published Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Upton: How surgery helped my life

I was sitting on the bed talking to the surgery nurse trying to hold back tears.

"Do people ever walk out—even at this point?" I asked her.

"Yes," she said and took a closer look at me. "We can stop if you like ... we can give you something."

"I'll wait for my parents," I said tentatively.

When they arrived, I let the tears trickle from my eyes like a little girl. They knew I'd been anxious all morning. I was in awe of others who faced the prospect of medical procedures and held up so well emotionally. My parents reminded me of what I was doing and why, having a foot surgery for a better foot life.

The doctor and other nurses came in and answered questions, giving basic information to help mend my mental discomfort. As I was being wheeled away, I felt my head become heavy, and I lay back suddenly against the cart.

"We've given you something to help you relax," someone said soothingly.

Another voice said, "Oh, we should take her hair band off, there's metal in it." And that that was all I remembered for quite awhile.

I was having corrective surgery on one of my feet. Regular shoe wear had become more painful through the years. Even an hour or more of willful glamour was resulting in a day or two of unfashionable recovery. I could run and work out with orthotics, but it seemed I could never build get relief. It felt continuously laborious, my efforts intensifying year by year.

I took pictures of my pre-surgery foot x-rays with my cell phone and showed them to people. Some shrank back in surprise. Others politely nodded, their eyes wide. My bunions grew out in a sideways V-shape, my smaller end bones were slightly turned in. I threatened to put it on facebook, but my friends thought it might hurt my chances of finding a husband one day.

Now, post-surgery, I face discomfort and the difficulties of working around one leg during my recovery. I've had wild and vivid dreams at night, of being on a cliff in a foreign land watching walrus faced white whale-like creatures coming up to the surface of the sea to gobble fish whole while men stood waiting to hunt them.

After the procedure, my parents told me and others that I had a brand new foot. My extremely flat feet had been jutting out like "a kickstand" as my doctor put it, and now my bones were in more correct placement. My ankles were no longer drooping toward the ground, my rigid heel tendons would become more flexible.

On Valentine's Day, the day I wrote this column, I decided I'd write a sort of love letter to my dear old feet. My feet have served me well, despite the challenges. They've stretched themselves from size 11 to 12. They have struggled against the ravages of time: deflated ankle strength, weight gain, gravity, shifting bones, and the complete loss of arches to enable me to walk upright.

They don't take themselves too seriously, and could care less when people have called them long fellows, pancakes, bear claws, and most recently, peg leg. To me, they're sweet and fine, and tonight I sing their praises.

To have their condition improved surgically was pretty scary for me, but I look at them and believe that together we can get through this.

A big thank you to Dr. Jason Wamack, the staff at Memorial Hospital, and all the prayers and wonderful support of friends and family.

Tabi Upton, MA-lpc, is a therapist at CBI/Richmont and founder of www.chattanoogacounselor.com, a web-based self-help resource.

about Tabi Upton...

Tabi Upton, MA-LPC is a therapist at New Beginnings Counseling Center.

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