was a bit dingy and seemed a prime breeding ground for rodents. I was keen to sleep in the tents, but the boys adamantly refused. We spread our sleeping bags and pads out on the cement bunks/platforms in the sleeping room.

The Bothy was quite a hike up from the water’s edge, so we made several trips back and forth to unload the canoes. The first order of business was to hang up the remaining wet/damp items to dry. We arrived at the Bothy before 1600, the earliest we’d ever settled down for the night. That left us plenty of time to explore the area. The Captain went on a hike, but T and I elected to stay put and relax. I laid in the sunshine on the grass reading a book.

The Bothy from above.

Every surface is a drying rack.

R&R

The wind that afternoon/evening kept the midges away, but in their place were thousands of ticks. T found the first one, and I pulled five off myself. Scotland and insects – you just can’t win. Undeterred, we doused ourselves with insect spray and carried on enjoying nature. Shortly after we settled in, a family with three young boys arrived, stopping for a late lunch while hiking. We had a nice chat, and they continued on their way.

Of course the night THE CAPTAIN cooks we’re in a place with a proper kitchen.

The other side of the “kitchen.”

Where we slept. Each room had a fireplace, unnecessary in summer, but much appreciated in winter, I’m sure!

The Captain returned from his hike in time to cook dinner – veggie pasta. About this time, four other hikers joined us in the bothy, staying for the night. I was NOT pleased to lose our quiet, private sanctuary, but the newcomers weren’t terribly annoying. We all sat around the fireside, and watched the herds of deer that gathered in the field between the water’s edge and the hut. These deer are used to people. We were astounded as they crept closer and closer to us, no doubt looking for a food handout. They came as near as two meters! The deer population also explains the abundance of ticks.

The sunset this night was spectacular.

Exhausted from the hard paddle, I went to bed around 11, and the boys followed shortly after.

Daily progress map!

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween, ya’all!

I love Halloween. It’s such a light-hearted holiday. Not much stress, very few expectations, just pure fun and an outlet to express your creativity. My dear mother, as with most holidays, made sure Halloween was appropriately celebrated in our household. We had little Halloween decorations and great costumes. Side note – another thing mom did exceptionally well – our dress-up/costume box. My brothers and I spent hours upon hours dressing up and performing plays. Mom and dad were usually the only audience. Bless them. I can’t imagine the plot lines of our homemade theatre changed much.

Roughly a decade of Smidt Family Halloween costumes. Late 80's, top right, clockwise to bottom right, late 90's.

Roughly a decade of Smidt Family (and friends’ and cousins’) Halloween costumes. Late 80’s, top right, clockwise to bottom right, late 90’s.

 

Not Halloween, just "dress-up." Goodness, we got our money's worth out of that pink gown!

Not Halloween, just “dress-up.” Goodness, we got our money’s worth out of that pink gown!

Halloween isn’t really a thing in Europe. People are starting to catch on, but it’s celebrated half-heartedly at best. A funny thing about Germans – they think Halloween costumes must be SCARY. Blood, guts, horror and the works. When I bought my dirndl, I partly justified the purchase by saying it will serve as a Halloween costume for the rest of my life. The Germans though that was hilarious. They thought I meant the dirndl, a traditional German costume was scary. Weird. Those Germans. Anyway, it’s a bit sad no one celebrates here. I’m envious when I see my adult cousins dressing up and attending costume parties back home in the USA. The last time I properly celebrated the holiday was in the middle of the south pacific ocean.

This year I’ve gotten a bit more into the spirit of the holiday, thanks to the Lore Podcast. I’m a huge podcast fan, in general, and this one will go on the list of my top 3 favorites. These past weeks I’ve spent hours upon hours in the lab, taking, sorting and processing greenhouse gas samples. This podcast has kept me company the entire time. I don’t love to be scared – I detest horror movies, especially psychological thrillers. I’m still a little scarred from that time at 16, when mom and dad sat me down and made me watch The Shining as part of my “cultural upbringing.” I didn’t go to the barn alone for weeks after that! But Lore is captivating. It’s sort of marketed as “scary stories” but they’re more culturally and historically fascinating. Yes, they’re eery. Some of them give my shivers. I stopped listening to them when I’m alone in the institute at night. But most episodes are pretty PG-13. There is a lot of folklore, a lot of vampires, a lot of creepy science experiments. It’s just wonderful, folks. Highly recommend. Get the podcast here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/lore/id978052928?mt=2

Wherever you are, I wish you a Happy Halloween! Celebrate double for me.

Oh, and if you didn’t see today’s Google Doodle – check it out! I wasted a good bit of time at work today evaporating ghosts. So fun!

Scotland, Day 2

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Pre Scotland Day 1

Before I crawled into bed, the boys and I discussed waking up early and leaving by 0800. Except none of us set an alarm, and the clouds pretty well blocked the sun, so it was 0900 when we actually woke up. Apparently, we all needed that extra . . . → Read More: Scotland, Day 2