Trusting My Choice—and my Legs—After My Femoral Osteotomy Surgery
I had to make a choice this summer. My choice was this: be in pain indefinitely or have orthopedic surgery. You can probably guess which one I chose.
I didn’t consider surgery a particularly fair choice, but one thing I have learned in my life is that life can be both beautiful and unpredictable—and unfair. Life isn’t fair. Spending the summer recovering isn’t fair.
I can acknowledge all of that, but then I have to move on. The surgery was logically my only option. It was the opportunity God gave me, and I felt I had to take it.
I was put to sleep for three hours and when I woke up, my legs were different.
I was unnerved. I had a rod and screws in my leg and my femur—the biggest, longest bone in the body—was broken, albeit intentionally. For more than fourteen years, my femur caused my leg to turn the wrong way. Now it was like I had a new start.
As I lay in the hospital bed, my mom pointed out that my feet were turned outward for the first time. I think she almost cried. I might have cried, too, but I was too loopy. The outward rotation of my left foot, specifically, meant that my hips had less pressure, which was one of the goals of the surgery.
Since the surgery, I have had many ups and downs. I had been home from the hospital for two days when I started having chills and constant spasms. My parents helped me to my bed and I eventually fell asleep. Generally, sleeping after the surgery has been hard. I never found it easy to fall asleep to begin with, but after surgery, the pain and spasms kept me awake. I slept during the day because the medicine was very strong and made me drowsy. The pain would move from my hip, settle in my femur, and travel to my shin. Despite the pain, I had some amazing accomplishments after surgery, too.
The day after my femoral osteotomy, I started using a walker. I noticed that as I walked, my left foot would either straighten or turn outward, not inward like it used to. The lengthening of my abductors helped to drastically widen my stance as I walked. I had walked the same way for years—knees bent, left foot inward, narrow stance. Now I wouldn’t trip myself up because of my rotated femur and lengthened abductors. I thought that was amazing!
However, for the first few weeks of my recovery, my left knee refused to bend. I couldn’t tell that my knee wasn’t bending but found out when I began intensive physical therapy. I also couldn’t determine the direction of my feet—whether they were turned in or out, or straight. The natural way my left foot was for so long was turned inward. Gradually, I guess my body was trained that my left foot’s crookedness was actually straight. My inability to determine the direction of my limbs is neurological. My physical therapists hope this will get better as I continue to relearn how to walk.
The loss of independence that the surgery caused has been really difficult for me, even though it’s temporary. I can’t walk for long periods of time. The surgery and sharp femur pain wiped out my stamina and endurance. School starts in three weeks, and I’m not sure if I will be able to go to school without an aide or pull my roller bag by myself.
I don’t trust myself anymore. When I walk, I feel like I’m losing control—going too fast, locking my knees, hyperextending. I’m constantly paranoid that the rod slipped out of place and that my left foot is turning in. It’s exhausting, and I often wonder if I will ever trust my legs. I wish that the muscles in my legs would learn to work together soon.
I never really had control of my left leg before. It often felt like my left leg would cave in on me. And even back then, my right leg had to support most of my weight. My struggles with my left leg are not my body’s fault. But my left leg has never really felt like it’s mine. Now, especially, my leg feels like it belongs to someone else.
When all the bandages came off of my incisions, I remember sitting in the bathtub one night, tracing a few of the scars. I was thinking that I’d had chronic pain in my hip, especially the left, for so long, and now I had a visual representation. I looked at all the scars and felt, honestly, that my legs were so flawed. That had to be why I’d needed so much surgery. I looked at my left leg and thought that it was so ugly, inside and out. In reality, my left leg was doing the best it could, using the muscles that had the least amount of spasticity. My left leg has the help it needed now.
The pain has been severe and intense since I’ve had surgery. My physical therapist has pushed me to achieve what I can, and I’m so grateful for his help. However, there were some times I had some emotions to let out during PT appointments. During one appointment, he laid me on my stomach and pushed on my quadricep. I nearly cried. I struggle with telling my physical therapist that I’m in pain because I feel like I’m complaining. Throughout my recovery experience, I have had to learn to ask for help.
I have had to use a wheelchair to go to appointments with my doctors and to physical therapy. It is emotionally draining, even though my use of a wheelchair is temporary. I feel like everyone stares at me. I am too short to see much of anything when I sit in the wheelchair. My legs stiffen and it is very painful to sit in the wheelchair for an extended amount of time. Overall, much of my recovery process has been emotional, in good ways and bad.
I have thought so many times during this surgery that one type of pain was swapped for another. My chronic pain was replaced by a new bone-deep, intense pain. I wasn’t sleeping well. I was struggling to walk. At night, I was exhausted. I knew the surgery had benefits. So that’s what I’ve tried to focus on.
A few weeks after my surgery, I was able to stand up from a chair without using my hands—something I couldn’t do even before the surgery. I was shocked and so, so happy. It was emotional for me. My eyes welled up and I smiled at myself in the mirror. I had never done something like this before. As I did it again, I think that’s when I fully realized that the surgery was worth it. The action was so unnatural and new that I kind of wondered if my legs belonged to a stranger.
On the stairs, my feet don’t turn in anymore. My feet would dramatically turn inward, which was a major fall risk. My physical therapist told me in the past that my feet would never be straight while climbing stairs. He thought it was impossible. My femoral osteotomy helped me achieve something that was impossible for me.
I use more muscles than I did before. There is a muscle near my shin that has been activated lately. A few days ago I told my mom that my shin was hurting, but that it wasn’t a shin splint. Turns out, I had started to use a muscle that I had never used before called the anterior tibia. I was stunned. It took me my entire life to start to use one of the muscles in my body. Because I always dragged my left foot, the muscle that lifts the foot from the ground during a gait pattern had never been used. I felt like I had just discovered that more was wrong with me than I ever realized, but then I reflected that the surgery has given me a chance to do things I never could before.
So yes, the pain of a femoral osteotomy is miserable at times. Yes, I can’t really trust my legs yet and have to relearn how to walk. But having surgery has shown me so many small miracles. My legs finally have the help they need. I can do so many things that aren’t impossible anymore.