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28 Days Later – After Total Knee Replacement Surgery January 20, 2013

Posted by alwaysjan in Health, Personal.
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kneecap

I’ve never gone so long without writing a new blog post, but then I didn’t know that Santa was bringing me a new knee for Christmas.  Nothing says Merry Christmas like jingle bells on a walker. Ho Ho NO!

Six years ago when I had arthroscopic surgery on my right knee for a torn meniscus, the surgeon informed me that I had the knee of an 80-year-old woman. I was considered too young for joint replacement, so the “conservative” measures began. A strap on knee brace that made me look robotic. I saw the look on a student’s face when they got a glimpse of it one day under my skirt and ended up doing my own Show and Tell. The kids thought it was pretty cool. But, in reality, it was hot and itchy since it was all synthetic. Then there were Cortisone injections that did nothing. And for two years, I worked with a personal trainer to strengthen the muscles around my damaged kneecap. I was on prescription meds, but the doctor worried that ultimately they could damage my liver. “Geez, if I’m going to blow out my liver, I could just do that with alcohol,” I said. The doctor nodded sympathetically.

Meanwhile the two flights of stairs at my old school loomed. Up and down a dozen times a day. Some days people asked if I was limping. A peg leg was beginning to seem like a viable option. My last option was an injection of an organic substance made from chicken combs (I’m not naming names). It was worth a shot (no pun intended). Oh, the jokes about whether I would sprout feathers or lay an egg. But a week later, the pain had only grown worse.

On a walking field trip to the nearby bookstore, I winced and hobbled. I resorted to doing my Lamaze breathing. One of the oh-so-nice parents asked delicately, “Are your wearing new shoes?” By the time we arrived at the bookstore, I had to sit down. If I was a boxer, I would have been down for the count. Later I hobbled back to the school and then home to book a sub. That was the end of November.

I went to see a new surgeon. He thought I was one of the less than 1 percent who have an allergic reaction to the chicken combs. Great. But, when he said he could do the surgery just before Christmas it was music to my ears. He pulled no punches, “For the first 12 weeks you’re going to hate me, but after that….you’re going to LOVE me!”

So, it’s been a month now. The three days in the hospital were doable as the IV painkillers did their job and you’ve gotta love those nurses. I was even visited by a volunteer with “Happy” the therapy dog. But then it was time to go home. The night before I was released my husband returned to find boxes lined up on our front porch. Enough equipment to start a convalescent home. Hey it’s three seats in one – a chair, a commode AND you can sit in the shower in it! Oh the look of horror on my husband’s face. “I’m no nurse,” he said proclaiming what has always been obvious. It was seeing me using a walker that unnerved him the most. When after a week I finally decided I needed to get my hair cut, he drove me up to the side door, let me out, then sped away so no one would see him with me.

Each morning I settled in for the day on the couch with my leg in the CPM (Continuous Passive Motion) machine. Our dog, Layla, didn’t appreciate losing her el primo spot on the couch to this whirring machine. I’d hoped to read, but mostly I laid in a zombified state while my knee went through the spin cycle. My husband, Richard, is an amazing cook so I was served breakfast each morning with the admonishment, “You better not get used to this!”

I don’t know how people manage to go through this operation who have a family who expects them to soldier on. I literally did nothing but watch movies and read. I followed comments on my blog. Friends texted daily. My husband usually works at home upstairs, so if I needed something, he was only a text away. He cooked three incredible meals a day.

Initially a physical therapist came to the house. After the first visit she informed me I’d need ice next time – and not for drinks. After two weeks I graduated to outpatient therapy. I actually drove to my first appointment, feeling like I was finally out amongst the living.

It’s now 28 days later. The guy hauled away the CPM, so Layla has reclaimed her spot on the couch. Last Thursday the physical therapist kicked my butt. He had me on my belly with something like a dog leash attached to my ankle that I had to pull on to raise my leg behind me. S&M. That day I told him my new nickname for him was “The Mangler.”

“If you don’t climb the mountain, you can’t see the view” is a quote I often tell my students, so I shall continue to claw my way up the mountain rock by rock even on days when gaining a foothold seems almost impossible. I can’t complain. I have insurance and I’m in pain because I’m getting better not worse. I’ve done the math. I should be “in love” by St. Patrick’s Day though I have to go back to work before then. I’ll have to settle for being “in like”.

So for this and all my family and friends who’ve been there for me, I am so grateful. Santa may have brought me a new knee, but he also brought me a new appreciation for all that is truly important in my life. Happy New Year!

To find out what came next, read Not A Leg to Stand On.

Drawing by Colby

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Comments»

1. Richard Marshall - January 21, 2013

Okay. I don’t mind all that much being your nurse. Just wouldn’t consider it as a possible mid-life career change.

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2. Ticia riche - January 21, 2013

Kudos to Colby – Lovely rendering of you ;)

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3. Tracy - January 21, 2013

Wow Jan- poor you! I have a UK friend who is being told the same, & she is trying the arthroscopy first, too. When I read about the cortisone, I sort of cringed- it’s fine in the very short term, but long-term it ended up dissolving the connective tissue in my mother’s toes (she constantly tripped & stumbled if not diligent about lifting her feet)…not trying to be a downer- just a word of warning in case you hadn’t been told?

I sure hope it keeps healing in the fashion is has so far. Keep up on the exercise & if you have access to a heated pool, that’s very good for recovery.

Now, we’ll all be waiting for your St. Pats report!

;^)

Hi Tracy,
When I had the arthroscopic surgery for my torn meniscus, they took photos of what was going on inside my knee. It looked like the Big Bang in progress. I was told the torn meniscus was the tip of the proverbial iceberg. I had severe damage beneath my kneecap (set off I believe by an injury in college). Replacing the kneecap is not nearly as effective as replacing the entire joint. I was informed that with my new knee, I no longer have any cartilage to worry about as it’s “gone baby gone.” Yes, I hope to be able to dance a jig by St. Paddy’s Day. :) Jan

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Tracy - January 22, 2013

I should have been more specific: the destruction of my mother’s connective tissue in her toes came about after long-term cortisone injections in her spine- which was the alarming part.

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4. Source B - January 21, 2013

Best of luck & health with your recovery, Jan!

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5. Catherine Sherman - January 21, 2013

Wow, I knew you had to endure a lot, but I had no idea of all of the contraptions involved. Hurrah, for Richard’s gourmet meals, although you didn’t need a new knee just to enjoy them.

When I heard about your impending surgery, I started to feel a twinge in my own knee. I always think, when I hear of some ailment, that it won’t happen to me, but I’m crumbling to bits myself. We take our good health for granted. I know you’ll be back in great shape soon! When we next get together, we’ll do a lot of walking — unless my knee goes out!

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6. shoutabyss - January 21, 2013

Husbands do not make good nurses. Our bedside manner leaves a lot to be desired. It’s not intentional. We just don’t know what to do. Even if, when the tables are turned, we are great big babies and demand ten times more in return.

I’m glad you had him there for you when the chips were down. I know how it feels because my wife recently went through something very similar. She dubbed me “The Hopper” since I spent an entire month at her beck and call.

The drawing rocks, and so did the shot pun. Chicken combs? I won’t ask.

It’s over, you triumphed, and you’re going to be better than ever before! So yeah for that part of it! I can’t even begin to imagine. You got guts.

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7. Lesley - January 21, 2013

Personally I loved your description of ‘The Mangler’….!

This post really is a bit of Sunshine after the Pain(Rain)!!

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8. trenzullo - January 22, 2013

You are greatly missed at McK.
I’ve been plotting the takeover of a certain first floor classroom, with its own bathroom, for you. It sounds like that won’t be necessary with your new bionic abilities. Maybe we should meet at church to offer up some thanks.

Thanks for thinking of me. A bathroom of my own. Be still my heart! I made the mistake of telling my students that my new knee would have wifi. Now how to pull off that hoax. The stairs will be doable but I won’t be sprinting around the field for the Jog-a-thon. Yes, we should meet at “church” where I’m simply known as “The Cider Lady.” LOL Jan

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9. 12 and 2 - January 22, 2013

I know at least one little girl who is *literally* counting the days until you’re back. Seriously.

We miss you!

Ahhh,
Be still my heart! Jan

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10. phil835 - January 29, 2013

Hi Jan,

You’re mystery blooger has returned in a short cameo and places a box of ‘Milk Tray’ Chocolates on your bedside cabinet!;) The note reads ‘Get well soon’ !

Kind regards and best wishes to you!!

P.S. You might have to ask Les explain that one, I’m alluding to a 1970’s British TV Commercial which Les may just be able to remember! ;))

All the Best

Phil

Phil,
It IS you because no one else could spell blogger so that it resembles booger! Ha! Lesley said something about work – always a good thing. We’re in daily contact just so I can send her pictures of the orange tree in my front yard to torture her. I shall find the commercial of which you speak. My English Lesley arrives on Monday for 10 days and she’s a treasure trove of info as well. Hope all is well wherever you are. :) Always, Jan P.S. My knee steadily improves but DANG this is hard work.
Always, Jan

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11. phil835 - January 30, 2013

lololol I was rumbled! When the Milk Tray man makes spelling mistakes on his own calling card, who else could it be? ;)))
(Apart from the editor or the Guardian newspaper, but you probably don’t know him)
The Guardian is a UK broadsheet newspaper, mainly read by our ‘liberal intelligensiia’. In years gone by it was famous for it’s spelling mistakes and typos. Legend has it that in one edition, they even managed to mispell their name on the title of the front page!))
That’s my useless trivia and insight into UK for you Jan
Hope your recovery progresses well.
Pihl ;)

Hey Milk Tray Man,
I saw some of the ads on YouTube and yes, this is just how I picture you. Special Ops with a box of chocolate. Can once be a member of the intelligentsia if you can’t spell it? LOL We’ve missed you. :) Jan

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les - January 30, 2013

Phil is in the house!
Firstly stop pretending you don’t remember the Milk Tray ad!
Secondly, I kept quiet about it I know…but I actually thought (before I was privy to your real job)…that you wrote for the Guardian?!
Surely that explains the spelling I reasoned……ha!

Les

ps. I knew your ‘Cameo’ would turn into a Encore!

Lesley,
I enjoyed your links to YouTube. How did we not see those in the U.S.? We’ve got no culture (only spelled with a “K”) My English Lesley was horrified when we offered her chocolate with lime and chili. The Milk Tray Man is a bit like the Tooth Fairy!
Jan

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12. carlascorner - February 1, 2013

Jan: Thanks for your humorous and enlightening post, and best wishes for your speedy recovery. I’ve got a knee replacement in my future and I find the best information is really from the patients who have gone through the procedure. Of course, I’ve already had a hip and a shoulder replaced (thanks to Rheumatoid Arthritis), so you think I’d be used to the drill by now. Hope that you’re quickly back to your classroom and your friends who obviously love you (judging from the many wonderfuls posts).

Hi Carla,
Thanks so much for your comment. I have a dear friend who’s a teacher in another district who was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. It’s hasn’t come to joint replacement – yet. The doc and so many others have said that hip replacement is a “walk in the park” compared to the knee. I agree. Yesterday I had my 6-week follow-up with the doctor everything is going as it should. When I went to read about knee replacements online before, I somehow always managed to end up on sites where something went wrong. It was not encouraging at all, especially as this is an operation with a high rate of success. I’ve come to realize the key is in the physical therapy. The “at home” physical therapy was a start, but I was fortunate in that I got into a facility within two weeks (as I remember). Also, I read about the soldier who lost his legs and his arms and was wildly excited to have some restored use with his prosthetic arms. That was so moving and made me realize that my “mountains to climb” are but hills to others. :) Jan

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13. Donna - February 9, 2013

Hi Jan, I just found out from Les that you had the knee surgery, I am so glad you are on the road to recovery. Hopefully you will make giant steps in your therapy. I know that pain from a surgery can really throw you for a loop.

Take Care and get better soon.

Sending hugs and blessings your way, Donna

Donna,
Thanks for your kind wishes. It’s now Week 7 and there are days when I feel like I’m doing great and others when I need a good cry. My sick leave runs out next week, so the incentive to push myself is real. I’m doing the best I can and look forward to the day when I “love” my surgeon. Don’t think that will happen by Valentine’s Day though. LOL Jan

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14. perthians - March 12, 2013

My mum who is always positive fell into depression because it takes so long to heal. She’s back to her old self now, hope you will be too.

Perthians,
I only wanted to die in my sleep the first week. It’s not uncommon for people who were in good health to suffer from depression after major surgery. Fortunately for me, I’ve been a poster child for Prozac for 23 years. Jan

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