The Long and Winding Road

Recovery–I’m finding its a long and winding road, with lots of unexpected twists and turns in it. My knee hurts… haha. I guess that’s how its supposed to be. But with those amazing pain meds, I was deceived into thinking that I ALONE was going to have THE MOST AMAZING PAIN-FREE RECOVERY from knee replacement surgery.

Anyway, here’s some of the unexpected things I’ve discovered along the way. One day a few weeks ago, my knee started hurting. So I touched it. It was WARM! My other knee was cool to the touch. I went a whole night tossing and turning, thinking there was an infection starting. In the morning I consulted Dr. Google. Oh. That’s how its supposed to be–the red cells are in there working to repair everything. As a nurse, I probably should have known this. And I am still wondering–was that the first time I touched my knee????

Here’s another weird, but good side effect. My tastes are changing. I don’t like my coffee as strong, so I started using the thrift store Mr. Coffee to make my morning coffee–just right. And I don’t want coffee in the afternoon at all anymore. Along with that, I don’t like the taste of my protein bars any more. This is good, because its a habit I’ve been trying to break for a while. I found this old recipe for Banana Split Bars, and I do love it–all natural foods. If I’m really hungry in the afternoon, I’ll have one. I also like them for breakfast. I follow the recipe exactly (I know, unusual for me.) But I can see how it would be easy to vary the add-ins. I do cut them into 12 bars instead of 16, which makes them 190 calories.

I went back to physical therapy, to a different therapist. What a difference! And they are giving me quite a workout. Although I only have to do the exercises once a day, instead of three times a day. I was having trouble with what I thought might be my hamstrings. When I went for my check-up, the doctor called it tendonitis, and said to just wait, it might resolve of its own accord. When I went back to physical therapy, I talked to him about this. I had started to have an inkling that it might be more related to my back problems. He agreed with me, and he altered some of the exercises to be easier on my back.

After the surgery I had to take a big aspirin for 40 days to prevent blood clots. And during those 40 days I couldn’t take my meloxicam, which really seems to work for my arthritis. A week ago I got to start taking my meloxicam again, and it really does help with so many of my aches and pains. Even my back has calmed down a bit.

Then one day over a week ago, my heel started hurting. I mean, REALLY HURTING. I had plantar fasciitis 26 years ago, and it was MISERABLE, and I was afraid that this is what had happened to my heel. My heel still hurts, but I don’t think its plantar fasciitis (thank goodness!) and my PT agrees with me. But if I stepped on a rock and bruised my bone, it will take a while to get over. (Oh, and have I complained about how long it takes anything to heal at my age??) Its my right heel, so that makes walking just hunky dory with my knee and my heel hurting on the same side.

Another thing that’s different? I feel like I am doing remedial exercise. When I think about what I used to do before the surgery, and what I do now? Its just pitiful. But on the other hand, I am doing those darn knee exercises every single day, and adding in a short walk, or going to the gym to get on the bike (no resistance) for 10 minutes, and getting in the pool for 10-15 minutes. I am still doing my same upper body weight machine exercises.

You can see why I was avoiding talking about my knee and recovery. This is just one long complaint-fest. But maybe it’ll help someone else who has had or is contemplating knee surgery.

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Best Friend

Undoubtedly, one of the biggest factors in the success of my post-op recovery was having my best friend, Robin, here to help me. Robin and I met almost 30 years ago, when both of us were avid spinners (spinning fiber into yarn.) I made luxury fiber blends of pretty colors to sell to spinners, and Robin had a fiber and yarn shop attached to her big barn, where she sold to other spinners. One day she approached me and asked if I would be interested in selling my fiber to her at a wholesale rate so she could stock it in her shop. I sent her a very complex (some might say convoluted) list of how much/how discounted I could sell it for. And so we began a little business arrangement. We still laugh about that selling list that I sent to her. Then one day Robin sent out a flyer for a “Fiber Retreat” that she was going to have on her farm, with classes and everything. I worked up all my nerve, and called her and asked in a squeaky voice if she would be interested in having me teach. I didn’t know until years later that I actually asked to be paid more than any of the other teachers! And so for several years we spent a week together (along with about a hundred other ladies) on her wonderful farm. One day, Robin’s husband was given tickets to an Elton John concert. He had no interest in going, and so Robin asked if I wanted to go with her. Did I?!!!! Boy, that was a fun night. And then one day I asked Robin if she wanted to come down to my house for a visit. Robin came in, sat down, and started talking all about her family and life. Robin still remembers the surprised look on my face. Whoa, were we actually going to talk about something other than fiber and spinning and knitting and weaving? And that was the start of our friendship. That was also the weekend that Robin brought a special coffee cake. And my two dachshunds got up on the table TWICE to eat the coffee cake. Robin dubbed them “the bad little girls.”

Robin and I have so many things in common–our love of fiber-related arts (we both transitioned from spinning and knitting to quilting,) our faith, and a good sense of humor.

So when Robin, who cares for her husband, her parents, and her grandchildren, offered to come and take care of me after surgery so I wouldn’t have to go to a rehab facility, it was a big deal. I had so many little worries. I think my little worries were my way of dealing with the bigger situation–I wasn’t at all worried about the surgery or the outcome of the surgery. Instead I concentrated on all the little things–

  • would my dogs be brats when Robin came?
  • would I be in a lot of pain and be crabby with Robin?
  • would I be able to bend down to feed the little girls, or even pet them?
  • would I be able to get into bed by myself and into the shower by myself?

The list of little worries went on and on. And almost all of them were unnecessary. Yes, my girls were brats when Robin came. But fortunately, Robin likes dogs. Surprisingly, I could bend down to feed the dogs and pet them after just a couple of days. I could get into  bed by myself, and I got into the shower by myself. And Robin was wise and let me do the things I enjoyed doing–“cooking dinner” which sometimes involved thawing pre-cooked frozen shrimp and microwaving ears of corn. Before she left, I was feeding the dogs by myself. And the pain was so much less than either of us had anticipated that we were able to enjoy each other’s company and have a little fun. There was a LOT of sitting and watching movies. Robin brought lots of little quilty projects to work on.

Before my surgery I had found a nice nightgown at Walmart for only $5! Robin went to Walmart, and got me a second one, and got herself two of the same. We called it our post-op uniform 🙂

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Chloe adopted Robin. She stayed in Robin’s lap, and Bess stayed with me, to keep the fights to a minimum. Zoey also got her fair share of Robin’s lap time.

By the time Robin left, I was ready to take care of myself. I called my “babysitter” and told her I wouldn’t need her to help me (I had arranged for my doggie babysitter to come and help me after Robin left.)

After Robin left, I saw Zoey sitting in the dining room staring at Robin’s empty chair. And then she trotted over and jumped up to look out the window to see if she was coming back. It was so cute.

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Finding friends is not always easy. And finding a best friend like Robin is a treasure.

 

Recovery

And here is where the longer story takes place. Although my experience with post-op pain was not as bad as I had expected, I have come to realize that returning to “normal life” is going to take a little longer.

Doing exercises three times a day is somewhat daunting. But I am determined to keep those up. I’ve found that I need long naps, sometimes two or three a day! For a non-napper, this is a big change! But I am embracing the nap 🙂

Shelley named Sophie “the Healer Dog.” I put her on the bed with me when I do my exercises. Here is the Healer Dog trying to encourage me:

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Noah returned home after two weeks, and after a couple of days, I decided to start taking longer walks with him. I was pretty excited this morning when my walk was as long as I had been taking pre-surgery! I walk slowly, but I feel steadier on my feet, and it is such a wonderful feeling to walk for that long and NOT limp. I know that I am still on pain medicines, but it is amazing how much limping made other body parts hurt.

Icing after exercise is another part of the recovery. The hospital sent me home with a lot of disposable ice packs so it has been very convenient to rotate those in the freezer to have ready when needed.

This week I went to PT for the first time. It was very disappointing… It might be partly because I am doing so well, and partly because I was already doing the exercises that needed to be done… anyway, it was a disappointing experience. The one thing I did garner from it was that getting on a bicycle would be helpful for recovery. I’m pretty excited about this. In a week I should be able to drive, and I will be going to the gym for biking sessions, and shortly after that I will be able to get back in the pool.

I still have good days and bad days. The bad days aren’t so much about knee pain as they are about just feeling terrible. And when I feel terrible, things just seem to multiply on that day. Like, last Saturday, I woke up just feeling bad. Then the neighbor’s dog kept coming down and making Noah bark like crazy. So then I made all the dogs come inside for a while. A few hours later, I decided to let the little girls out to see if the coast was clear, and Chloe started barking very insistently. I went to see what she was barking at, and it was a HUGE rattlesnake coiled up on a rock inside my yard!!! Eek. Wrangled all four girls back in the house while I was calling my neighbor to come and kill the snake. Before he got here the snake started to move. I didn’t want him to disappear in my garden somewhere, and so I went and stood about ten feet from it, which worked. Yep. That was a very bad day :/

Overall, I think I am doing better than most who have had knee replacement surgery. I’m sure that it was a partial knee replacement is one reason. Another is all the prayer that has taken place. And of course, I would like to think that a big part of it is that I remained active and continued to do my exercises up until the day before surgery.

I have to remind myself that it will take time to get back to normal, and to not be impatient.  I am actually very excited about “Debby 2.0” as Shelley named the post-op me.

 

Day Two

Maybe a better title would be: Reality Sets In. Because I got a partial knee replacement, I would be going home today! So there was a lot to get done before I could be discharged. The physical therapist came in, and got me up to walk again. The walking wasn’t so bad, but that’s when the nausea started. (Do you all remember that that was one of the things I was most worried about? I had talked to EVERYONE about that.) Didn’t make it back to my room before I motioned to the big cups at the nurses’ station. And the puking began…

Back in my bed, the nausea subsided, and so the P.T. taught me the three exercises that I would be doing THREE TIMES A DAY when I got home. Then I told her that I had one step–7 inches to be exact (the paperwork they had given me ahead of time told me to measure any steps.) So off she went to get a big box that was 7 inches high, so she could teach me how to go up and down a step. “Up with the good, down with the bad.” (good knee, bad knee.) That is EXTREMELY good advice. Of course, standing up led to puke number two. Then back in bed for the inevitable wait for things to get done for a discharge. And somewhere in there I did get VERY ANGRY that they were taking so long to get me the anti-nausea medicine……

Back up one more time to get dressed for the drive home. Puke number three. I told the nurse to give us some of the blue pads and some of those big cups for the drive home. I was very worried about throwing up in Robin’s car (Robin, my best friend came down to take care of me after surgery.)

Amazingly, I did not throw up on the long drive home (1 1/2 hours.) And when we got home, Robin brought me what I named “manna from heaven.” Truly, these little treasures became my favorite meal over the next few days!

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I never threw up again. I guess the anti-nausea medicine (ondansetron) they prescribed did the job. It was a very expensive medicine because my insurance company would only pay for nine pills! I paid for another nine of them.

The pain medicine I was on was oxycodone, which I alternated with tylenol. With these two drugs, as well as the nerve blocker that I went home with, the pain I experienced was minimal, especially compared to what I had been expecting. Oh, and regularly icing my knee helped too. They sent me home with quite a few reusable ice packs as well as a nice sleeve to put them in.

Barb, a blog reader, sent me this hilarious cartoon, along with some wonderful chicken fabric! Barb is a quilter and has had TKR surgery, and was so helpful and encouraging to me before the surgery.

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They sent me home with a walker, and I had gathered a lot of handicapped equipment before I left for the surgery: a bedside commode, side rails for the toilet, a shower chair, and a reacher/grabber thing. I never used the bedside commode. The toilet side rails were VERY helpful, and of course the shower chair was used for about a week. I never did use the reacher/grabber thingy, but Robin said it was very useful for retrieving something that fell way under a table! I stopped using the walker after a week too. I thought I would need a cane after that, and had one in my Amazon cart, but I have felt more steady on my feet than before the surgery!

Here I Am!

Well, its taken this long for me to work up enough energy to sit at the computer and type out a report. There’s so much to tell, and maybe it will help someone else who is contemplating total knee replacement, so I think I might write several installments about my experience.

Overall, I will just say that it has been a good experience, and so much better than I imagined. From what I heard from everyone, I expected the post op pain to be really bad and to need a LOT of help. But let’s start at the beginning.

I arrived at the hospital bright and early–5:30 am on Thursday morning (July 20.) Got checked in and started all the pre-op preparations. One of the things I had been disturbed about was that I would not get to talk to the anesthesiologists until the morning of surgery. But I have to say, I was so very pleased with the anesthesiologists. I think they might have heard of my complaints. They came in and sat down and spent a lot of time listening to me and talking to me. My main concern was that I wanted to have conscious sedation, but I did not want to be aware of anything during surgery. Their main concern was that I have some scoliosis in my back, and so they were not sure they could do an epidural. And that would mean I would have to have general anesthesia, which I was hoping to avoid. So, I signed the consent for general, but they were going to try the epidural first. And then they walked out, but two minutes later walked back in and said that my doctor had a good idea–they could do a spinal shot and the conscious sedation, and then after surgery was complete, they would come and put a nerve block in that leg! So everyone was very happy with that plan.

The conscious sedation worked wonderfully, because I had not a bit of awareness of the surgery. And then my doctor came in and told me he had been able to do a partial knee replacement!! Wow, I was so happy. The previous week my knee had hurt so much I was fully prepared to have a total knee replacement.

I stayed in the recovery room for most of the day, and by 6pm I was taken to the orthopedic floor. So no PT that first day. But, my doctor came in to check on me at 10 pm that night! He asked if I had gotten up yet, and I think he went and talked to the nurse about it, because pretty soon she came in and asked if I wanted to dangle off the side of the bed. And then, she asked if I wanted to try walking, and I walked the entire length of the hallway!! She paged my doctor to come and see what I had accomplished.

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That was an excellent first day, and I think I’ll end there, and write more tomorrow.