I am now 5+ months post-op. The process of going through surgery, recovery, and practicing and teaching yoga after surgery is part of my own personal journey. The process of getting where I am has been non-linear; lots of highs and lows and forward and backward movement. However, the patience and acceptance that I have acquired through a mindfulness yoga practice has given me space to experience my healing with gratitude and kindness.
This journey starts several years ago when I suffered from a common field sport injury, turf toe. I will never know exactly what happened, but I certainly injured a tendon or ligament that goes across the top of the foot and big toe knuckle during our local summer league. I was simply jogging in a straight line, when I heard and felt a pop. It hurt SO BAD, but I was in a point in my life where I embodied grind mentality. It was embedded into the fabric of my whole existence. I was pushing towards a career, pushing through or around mental and emotional roadblocks, and ignoring any injury or physical pain so I could become a better athlete and prove I was a worthy competitor.
A few years after the injury, I felt the joint starting to solidify. My range of motion kept getting less and less, until is started to impact my running gate and the alignment of my knee and hip. For the first time ever about 4 years after the injury occurred, I sought out a female sports-medicine doctor (after unsuccessful visits with a male doctor who told me they couldn't do anything for me) who recommended physical therapy. After two years of physical therapy, she referred me to one of the best podiatrists in the state of Indiana. I scheduled to meet with him. Apparently, turf toe (without proper care and rehab) can fester and eventually turn into injury-induced arthritis. I had stage 2 arthritis in my great big toe. Technically, hallux rigidiss and osteoarthritis dissecans. He recommended surgery within 60 days.
I was shocked and not surprised at the same time, and also relieved. My injury was validated like 6 years after the injury occurred! SEE!? I told you there was something wrong with me!
Prep for Surgery
Since I run my own business where I teach yoga online, demonstrating the postures is kind of a key part of teaching, so I had to plan ahead a TON. I knew for sure I wasn't going to be able to teach live classes for 3 months give or take, so I spent two months prior to surgery pre-recording and planning out two new yoga classes to publish every week for three full months. It was 18 hours of teaching ON TOP of the live classes I was already teaching at the time. It was really physically and mentally taxing, but so so worth it to provide new and inspiring content to my students while I was recovering. Part of this planning was also with my partner who applied for FMLA to take care of me for the first two weeks post-op. This, my friends, was a LIFE SAVER. I literally can't imagine what I would have done without someone caring for me during this time. My gratitude spills over in my heart when I think about the sacrifice he made for me.
The Surgery & Recovery
The surgery itself was a Cheilectomy and a Moberg dorsal closing wedge osteotomy of the right big toe. I won't go into a ton of detail, but look it up yourself if you wish. They put me on the "juice" so all I remember is passing out, and waking back up feeling MAGNIFICENT. That wore off after about 12 hours.
Recovery was crutches for 1-2 weeks in a boot, which means no pressure on the right foot for about a week or so. Then 6-8 weeks in the boot without crutches. I was teaching in my boot one month after surgery, which was so helpful in allowing me to get exercise but not over-exert myself. I taught in a boot for almost 3 months I think. After that, I could only walk and teach yoga in a shoe with a carbon fiber insert for 6-8 weeks. Finally 5 months post-op I was able to remove the carbon fiber insert and able to be back to my normal barefoot (yoga teaching) activities. It was very nerve-racking at first, but my doctor said at this point I was mainly overcoming fear since my foot wasn't going to get injured at that point. I am currently in a progressive 'return-to-running' program, and a progressive 'return-to-field sports' program. I'm still building up my strength and endurance, but I'm doing my best not to overdo it with training. I want to learn from my past mistakes, take my time, and not push through or over the pain or discomfort.
I have been teaching yoga since September 2019, and there are many things I started practicing that helped me in my recovery process. Jon Kabat-Zinn said,"Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally."
Lesson 1: Listen to my body. It knows before my mind does, and it has an intricate and clear way of communicating when things are in pain or need to rest. Feel pain? Back off. Tired? Take a break. Feeling strong? Challenge yourself. This is a lesson I will learn over and over and over again, but it has helped me to let the recovery process unfold without trying to force myself into healing. Letting go and trusting the body's ability to heal and communicate has been a true guiding light.
Lesson 2: Healing is non-linear. It is so so critical that this became part of my healing process, because I was so used to feeling defeated, less than, or unworthy when past injuries would taking longer to heal than I had anticipated. The only other time this idea felt so tangible to me was when I suffered from a concussion a couple years ago. So much of healing is letting go of the idea that recovery means you get "better" with every second. It simply isn't true. Letting go of this idea gave me relief and a stronger line of communication with my body blossomed.
Lesson 3: Joy can be found if I'm staying present. Even if the present doesn't seem all that glamorous, joy doesn't exist in the future or the past, it's happening right in front of you. Practicing mindfulness has been a huge help is helping me be more present with my mind and my body exactly how it is. Not how it was or should/could be. Jason Segel summed up this idea in a podcast I enjoy (Armchair Expert) "If you're not enjoying the stuff while it's happening, you're missing it."
Lesson 4: When one thing ends, another begins. The circle of life, right? Endings are always, always, always, the mark of a new beginning. It is so scary in the moment towards the end and it feels stagnant and impossible to imagine starting something brand new, but then it does. It happens, and then life keeps going. The ending of high-impact sports training is the beginning of new hobbies and new passions; painting, art, BOULDERING! The options are limitless.
Thanks for joining my in my story of my recovery journey. I hope you take care of yourself, listen to your body, and find yourself a female physician :).