One month ago today I had the knee in my left leg replaced. Three years ago my left leg was just a normal leg doing what legs do- taking me on wonderful walks all over the world and not complaining. That job was done by its twin - the right leg. That one has been a pain in the butt since 1999...yes 1999. Starting as bursitis and turning into arthritis. I'd take my happy pills (one ibuprofin, one aleve..I've since found out that is a BAD thing to do..) and shut that bitch up and carry on with my half marathons, hikes and 10 km walks. It wasn't ideal but it worked. Then in the summer of 2014 I lifted a box of instruction books at work and something in my back clicked. Hmmm..that was uncomfortable...Then a few days later after faxing something at work I stepped back and caught my sandal on a chair in my co-worker's office. Down I went..but not before a spectacular few feet of running backyard and landing butt first into an empty box. That poor box never knew what hit it. And that's when the pain all down my left side began. Sciatica? Nope, not according to the doctor as I could lift my leg with no problem. To make a long story short x-rays were done and it showed that knee was bone on bone with severe arthritis. How can that be I wondered as it had never bothered me until these two incidents - its right sister had done enough bitching for both of them. I went to physio therapy for five months until I flew to England for six months. I was still able to do my walking if I drugged myself up. Half marathons were not possible but I found I could still do fairly long walks on my own at my own speed as long as I rested the next day. Group walks became a chore and I could only manage 5 km. Life carried on with a semblance of normality. I was referred to an orthopedic surgeon whom I saw every six months. Slowly the knee got worse...my cherished walks from my apartment around the lake (6.3 km) became longer as I had to sit and rest one or two times until finally I just couldn't do them anymore. That's when I knew it was time to get something done and luckily on my visit to the surgeon in July of last year he agreed with me. It's time Laurie he said.
I was put on a waiting list because that's how we roll here in Canada. And that is fine with me. I love the fact we have universal healthcare here and everyone could have access to health care. Life went on and I decided to have one last jaunt. The original plan for this past winter was to go to Sri Lanka (at long last) and roam around Asia. However,those plans had to be changed as I knew I could not keep up with a tour nor be climbing temple steps, dragging luggage, etc. So that is why I came up with having two bases - London and Malaga with a couple of short trips thrown in but still keeping the room at my base. And you know all about that and the struggle I had some days. I don't regret it at all - I had a wonderful time and I still have a lot to talk about on here. Back home I carried on with my warm water aquasize three times a week which really helped. By this time I could walk maybe 20 minutes without stopping...on a good day.
Finally..I got a phone call out of the blue. On March 16th I was told they had made a scheduling error and there was an opening at 8 a.m. on Tuesday March 21st. Would I take it? I sure would! It was a busy weekend getting things ready but I am proud of the way I got things done in such a short amount of time. People said it's lucky I had short notice as I didn't have time to worry. Oh yeah? I just worried three times as much as I would have done with longer notice!
Before I knew it March 21st was here and my friend Shirley drove me to the hospital at 6 a.m. I was told to change into a hospital gown and put into a tiny room. My surgery was delayed by an hour due to a five year old needing emergency surgery. Poor little thing. So I waited another hour - trying to read and making repeated "nervous pee" trips to the bathroom (every ten minutes!) despite not having had anything to drink for almost twelve hours. The surgeon popped in to see me and apologized for the delay. Then the anesthesiologist stopped by and I informed him up front that I wanted to be "knocked out" as in general anesthetic. He was cool with that although said about 80% of people opt to have a local anesthetic. No thank you. I do not want to hear or see anything; knock me out. I've talked to enough people and seen enough stories on the internet...nope. So that's what he did. Once wheeled into the operating room I remember making a joke about ER or some such thing and the mask coming over my face and zonk...next thing I remember is waking up in the recovery room. Yep, that's how I want to do it.
When I finally came to I was in my room. My roommate was a 100 year old woman who I never did see as a curtain separated us and I was too lazy to move it. I certainly heard her though - wow that woman could snore. And that's coming from someone who's pretty darn good at it herself. I probably came to mid afternoon. Before I knew it supper was served - shepherds pie! Oh my was it ever good...or at least that's what I thought in my morphine induced state. I texted people and even phoned saying that was the best shepherds pie I had ever had in my life. When I talked to my friend Linda later she said " I knew you must still be on a morphine high to say you liked the hospital food". Yep. Sleep that night was pretty well nonexistant due to my noisy roommate...but hey at 100 years old she's allowed to be noisy and at least it proved she was alive! Breakfast that morning was soggy toast and jam and coffee which I thought was pretty darn good. Yep that morphine coming in through my IV was doing a good job I'd say. I had little or no pain due to the morphine. The biggest pain was using a bed pan - especially when somehow I missed it and wet the bed. Oh yes I had some of my finest moments in the hospital...just wait it gets better. I had a flash back to my four year old self in the hospital after getting my tonsils out and refusing to have a bed pan in my crib (the indignity of a crib). I sat the potty on the floor and used it but the "big boys" in the next room saw me and laughed. I've never forgotten that humiliation..obviously! I didn't do that this time you will be glad to know. My second day saw me with 7 visitors one after the other which was fun but tiring. The nurse wasn't best pleased as there was no time for me to get out of bed to use the commode so it was the bed pan again. She said "most people want to rest after surgery Laurie". Well what was I supposed to do - kick them out? These are my friends and it was good to see them. Two hot meals arrived that day that were surprisingly good - gotta love morphine!
The 100 year old was transferred to her home town and another new roommate arrived - this one had broken her leg coaching ringette. She was in bad pain and cried and was quite demanding with the nurses but we did chat and got along okay. I pulled the curtain. As my pain was minimal I felt grateful as she was in terrible pain. I woke up the next morning and took the lid off my breakfast plate and gagged. I think it was supposed to be some kind of "egg" or more like an egg substitute...a pale yellow pile of goo. Looked like something my dog would have produced after eating a loaf of pumpernickel bread. (believe me, I know what I'm talking about) From then on I barely ate.
By now it was Thursday and I was supposed to go to my first physio session but they were too busy to see me. I started going to the toilet on my own. Getting in and out of the hospital bed involved sliding carefully over and cringing as my feet hit the floor. Not with pain but the feeling of a tight band around your leg...that isn't there. Something I still experience. Getting back in was interesting as it involved sitting on the bed and sliding backwards crab style over on the bed (pushing myself with my right foot - which got quite sore and still is) while pulling my left leg with a rope. Not exactly elegant. Getting in on the other side would have been much easier of course but there was no room for the walker. I had visitors that day but not as many as the previous day.
Friday I had my first physio session....the nurse gave me long pants to wear so that "my junk" (such an elegant expression) wouldn't be on display while doing the exercises. I still wasn't getting dressed - it was too much bother. Physio was an eye opener and I could barely do anything - you want me to do WHAT???
Being in bed and on narcotics does not make for being ahem..regular. I calculated I hadn't produced anything in five days and I am a "go everyday" kinda gal. So I asked if I could have something to clear me out and was given a laxative. Hours later nothing was working so I was given a suppository. Two hours later and nothing...one of the nurses suggested warm prune juice. Yum. Feeling bloated and ill I held my nose and drank it. Okay...I think that did it.
There were murmurings of me leaving on Saturday but as it turned out I was in until Monday. It turned out to be a shitty weekend in more ways than one. My nurse was kept busy cleaning up after me...oh yes did I mention there were no care aides on this unit. Just nurses. Absolutely ridiculous. A highly trained paid professional should not be bringing you ice, changing your bed sheets or cleaning up after you. I had to wear a diaper...yes a diaper. I tried to put one on myself and failed so there is nothing like a male nurse putting a diaper on you. I've had some pretty humiliating moments in my lifetime but that probably was the top one. Although thank goodness it wasn't the head nurse - he was a hotty and all my visitors sure liked him. :) Unfortunately he never came around too often. I closed my eyes with utter embarrassment and weakly joked "it's been a long time since someone has changed my diaper". When physio came to do exercises with me on Saturday I had to send her away as I knew trying to move around would make it worse. Saturday was a blur - I barely ate anything and got lots of practice getting in and out of bed to the bathroom.
By Sunday I was able to do exercises and the physio therapist said I did well. My friend Dorothy washed my hair in a hairdressing sink down the hall. How good that felt!!!
Monday I pushed myself to bend at 80 in physio so I could leave (and was in pain for the rest of the day) and after waiting all day for the surgeon (who is charming for a slice and dice kind of guy and not hard on the eyeballs at all....) to come and sign my prescription for Tylenol 3's I was "let loose" in the late afternoon. My friend June came to collect me in her SUV. I was so nervous about getting in and out but it worked out well. She picked up my prescription and stayed overnight to make sure I would be okay. We ordered in Vietnamese although I didn't eat much.
Since then I've coped on my own - when friends come over I get them to do odd jobs for me. I still need someone to change the sheets on my bed as I can't get close enough to one end with my walker. A friend who is a professional house cleaner helps me out from time to time and it's worth every penny. Actually I don't think my place has ever looked so clean. It's messy and reflects life with a walker but those carpets and floors are sure clean. Meals are simple but I'm now confident enough to use the oven without the fear of falling in. Now if I could only retrieve the pizza pan that somehow slid behind the drawer..but it requires pulling out the oven and that's not going to happen. I'm quite proud of how I have coped - yes I've had help but for 95% of the time I am on my own.
I started physio two weeks ago...4 sessions behind me and 4 to go. It's been frustrating as my bend is bad...I am still at 86 and that was with the PT pushing it until I wanted to punch him. I said "I'm cursing you in my head" and he said 'I know I can hear you"! My left quad flexor is weak - very weak. I was asked how long I've had problems with my left leg..almost three years..but I've been active. Y classes and walking. Even though I don't walk like I did I still walk more than a lot of people as I no longer have a car and so bus or walk places. So I guess I've been favouring my right leg which makes me very very nervous...but let's not even think about that one right now.
My appetite is back..sadly. I liked not caring whether I ate or not. I have lost weight because of that and believe me I need to lose weight. Loss of appetite is a side effect of the operation and drugs. I didn't feel sick - just was not hungry. A miracle!!! I had joined Weight Watchers in February so hope by the time I get back there next month I will at least be the same as I was if not a pound or two
I've mastered the art of having a shower on a bath chair without flooding the bathroom floor. It took a couple of attempts but I've aced it. I am super super careful as I don't want to fall and have to be rescued totally naked (I always try to remember to take a phone in with me)...because let's face it I'd be more upset over the naked bit than being hurt.
Things I've learned...1) That rubber band around your leg feeling is annoying. You can be sitting in bed feeling all nice and cozy and normal and once you put your foot on the floor it's there. Sometimes it's not but for me it mostly is. And I'm told it can last MONTHS. Oh dear.
2) Not only is it a physical journey but an emotional one. I cry at everything. I cry when I can't do my exercises properly and I cry when I do. I cry reading books and I cry watching movies. I watched "Bridget Jones's Baby" last night and cried - that's the third time I've seen it and I've never cried...I cry at things on Facebook. I cry looking at pictures of my doggie who died nearly 12 years ago. Yes I am a sobbing wet mess. And it's normal.
3) You shouldn't compare yourself to others on the same journey but you do. I wanted to slap the woman next to me at physio who was four weeks out like me but has a 113 bend. Then I wanted to cry...but I waited until I got home.
4) You find out who your true friends are....and oh boy I've got some wonderful friends. Family and friends who live elsewhere have been texting daily, sending cards and presents. Local friends have dropped by with food,given me rides where I need to go, picked up things I needed and brought sunshine into my life. My friend Dorothy has been a true life saver. She has had this operation herself and is my mentor. She calls me daily, has helped me with my exercises, picked things up and loaned me "toys" to do exercises with. I am so lucky. I hope I can mentor someone else who has this operation.
5) I've found out what loneliness feels like. A month of not going anywhere but to physio sessions can do that to you. As I mentioned I have friends visit which is fun but I miss being out in the world... I haven't eaten out in over a month...I can't even remember when that last happened. The 60's??? See #6 for the main reason.
6) Sitting is uncomfortable...half an hour of sitting is more than enough and when I get up I can barely move. So that means no coffee or meals out right now even if I could get into places with my clunky walker.
7) The healing process can take up to a year. And your knee will never be the same as your old knee. Okay maybe for some but for the majority..no. The fact I will never be able to run or ski does not bother me at all..the fact that I may not have the same flexibility does. All I can do is work on it and be patient.
8) Icing your knee feels good. I've never enjoyed icing my body parts until now...now it's "when can I ice again". Of course I would LOVE to have a warm heating pad on but at this stage that is not a good idea.
9) Your energy will be minimal for the first few weeks. After showering and dressing I was ready to head back to bed. Slowly it's coming back although please don't come to visit after a physio therapy session.
10) In the end it will be the best thing I have done for my body..well okay...that's a lie. But it's something I anticipate that I won't regret. (please!!!) Even at this stage I don't regret having it. I still have a long hard road ahead of me before the semblance of a normal life appears. But I am healthy and I am strong. I'm not battling cancer. I will emerge stronger than ever. I can do this!!