After pointing out the specifics of my case on the x-rays, the podiatrist suggested we consider a bunionectomy. “I’d recommend doing both feet at the same time,” she said. “You’ll have to be confined to a wheelchair for a few weeks but at least you won’t have to go through surgery and recovery twice.”
The news of potential surgery came during my senior year in high school. I had struggled through all four years at a small high school with even smaller cliques. Being homeschooled during elementary school had not emotionally prepared me for teenage drama, but girls shouldn’t need to prepare themselves for pervasive, destructive rumors started by their “friends.”
Compared to daily struggle against loneliness and feeling betrayed at school, how bad could a bunionectomy be? There wouldn’t be scalpels anywhere near life-sustaining organs when correcting the misaligned toes I’d inherited from my great-grandmother. And medical care runs in my blood too–I’d heard many hospital stories from my dad and my grandpa, both physicians. I saw hope and excitement in the possibility of change. I didn’t yet know correcting my bunions would impact my heart too.
“Yeah, let’s do it,” I said, when the doctor pointedly mentioned the surgery would prevent hip and back problems later. So we set the day and I forgot about it until “foot surgery” appeared underlined in blue on my weekly calendar.
Early that Wednesday morning my mom drove me to the hospital and I put on one of those terrible backless hospital gowns. They hooked me up to an IV and told me to start counting down from 30. The anesthesia really takes that long? I thought, silently laughing. I don’t think I got past 26.
After waking up from anesthesia, my mom says I asked for my cat before saying anything else. I honestly don’t remember much of anything about those first few hours. I just felt terribly tired, my mouth and brain filled with the thick paste-effect of pain killers.
That afternoon, back home and lying on the couch with my feet propped up under layers of bandages, my grogginess turned to a splitting headache and nausea. I spent the next two days alone in the living room, staring at the ceiling, struggling to keep food or even water down.
The feeling of utter loneliness that had crept into my life through classmates’ betrayal, now boldly presented itself in the quiet house. In the absence of a busy school life, I was forced to replay the voices that had said I wasn’t good enough. I became aware of the pain in my heart.
On the third day, my headache cleared a little, but I found myself sinking into a depression that pulled me down into a murky indifference. And then a sound cut through my despondency, sounding infinitely louder in the quiet room–I had received a text.
It was one of my classmates asking if he could come visit. Within several minutes, there was another sound–this time a knock. I told him to let himself in. I heard the front door open and feet making their way through the stillness. And then Vincent popped his head around the corner closely followed by my friend David– I unexpectedly had two happy visitors!
Within a few minutes, the camaraderie that filled the room nudged aside the self-pity I had wallowed in the last few days. My two friends had not only driven 40 minutes to visit me, they had also taken the time to stop by my favorite Mexican hole-in-the-wall to bring food. I think the comfort of having visitors convinced my previously rebellious stomach that food was palatable. As I ate and talked with them, their act of kindness reminded me that I still had caring friends even in a painful time.
The following weeks of recovery–confined to a wheelchair, and later to clunky, protective boots–still tested me. I still cried trying to shower, and I missed out on football games. However, my friends showed me that it wasn’t only my feet that were supposed to support me. I had their encouragement too. We all need kind words and a friendly shoulder to lean on when our burdens become too heavy. Over the next months my feet fully recovered from surgery and I returned to an active life. But more than anything, it was my heart that was healed.
Kelsi Nash writes from the Pacific Northwest.
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