The Lame Duck

They said it would take a lot of work to recover strength and range of motion after the knee replacement.  

They said it would be painful.

They said it would take weeks and months to get back to something “normal.”  

They told me all this.  I expected to work hard and endure pain. Even so, I did not really understand what my days would be like.  

Lame duck 6-12-2015

It is now 8 weeks since the surgery and I have been home for almost 6 of those weeks.  I think the most difficult aspect of this at-home period to grasp has been how hugely the surgery and the post-surgical recovery have affected my daily life.

I have learned or re-learned the way to go up and down stairs, the way to get in and out of a car (this can be embarassing as sometimes I get sort of stuck half in and half out), new ways to get up and down from furniture, a new way to get into and out of bed, even a new way to sit down at the piano.  I have found that certain flexion movements in that left knee trigger terrific spasms that leave me breathless and frantically anxious to relax the muscles.

The physical therapists have been my allies.  I both look forward to and somewhat dread my twice-a-week appointments.  The therapists have been unfailingly respectful, informative, careful, and diligent as they have worked with me toward gradual recovery. The sessions can be painful.  Or rather, the sessions are painful.  At least in my case, there seems to be no other way they can be.  The measurements of joint range of motion that are taken every time can also be encouraging or discouraging — sometimes reflecting improvement, sometimes status quo, and sometimes slipping backwards.  Of course, I go to each appointment hoping to demonstrate movement that is closer to full knee extension, deeper flexion, and improved ability to make the full rotation on the bicycle in a tighter position.

We started out with about 6 specific exercises for me to do twice a day.  Now, at this point, we are up to probably 20 exercises, but some winnowing is going on as new needs emerge and old needs disappear.  Most recently, I have started using a heating pad and massage before the exercises in hopes of better muscle relaxation and joint mobility.

In probably just a few more weeks, I will be able to discard the cane totally.  My energy level, sleep patterns and appetite will have improved.  Hopefully the spasms will be gone, the pain on exercise will be less, and the stiffness will be much improved.  In the meantime, I will continue to be something of a lame duck– there’s no getting around it (ha!).




Hello, World . . .

Hello, world . . . I’m back!

Here are bits and pieces of my days as a patient after my left knee replacement on April 30.

In Hospital

Definitely a longer stay than expected.

Bad reaction to the anesthetic, and then rather obvious confusion from the pain medication — all on the first and second days.

On the second night after the surgery, I apparently pass out, prompting a “rapid response” code by a terrified nursing assistant.  I regain consciousness to find 5 heads and 5 pairs of eyes hovering over me and anxiously peering at me.  After they decide that I am okay, I finally get back to bed and “recover” a smidgen of my dignity and sense of self.

The third night my vital signs are erratic.  This leads to concerns about a possible blood clot, which leads to wheeling me to the lower levels for an ultrasound and an attempt (unsuccessful) to do a CT scan — all in the middle of the night.  I remember some of this, especially hearing the sounds of the blood rushing through my veins, very much like the whale sounds on that CD many of us have heard.

The next morning (4th day), a new nurse bursts into my room and loudly announces that it is time for me to get going because I have an appointment with “PT”.  I start to whine about having been up most of the night, but there is no dissuading this Brunhilda from her mission. Suddenly I realize she is saying “CT”, not PT.  I calm down, decide this I could handle, and go submissively back down to the CT scan section of the hospital.  When I come back up to my room, Brunhilda confronts me again — this time about getting myself going for the day:  “Order some breakfast.  Raise up the window shade, let in some light.  It’s like a cave in here!”  And you know what??  She was absolutely right.  Come on, Betty — get going!

Ten Days in a Rehab Facility

On the sixth day after surgery, I am discharged from the hospital and transferred by van to a nearby rehabilitation facility, primarily to get physical and occupational therapy.  This move is my choice, the alternative to going directly home and getting in-home therapy.  So I’m taken to the second floor — the Plaza floor — where I have my own room (and a scenic view of the roof).

I gradually get used to the routines of the day — the meds, the meals, the therapy, the staff, the other patients, the days, the nights.  Frankly, every one of the patients looks pretty much like a wreck — including me.  But it dawns on me that looking like a wreck is in its own way rather “freeing.”  So what if we all look like a wreck — what does it matter?  The beginnings of some camaraderie develop.

Almost immediately, I spot a piano in the common area.  I feel the yearning for something to call my own.   I telephone my piano partner in town, and she comes out one evening and we play duets — mostly for our own pleasure but also for the enjoyment of others.  The man in the room next to mine gets out his concertina and plays hymns.

I discover that there is a hair salon in the building, with open hours on Wednesdays and Thursdays.  Maybe I don’t have to look like such a wreck after all!  I make an appointment to have my hair washed on the next Thursday.  Then, a new acquaintance at supper, one who is rapidly losing all her hair from her chemo treatments, looks across the table at me and tells me how much she likes my hair. Even unwashed and untidy can be wonderful to behold.  It just depends.

The head nurses change from day to day, and for a couple days we have “Edith.”  Edith is jovial, friendly, and a bit brassy.  Subtle — not so much.  I hear her out in the hall one day having conversations and making comments as she moves along the hallway with the med cart.  When she gets close to my room, she suddenly calls out, “Miss Betty?”  I respond from my bed, “Yes?”  And then she hollers out for all to hear, “You don’t need the stool softeners, right?”  I respond again, “That’s right.”  Uh huh.  Yup.

Getting a good night’s sleep is difficult — not because of noise or disruption, but because of pain, awkward positioning, sliding sheets and pillows, difficulty moving myself in the bed, being awakened regularly for “vitals” and meds.  I distinctly remember one night, lying awake and hearing at some distance the hoot of a train going through Madison.  I suddenly feel very much separated from the rest of the world by that train whistle.  I am here and the rest of the world is out there.  Like I am no longer part of the real world.

But now I am home!  That is another story for next time.  Meanwhile, hello world!  I’m so glad to be back where I belong.

My Left Knee

Well, folks, I am off to the hospital tomorrow for a total knee replacement.  I feel a haiku coming . . . .

Left knee replacement.
They say bionic woman,
I say scary stuff!

This feels surreal.  I am giving myself occupational therapy:

  • Attended a class on the surgery and rehabilitation processes
  • Borrowed a bath bench and walker from a friend
  • Purchased a suction grab bar for the shower
  • Taught Ed how to use my cell phone (he doesn’t have one) and how to run the washing machine
  • Ordered an iPad with keyboard so I won’t have to go down to the basement where my desktop computer resides
  • Put a few things in the freezer for future dinners
  • Even contemplated getting a sock aid.

I have talked to numerous friends who have had this procedure done, each one eager to give me the story of his or her knee replacement and to offer advice.  All of them have been helpful to me as I think through various options and questions.  I have been doing knee exercises since last summer — “religiously” (that’s always the adverb used).  I have visited a rehab facility that might be needed post-hospitalization if I can’t go directly home (2-story house, no extra room on the first floor).

A few more odds and ends to take care of today.

So off I go, and I’ll be in touch in a few days.  Betty