corrineg...i too had to get a fusion after a severe ankle fracture. I waited about 1 year after the original 5 pins gave me no relief to have the procedure done.
First off, get a Doctor that has performed no less than 25 of these procedures. A specialist in this surgery will do 10-15 per month. Don't settle for anything less experienced.
even with this professional, you will be off of your feet for 16 weeks minimum. This is ZERO weight bearing recuperation. You can wheel arounfd in a chair after 4 weeks, but, the critical part is to not move that ankle from the position it is placed by the Doctor. For that reason, they pretty much insist that you reduce the risk of a fall, movement, etc. I used a walker to get around.
For sanity...shower each day covering the leg and dressings. The military teaches that a shower is essential to maintaining optimum mental health during stressful times. If you stay clean, you will feel better. i am not in the military but took the advice and I definely felt great after each morning shave and shower.
With help of friends or family, you can also maintain a good diet, especially since you won't be raiding the refrigerator. Take advantage of it.
Now for your main answers. After 8 months, I have a near normal gait, but, do still have some pain. I take a very mild perscription pain releiver twice a day. It is equal to 3 extra strength tylonal. But, it replaces the 8-10 aspirin a day I was taking. The first 10 steps in the morning are the worst...with shoes, there is slight pain to somewhat chronic pain depending on my activity. However, I wear regular shoes and it depends on the sole of the shoe. My penny loafers lead to more pain. My Born and Ecco shoes make for a near painless day.
The pain can last a lifetime. Some people get lucky and have very little pain, others may be on comfort pills for a very long time. Because there is a true need for this medicine, the receptors make it unlikely to become dependent. Even so, the withdrawal is very short lived as the half life of Darvocet, for instance, is very short. I expect to take 1-2 darvocet or a similar drug for at least 6 more months.
Pain management is critical. Don't be afraid to use medical science. Living in pain will cause more detrimental issues such as irritability, social withdrwal, etc. If you need med's, take them as directed. Don't fight your needs to maintain civility.
I played golf for the first time since the original surgery. NO PAIN!!! I have some movement up and down on my ankle, so i was lucky compared to others that i have read about.
Infection in the bones is the biggest risk, which scared me the most. About 2% will get an infection, so i was told. You will be treated with antibiotics for at least 7 days, though, so don't let it scare you too much. Remind the night shift to give you the antibiotics even if you don't need the pain med's. The nurses missed one dose, which really pissed me off. You can get severe complications from infection...even amputation. They must disclose that fact, but, every precaustion is taken. Just make sure the nurses on the night shift don't forget. Mine were awful.
Am I glad I did it? ABSOLUTELY! It was inevitable and better to get it over with. If you have Aflac or other disability coverage it is even better for your mental health. They will treat it as total disability for 6-8 months...longer if needed.
So, if you get your ducks in a row...go for it. Get a GREAT doctor, take the anti-biotics and enjoy some r&r. Its not a cake walk, but, if properly done, your life will be changed for the better.
Hope this helps.