Corey and I love playing board games. We especially love cooperative games where you play as a team to beat the game. I know… nerd alert. 🤓
Recently, we’ve been playing a game called Spirit Island. The purpose of the game is for the spirits of the land (the gods of the indigenous population) to keep the land from getting taken over by invaders.
If we want to win the game, we usually need to pull out all the stops, so that we can play what we call a “holy sh*t damage” card. While these cards have a high reward, they are usually very costly. And, it requires everything to be in the right place for it to have the intended effect. Setting yourself up to use a “holy sh*t damage” card requires a lot of strategizing, maneuvering, and sometimes even sacrifice.
In Spirit Island, there are multiple ways to lose the game. One of the main ways is by simply running out of turns. When you can no longer draw a card from one of the decks (and you haven’t won the game by that point), you lose.
If we want to win the game, we can’t play conservatively. We can’t tread water. We have to make sacrifices. We have to set ourselves up over the course of a few turns to be able to do “holy sh*t damage.” There will be risks. We might lose pieces in the process. If everything goes wrong, we could lose the game.
But… If we don’t do it, we’ll definitely lose the game!
This is an apt analogy for the foot surgery I’ve decided to do.
After 4 years of chronic foot pain from an inflamed (and subsequently pinched) nerve in my foot, I’ve decided to do the “Holy Sh*t Remove the Nerve Surgery.” There will be risks and sacrifices that need to be made.
But… if I don’t do it, I’ll definitely lose the game.
Why Did I Wait So Long?
Yes, you read that right. I’ve been dealing with chronic foot pain that has limited my mobility for OVER FOUR YEARS now. What took me so long to make this decision?
There are a few reasons I spent so long focusing on conservative approaches, including:
- Surgery is risky, so I wanted to rule out all other options first.
- Surgery requires sacrifice.
- The pandemic made everything related to healthcare harder for a good period of this time.
- Unhelpful “false” gratitude (i.e. feeling like I should be grateful for what I have).
1. Surgery is Risky
I don’t necessarily believe that having surgery can cure everything. I’ve known a few people who have had surgery in the past that didn’t help them. In fact, I had knee surgery when I was 17, and it didn’t help me at all.
Plus, there’s always a risk of surgical complications. I recently read a study about the surgery that I will be doing. Within that study, 8% of the participants had surgical complications that made the nerve issue worse.
Because of these risks, I wanted to make sure I tried every other possible option first to help alleviate the pain, including:
- Wearing super comfortable shoes with special insoles (since 2017).
- Going to physical therapy (multiple different approaches) and doing 30-45 minutes of daily foot exercises (2018, and then again mid-2020 until now).
- Getting multiple cortisone shots (2018, 2021).
- Doing the more conservative surgery (where they removed a ligament that was pressing on the nerve) to see if it would help enough. (2018)
Sadly, none of these options helped enough. I still have pain on a daily basis that keeps me from being able to walk more than 1-2 miles at a time.
2. Surgery Requires Sacrifice
Not only can surgery be risky, but it also requires short- and long-term sacrifices.
In the short term, I will deal with increased pain for a period of time (2-3 months). For several weeks, I will not be able to do more than hobble around my house in a surgical boot. Then, I can transition into regular shoes, but my mobility may be even more restricted than it is now for several months. This will affect our first few months of vanlife and possibly also our trip to Ecuador in June for the FI Chautauqua.
In the long term, I will lose all feeling in a small part of my foot that will never go away. It’s a small enough part of my foot that I shouldn’t need to worry about hurting something and not feeling it. But, it could impact my balance or contribute to other musculoskeletal issues in the future.
3. The Pandemic Added Friction to Taking Care of Health Issues
I had my first foot surgery at the end of 2018. My foot got slightly better after the surgery, and I wanted to give it time to see if it would fully heal (or at least heal more). Corey started bugging me at the end of 2019 to go back to the doctor, but I wanted to give it a little bit more time.
Then, in early 2020, the pandemic happened. At first, hospitals were overwhelmed and canceled all non-essential appointments and procedures. I knew foot pain would not be considered urgent. When the medical system started accepting not urgent things again, I decided to keep waiting. At the time, I didn’t feel like my foot issue limited my daily activities enough to risk getting a deadly virus.
Then, I got used to the pain. I tried new physical therapy. It kept getting slightly better over time. It became a habit to figure out how to accept and live with the pain (rather than address it). I can’t completely blame the pandemic for this. I could have gone back to the doctor a lot earlier than the fall of 2021, but I didn’t.
4. Unhelpful “False” Gratitude Made Me Feel Like I Should be Happy with What I Have
I recently received an email newsletter from Jillian Johnsrud about this exact concept. Our society has focused so much on cultivating gratitude that we sometimes try to convince ourselves to be happy even if something isn’t working.
There were so many people suffering in the world. There were so many people who were getting sick and dying from COVID. I didn’t want to be ungrateful for my health.
I was so grateful that I had the opportunity to work from home and not be exposed to COVID on a regular basis. I was grateful that I could get outside and walk one or two miles. It was so much better than it used to be.
But, was that good enough?
Jillian’s words helped pull me out of this false sense of gratitude. She said, “The trouble with false gratitude is that it keeps you stuck… The key to fixing or changing something is to focus less on what you think you should feel and more on how you actually feel… You never make massive progress creating a life you love while clinging onto false gratitude.”
Health is as Important as Time and Money
So, why did I decide to do the surgery? It came down to a few things.
Chief among them was the realization that my health is just as important as time and money to live the life I want. I’ve also been on a self-discovery journey where I’ve realized that I deserve to thrive and being pain-free is part of that. Lastly, I weighed the potential risks and sacrifices against the likely reward and decided to go for it.
I Made Health a Priority
I had always thought it was a good idea to make health a priority, and I made an effort in different periods of my life. But, over the last few years, I’ve made significant strides in this regard, prompted by my own health challenges.
In 2018, I experienced severe anxiety and panic attacks as a result of a toxic work situation (in combination with not taking care of myself and setting effective boundaries). After this, I knew I needed to make my mental health a top priority. Before this, I had dealt with mental health challenges, but I’d just get myself back to my previous baseline rather than actually addressing it. I made significant life changes to make my mental health a priority.
In 2021, I made my physical health a top priority. Early last year, I was hospitalized with unknown GI issues. They thought it was appendicitis. But, after ruling out anything life-threatening, they sent me home with an appointment to see a GI specialist in 3 months.
I had no idea what was making me feel bad, and I definitely wasn’t going to wait 3 months before trying to address anything. Fortunately, I found a nutritionist who helped me figure out the foods that triggered symptoms. My GI issues started to improve long before actually getting diagnosed with a couple of different GI conditions.
Both of these situations affected my daily life in pretty extreme ways. My anxiety kept me from being able to work for 6 months. When I did go back to work, I went back part-time. It still felt like it took two years to fully recover. The GI issues caused symptoms on almost a daily basis early on. I had no idea what caused them, so I had a lot of anxiety around food. Everything I put into my body could cause pain.
From these two experiences, I learned an important lesson. It’s a LOT easier to maintain your health (and prevent issues) than to regain your health.
After 2018, I’ve been committed to building up my mental health, so I’m never in the same position ever again. When working with the nutritionist, I learned that there were so many things I could do nutritionally to prevent future issues (GI and otherwise).
I also started to look at my health in a much more holistic way. I didn’t want to only address stark issues that were significantly impacting my daily life. While I had been focused on alleviating my foot pain for many years, I decided it was time to get a lot more serious about addressing (or even eliminating) it.
Around this time, I read the book Die with Zero, and it solidified many things for me. There’s a whole section of the book where the author talks about why health is more important than money or time. Here are a few things this book said that have stuck with me:
- “Nothing has a greater effect on your ability to enjoy experiences – at any age – than your health.”
- “Health is actually more valuable than money because no amount of money can ever make up for poor health.”
- “Health is the single biggest factor (or multiplier) affecting the size of a person’s lifetime fulfillment curve: Our simulations show that even a small permanent reduction in health at some point in a person’s life amounts to a large reduction in the person’s lifetime fulfillment score.”
I knew that I wanted to make my mental and physical health a top priority. Now, I see that taking care of myself is an act of kindness. It will allow me to have the experiences I want to have. It’s no longer something I should focus on because someone told me to.
I Realized I Deserve to Thrive
Believing I didn’t deserve to be happy held me back for too long. I used to think that I couldn’t articulate something I actually wanted because that would jinx it. It was as if I thought the universe was conspiring against me, and I didn’t deserve the things I wanted.
Now that I’ve worked through all the past baggage that told me this, I now know that I deserve to thrive. And, part of thriving is being pain-free.
To be clear, I know that I might never be pain-free. What I do know is that the universe is not conspiring against me. I deserve to be pain-free. We all do. I want to be pain-free, and I know that I can spend time and money to help me do that so I can live the fullest life possible.
I Weighed the Potential Risks and Sacrifices Against the Likely Reward
While there are always risks to surgery, the actual risks for me are quite low. I recently read a longitudinal study that checked back in with people fifteen years after having the surgery. Of these people, 92% of them saw at least improvement. 75% of them had either good or excellent results. Only 8% were worse off than before. Every person who was worse off than before had surgical complications. The study also shared the characteristics in which the surgery was most likely to be successful, and I fall within all those characteristics.
I am lucky that I get to choose my surgeon. I’ve read reviews of his work and have positive recommendations.
Given all these things, the risks are quite low that I will be worse off than before the surgery. The likelihood is that I’ll feel a lot better after the surgery.
Since I won’t have feeling in a small part of my foot, it’ll be important to prevent future issues. I’m already doing physical therapy focused on mobility and ensuring my body moves in the way that it’s meant to. This will hopefully help to prevent future issues.
I decided that the rewards outweigh the risks.
I’m Moving Forward with the “Holy Sh*t Surgery.”
I’m having surgery on March 30th. Yes, I know there are risks and there will be sacrifice. There will be a recovery period. I will need to focus on preventing future issues.
But, just like I need to play the “Holy Sh*t Damage” card to win the game, I know I need to do the “Holy Sh*t Surgery.” If I don’t, I’ll definitely lose the game. And, in this case, the game is having fulfilling life experiences, which are a lot more important to me.
Hopefully, but the end of summer, I’ll see you on the hiking trails.