Gill Carrick, a partner in leading firm of head-hunters Odgers Berndtson, describes her experience of bunion surgery and the importance of physiotherapy for optimal recovery.
Twenty years ago, my feet started a gradual deterioration from perfect elegance to almost two decades later, better hidden than exhibited. I was a less than proud possessor of well-developed bunions. The extensive collection of Jimmys and Manolos were relegated to the back of the wardrobe and I grew increasingly despondent about the situation. Fitness training and subsequent marathon running made me feel better physically, but the increasing severity of the condition meant that the feet when planted side by side looked like Big Ben with the hands at ten to two.
They still performed impeccably in terms of walking, running, climbing etc. so I soldiered on until insanely deciding to run the Amsterdam and New York marathons within three weeks of each other late in 2011. Result – subsequent cist on one toe, hammer and metatarsal damage to both feet and pain which led to the abandonment of all shoes for the comfort of trainers.
My doctor, having dealt with the cist, referred me to Mark Davies at the London Foot and Ankle Centre, who took one look and said ‘MRI scan and X-rays’. Somewhat fearfully, I returned for the results and was given the options – correction by surgery or face increased deformity and possible disablement over the ensuing years.
Internally, I panicked, played for time and asked if I could have the feet dealt with separately. Also I asked for a guarantee that I would be able to return to marathon running. I was working full-time as a partner with a leading firm of head-hunters, lived on my own, led an active social life and the thought of enduring a two-hour operation at the age of 70 – I am a dreadful coward – and spending two weeks with feet higher than my heart, doing nothing, filled me with dread.
I’ve never been a good negotiator and Mr Davies allowed no compromise and gave no guarantees. One week later, at the beginning of September 2012, I was wheeled down to the operating theatre for a two-hour operation from which I was certain I would never return!
Of course I did. After three nights in hospital with the most cheerful and supportive staff, my trainer came to transport me home. I loathed the ghastly ‘planks’ that were velcroed on to my feet over the bulky dressings, but my delight in being upright again knew no bounds.
For the next two weeks, I hobbled around on crutches between the microwave and the loo, glued to the Paralympics in between and sleeping rather a lot. At no stage had I felt any pain but fourteen days later returning to hospital to have the stitches removed, I did yelp a little but only momentarily.
Three weeks after surgery I started ‘recumbent’ yoga and fitness training – as long as I didn’t stand for more than a few minutes, I could do whatever I liked within reason.
I still had to wear the Velcro abominations for a further six weeks until the pin that remained sticking out of one toe was removed, when Mr Davies grudgingly said I could wear Fit-Flops. This suggestion I considered an affront to my dignity and good taste, until I realised that they came in various shapes and colours and would enable me to wear my favourite outfit to the Women of the Year lunch without looking like a freak. Also I had to admit they were very comfortable.
But the best was yet to come. Once the stitches were removed, Mr Davies insisted that I saw a particular physiotherapist, with whom he had worked for a decade or more. The location was not convenient and I decided that once I’d had the first session I’d find someone closer to home or office. I took my trainer with me, normally the most sceptical of individuals, to reinforce my negative thoughts. However once we’d met James Bird and his sense of humour, we were both completely won over.
My feet also loved James and after two hourly sessions per week for a couple of months, they began to look a bit more like their old selves. Then I was handed over to two of James’s charming and equally gifted colleagues, Daniele Truffa and Andre Goncalves, to help with gait, posture and running technique.
Just short of six months after the operations I had another x-ray and consultation with Mr Davies and was given the all-clear to start running again. I was relieved as what I didn’t admit to him on that occasion was that I’d already done 45 minutes non-stop with Andre.
Regular physiotherapy and training continued throughout the summer until on 28 September, following a final visit to Mr Davies and a thorough once-over by the Tres team, I flew out to the USA and ran and completed the Hamptons marathon on 28 September.
The care and support I experienced throughout the process was exemplary as was for once my own behaviour. I listened to instructions and tried to follow them to the letter. Being physically fit before I had the operations undoubtedly helped keep me in positive mode throughout. Having a clear objective – to run another marathon – equally so.
I am delighted to say that Mark Davies and his team, everyone at Tres and my own trainer, James Larkin worked in close harmony and delivered a brilliant result. If there is anyone reading this who has any doubts or concerns about undergoing a similar operation, I hope this will help allay such fears.”