A bent and crooked scalpel is sitting on a tray. There is a five-star alert popping up. Next to the popup is a speech bubble with a question mark and exclamation mark.

Fixing My Botched Ankle... As Flames Shoot Out the Side of My Face

For a decade, I have been dealing with an ever-worsening right ankle that keeps curling further and further underneath.

The saga has been going on for years now and it’s finally going to end, one way or the other. Something has to change before I lose the foot entirely and, today, I took the first steps - no pun intended - to making that happen.

Unfortunately, as with everything RA-related, a simple, clear, solution became complicated and muddy within a few short hours.

Seeking a surgeon for ankle replacement

Before we get into the specifics, it’s time for a trip in the way-back machine. Let’s head back to 2010 or so when my right ankle was first replaced.

It was a heady time. We were just coming out of the 2008 sub-prime crash, BP Oil was spilling into the Gulf faster than hippies at a Prius convention, and a very large iPhone that couldn’t make phone calls had just been released by Apple.

There was a prevailing spirit of “can do” and everyone was fairly optimistic that the country was finally, once again, headed in the right direction.

Capitalizing on this spirit of optimism, I petitioned the surgeon who had replaced my hips 15 years earlier to replace my ankle, and he agreed. Everything felt right and I just knew it and the world would be good then and forevermore. Haha hahaha...cry.

Surgery healing, RA, and recovery

The surgery took longer than expected but ultimately was deemed successful. And, after a few days in the hospital, the cast was applied and I was sent home to heal for 6 weeks.

Fast forward 2 months and it was time to cast off the cast...off? Whatever, the point is, we were going to see my brand new straightened ankle for the first time and everyone was excited. Well, maybe not excited but, you know... like...content, I guess.

My ankle was still crooked

The doctor took out the special plaster saw and began to slice through the blue and red hardshell on my right leg (I picked festive colors for July 4th). Finally, the last inch was sliced through, and it was time for the reveal!

As the surgeon himself peeled open the cast like a fresh oyster, there was my ankle in all its glory and it was amazing...ly still crooked. The surgeon took one look, smiled, and said, “Looks great!”

My mother and I had lingering doubts

Now, at this point in my illness, I still had a lingering sense of reverence for my doctors and hadn’t totally crossed over into the "the hell you say, doc?" mentality just yet.

So, when the doctor said my ankle looked good and was straight, I thought, "Well I must be looking at it wrong, I’m sure it’s fine," and we left for home.

Needless to say, both my mother and I had the same lingering doubts. But outwardly, each for the other’s sake, said things like, “Looks good!” and “Finally, it’s straight!” Yet, even a blind person in the middle of a blizzard could see the ankle was far from straight. Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.

My PT said my ankle was not straight

It wasn’t until I visited my physical therapist that I finally admitted things didn’t go as planned.

My PT, bless him (who is also a good friend), isn’t the type of person who - to put it as PG-friendly as I can - likes to voluntarily further the purveyance of horse manure. He took one look and said, “It’s crooked still,” and he was right.

It was less crooked than it used to be, but it was still visibly skewed. Long story short, the surgery was botched, and, to this day, the surgeon still says, “Looks great!”

Correcting another surgeon's mistake

So now, I wear a brace that gives me sores and hurts most of the time I wear it, which is an absolute pleasure cruise I assure you.

Finding a doctor has been tough

But, it also began a six-year mission to find someone to not only fix my ankle but now, also correct another doctor’s mistake.

For those uninitiated among you, finding a doctor to correct another doctor’s work is like trying to find a travel agent in North Korea – even if you do dig one up, it’s even odds if you’re making it out alive.

Every doctor I saw would take a look at the x-rays, admit it was crooked, see who did the original surgery, and then suddenly say “Well, it was a herculean effort,” or, “Well, you are an extremely complicated case,” or even, “Yeah, I’m not touching Dr. CENSORED’s work.”

I ended up having to wait for the statute of limitations on my surgeon’s generation to expire in order to find people who would actually give it a shot, and that brings us current.

What's next?

Now, like Elrond at Rivendell from The Lord of the Rings, my case is being presented to a council of elder doctors to find out what the best plan of action is.

Personally, I’m fine with throwing it into a volcano. But, whatever they decide, I know it will be a long and complicated surgery and recovery.

Thing is, I have no choice – I can’t hold out much longer without doing permanent damage and possibly losing the foot. So, I wait with bated breath for the answer to a “very complicated deformity” that wasn’t even my fault in the first place.

What's next for my ankle and my RA?

Anger, frustration, or to borrow a meme: “Flames...flames shooting out...out of the side of my face.” They are all feelings I have towards the entire affair and feelings that I have to stuff down inside like it was 2-for-1 Big Macs at McDonald's.

Why? Because it needs to be fixed and getting a reputation for being a “difficult patient” by talking about the original botched surgery will do nothing but make sure it never gets remedied.

That’s living with RA and chronic illness in a nutshell, and millions of us do it every day with grace and poise. And flames… flames on the side.. on the side of my face…   Talk soon.

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