From time to time I touch on health issues. I’ve managed my way through many odd health challenges so I’m hoping maybe something I share will make it helpful for someone else.
My latest health experience is total knee replacement. I was born with those knees that naturally hyperextend. I was active in sports as a young person and continued to play/teach/coach tennis well into my forties. At that point I hit a wall and was completely burned out with tennis.
To go along with my unusual knees, my ankles would turn on a dime. So, yeah, tennis wasn’t the optimal sport for joint health but when you’re young one is unable to fathom the future impacts of chronic sports-related injuries. I’ve sprained each ankle at least half a dozen times, had a stress fracture in one and a severe torsion-fracture in the other.
Pain has never been a stranger and since 1988, when I severely fractured my ankle and tore all of the ligaments, it has been a daily companion. My knees then became the focal point for twenty years of pain and irritation. In January of this year when cortisone shots and gel injections no longer registered on the comfort meter of my left knee, I made the decision to have my knee replaced.
My surgeon and his team did not sugarcoat anything. In fact he told me I would hate him for the first month post-op. I smiled and nodded, feeling confident I could not hate anyone for performing surgery. Besides, I was brought up not to hate anyone.
Over and over I was told my immediate future would be one filled with pain. Folks shared all sorts of horror stories with me. I’m a researcher by nature so I did what I do well, I read. I scoured the Internet for all things knee replacement-related. What I took from most of the information was pretty common sensical. It was like anything one wants to do well. My preparation had to be good, my mindset had to be good, my commitment to rehab had to be good.
One thing I’ve learned from the various health challenges I’ve faced is to do what I’m told. There is a reason the medical professionals tell you to do certain things. I may not like it and it may be uncomfortable, but short term discomfort is far more acceptable to me than a lifetime of pain.
Three weeks ago yesterday I made my way into the hospital, alone due to the pandemic, and underwent my total knee replacement. It is now a same-day procedure though I pushed for an overnight stay due to some chronic health issues that I wanted to be monitored overnight (atrial fibrillation and diabetes). Things went well and during the night the nerve blocks wore off. Ah, the oft-mentioned pain made itself known. One thing I’d learned over the years was to stay ahead of the pain. So began my schedule of Tylenol every six hours and Oxycodone every four.
At noon the next day, after some quick instruction using a walker, I found myself at home. Someone who knows me well had offered to stay with me for the first two weeks since I wouldn’t be able to drive. I’m an even-tempered individual much of the time so nothing prepared me for the “person” who inhabited my body upon my return from the hospital.
The first 24 hours back home were torn from a sketchbook of black comedy. As an independent person, I was determined to be as little trouble as possible. Again, I follow doctor’s orders but am not good at being fussed over or asking for assistance. Those first 24-48 hours was like hell on earth. I can cuss with the best of them but I have no idea who the foul-mouthed being was who lived in my body. In addition to profuse obscenities streaming from my mouth, I also channeled my frustration over negotiating throw rugs, narrow doorways, etc., into a new athletic event called walker toss. Walker toss pairs well with wall slam, activities choreographed to the new playlist of curse-o-rama.
One of the redeeming purchases in anticipation of wellness was the Breg Polar Active Ice machine. This gizmo alleviates the mess of constant ice packs and yet supplies constant cold water with which to “ice” the affected joint.
By day 4 I’d sent my helper home, through no fault of his own. By day 6 the poor walker had been relieved of duties. Thankfully I was able to navigate on my own two feet. I benefitted from some wonderful neighbors who drove me to physical therapy and made sure I had groceries. I’m one of those people who prefers to be alone when I’m not feeling well. I don’t like to subject others to my unpleasant moods however well meaning they are.
From a knee perspective, I kept up with my pain medicine schedule. I had been told over and over that sleep would be very tricky well into the first month. It was and is. I quickly accepted that sleep would be tough so days and nights became pretty much the same and I slept when I was able. It’s good to have a comfortable recliner because bed is not very comfortable. I switched freely between the two.
I just finished my third week post-op. My knee is doing well, so my physical therapist says. I have pain but it’s surgical pain. I know it will end. I no longer have the constant internal arthritic pain for which I am thankful to God.
Is this a breeze? No, it isn’t. It’s painful. It pays to do the exercises and work hard at therapy. Is it always easy to do? Um, no. I still ice my knee frequently. The nice thing about the machine is the timer.
One more important thing is attention to one’s mental health. My surgeon does not use general anesthesia. I had nerve blocks along with a spinal. I take the occasional pain pill but not a steady diet of them. That said, I am liable to burst into tears at a moment’s notice for unknown reasons. Many a night when I am unable to sleep, I sob instead. Why? I don’t know.
I’m thankful for my ear buds so it’s easy to listen to music during the middle of the night. It’s also calming. I’m thankful for not needing an assistive device for walking since day 6. I’m missing swimming in the neighborhood pool. I’m unable to do that until the incision heals. I’m thankful to have resumed driving though never after I’ve had a pain pill.
Was it worth it? I think so. The chronic pain is gone. I’ll let you know at the end of the summer when I will be better able to gauge the success. For now, I will keep slogging away at exercises, therapy, and keeping my head on straight. And I will keep the dream alive that someday sleep will return.