medical memoir

Ten Years Titanium: A Medical Memoir


My titanium toe and I have been in a relationship for ten years. The internets tell me you celebrate ten years with gifts of tin or aluminum. They’re both so quaint compared with titanium.

Ten years ago, on this day, I watched my titanium toe surgery. It was pretty incredible (understatement). It briefly reminded me of watching an open heart surgery while hangin’ with one of my besties, Lacy, at her home in Idaho. Except we watched on TV. Not the same as watching in person. And it wasn’t all dramatized nor did it include scenes of doctors running into closets with interns for sexual side stories like Grey’s Anatomy (not that I would know!). We were teenagers anyway. Grey’s wasn’t due to hit the airwaves for many years still.

December 4, 2008, I walked to the surgical center. It wasn’t far from my work, up in Research Park. My mom was going to give me a ride to her house after it was done so I could stay overnight there and then return to my condo the next day.

At the center, I checked in, they gave me a bag to put my clothes and purse in, left me to change into some wispy little outfit with strings attached, and said they’d be back shortly with the orthopedic surgeon and anesthesiologist. They were both intriguing men with big personalities. The anesthesiologist (it’s a PAIN to type that word) asked me whether I’d been under before and if I had known allergies. I asked him if I couldn’t stay awake for it.

“You’d rather do a local?” he asked.

“If I could,” I said.

“That would be less risky.”

“And do you have to use Versed, too?”

He didn’t answer that question, but wheeled me into another room to use an ultrasound on my leg and find the exact nerve to stab with a needle and inject local anesthesia. That hurt! But before long, my right leg was numb and I was off to surgery.

They did use Versed. And apparently, I asked about it in the operating room. I asked if the anesthesiologist could stop because I really was going to be fine and wouldn’t freak out and wanted to remember this!

“Okay,” he said.

My brain was less foggy and a surgical tech swung a flat-screen TV around where I could see it while lying on the table. I did, again, watch a surgery on TV, but it was all zoomed in on my toe, far better than trying to watch from my pillow behind the surgical drape.

Here are a few of the random details that went down during that surgery:

  1. I asked them if they could pull the TV a little bit closer because “you guys made me take out my contacts.”
  2. The doctor asked me if I’d ever taken tetracycline because my bones had a yellow tint to them. I’d taken minocycline. “It’s a good thing your teeth aren’t yellow,” he said.
  3. There was a guy from the medical device company there. He was giving the doctor directions on how to clip the titanium pieces together in my toe. I told him my brother had worked for Zimmer, another medical device company. He said, cool. Or something.
  4. I watched them drill holes in my bones, suction out the blood, and insert the two pieces.
  5. The doctor had a hard time lining up the “male” piece to the “female” piece and clicking the two together.
  6. Orthopedic surgery is not delicate.
  7. The doc told me he would email me a picture of my toe cut open. He did, about a week later. (It’s at the very bottom of this post if you’re not squeamish.)

When the surgery finished, they wheeled me out to recovery where the nurse walked in and jumped in surprise.

“You’re awake,” she said.

“They didn’t put me under,” I said. “I’m so hungry. Where’s my stuff?”

“I have some water for you to sip. There’s your stuff.”

She pointed to a big, white, plastic “Patient” bag with my clothes, purse and phone inside. I pulled out my purse and several pieces of chocolate which I ate while sipping the tiny cup of water.

“What time is it?” I asked. She pointed to the clock. The surgery had gone much faster than they’d told me to plan on. My mom wasn’t coming for over an hour. I pulled out my phone and called her. She couldn’t make it yet, but could find somebody. Eventually, my sister-in-law, Tracy, came and picked me up, took me to my parents’, and helped me hop up the two flights of stairs to my parents’ bedroom. I took a nap.

My toe woke me up from my nap. My entire foot woke me up. So. Much. Pain. Toes are rude that way. I called for help. Eventually, my 18-year old brother came in with a couple of his high school buddies. I was sweaty and grimacing. I told them my toe was killing me. He looked at my foot, elevated and wrapped up on the bed. I asked him for a Priesthood blessing. He had been 18 for just over a month.

“I’ve never done one before,” he said. I looked at his friends. They all shrugged. Then, they called their dads to ask for instructions. They gave me a blessing and during it, the pain went from searing to tingling and I took a deep breath.

For ten years, titanium and I have been together. My toe still hurts at times and most days, it’s a little swollen.

One last thing: during the surgery, I told them the pillow was really comfortable so the anesthesiologist included it in my “Patient” bag. I still have it. It’s this polyfoam pillow. So cool, right?