Thelma (my knee replacement) and me four months later

Well, here it is over four months later.  And we're still here.  Sometimes I wondered if we would make it...

My last post about Thelma and me was one month out and oh boy have things ever changed and for the better.  Thank goodness.  This recovery has been brutal - both physically and emotionally.  And it's still not over. Recovery takes up to a year so I am one-third along.  

Last week the walker and the bathtub chair went back to Sask Abilities (free loan; you can't beat that) as I hadn't used them for a while. The walker was living life as a clothes hanger and the bathtub chair was taking up space in my bedroom.  Oh the joy of being able to have a shower without worrying about flooding the bathroom or hanging on to something to balance yourself.  No taking the phone in with me in case I need it...   I'm still using a cane when I go out although it swings around more than it hits the pavement if I am feeling sassy  - on more difficult days it is a lifesaver.  In my apartment building, I don't use anything but my legs.  Thelma is getting stronger by the day. 

At the end of June I was released from physiotherapy which was a total shocker. I had requested to see the physiotherapist with an idea of going to see him one on one rather than the classroom situation which was no longer working for me.  I was apprehensive as on a previous visit (when my bend was not progressing) he had moved my leg into positions that had me making a noise between a yip and a bark as it hurt so much. This time he was much more gentle - or maybe it was me who was that much more flexible...that leg flipped all over without me gritting my teeth (okay, maybe just a little) or making weird noises. He told me I was ready to go despite not being at the usual standard of a 110 degree bend that is usually aimed for in physiotherapy.  My maximum bend was 104 (and I was starting to go slightly backward for some reason which had me despondent) but he felt I could achieve 115 to 120 on my own eventually. The traditional way of heel slides (which are the work of the devil although I still do them daily) wasn't producing desired results and just had me frustrated. Trust me to be different. From early April to late June I attended a physiotherapy class twice weekly with a maximum of six of us.  At first, it was fun being able to talk to others who were going through the same thing but as others started leaving (and sometimes literally dancing out of there) physio with their 115 bend it got more and more frustrating.  More often than not I would leave therapy in tears.  Not all tears were unhappy - the whole physio team seemed to know that the day I achieved 100 on my bend I cried happy tears.  While I was relieved to leave physiotherapy there is a small part of me that feels like a failure at not achieving that 110.  And there is a coil of fear inside me that wonders "will I ever get there".  And how will I know if I do?  All I know is that my left leg is still behind my right one in every way.  

So in the meantime, I go to aquasize three times a week at the Y - moving in the water is so much easier.  My Y ladies are so encouraging as so many have had the surgery and think I am doing great which is a balm for my shattered ego.  On days when I don't do aquasize  (my physiotherapist told me to use my aquasize class as exercises for the day)  I faithfully do my exercises which are so much easier these days. (I no longer cry or need music to get me through - but a special thanks to Mick and the Stones for getting me through that first month - great music to curse along to) 

Sounds just ducky doesn't it?  While I have come a long way in the past three months I still suffer from stiffness and swelling.  While the days of icing my knee every 90 minutes are over (thank goodness!) I still ice and elevate regularly.  I'm told the stiffness can last a year....whaaat????  That is not going to work for me.  My knee is stiff 98% of the time - doing the dreaded heel slides helps a bit as does using the little mini cycle a friend loaned me but I get about a minute or two of "normal" and then it's back to the usual heaviness and stiffness.  My biggest fear is that this will be my permanent "normal".  I've been assured it will leave eventually but it's behaving like a houseguest who doesn't leave. Get the hell out or start paying me rent!


Lessons I have learned in the past four months 

1.  Patience is a virtue.  And it's one I don't have.  I want to get back to "normal" sooner rather than later even though I know that recovery takes up to a year.  It will come in its own sweet time but why does it seem to happen sooner to others and not meeee?  (insert pouty face) Which brings me to my next lesson.  

2. Don't compare yourself to others.  Okay, I am still learning this one.  As I mentioned earlier I struggled in the class situation when others who had their surgery after me had a much better bend.  I obsessed over my bend - just ask my friends and family. It's all I cared about.  My extension (straightening) was 0 which is perfect and good extension is much more important than how much you can bend as otherwise you limp..permanently.  I felt like the loser in the room and even joked to the PT staff that I would be bringing them in chocolates at Christmas time.  I clapped when my fellow 'students' got a higher bend even though inside I may have been seething with jealousy. I  pouted and quietly shed a tear or two when four people in my class (who incidentally had their surgery well after mine) almost danced out of physiotherapy the day they all 'graduated'.  I feel like I never graduated but was the kid that they just couldn't do anything more for.  After all it took me five weeks...yes five weeks for my leg to elevate straight up. Most people could lift their leg in days. Mine went sideways like a boss but straight up?  Nope.  It turned out that my quads on my left leg were shot - me, the walker!  Who knew? I guess my right leg was really working overtime.  They started doing special exercises involving me laying on my side with them pulling my leg with a rope - the humiliation must have worked as one evening after just one of those sessions the leg just popped up.  After five weeks of trying I was totally shocked but over the moon.  I jokingly still refer to myself as the "special needs" person in the physio class.  Let's just say my self esteem was in tatters.

3. It's a emotional journey  I have lost both my parents, aunts and uncles and my much adored doggie and other pets and I grieved them all yet I have never cried as much as I have cried these past four months.  Some in physiotherapy but most of it at home.  There was the usual crying at the pain of doing my exercises because darn it, at the beginning it really really hurts.  There's the frustration in the early days of even getting some of the props you need to do your exercise set up because your leg does not go where you want it to go and when you are single there is no one to help you. (although having a partner would not assure me of that anyway according to my cohabitating friends)   However mostly it is just every day life - watching a television program or movie and something you would not think of twice I started crying.  I cried looking at picture of my dog.  Sometimes I thought I was going a bit insane. More insane than normal that is.  There is the fear you will never feel normal again so I cried about that as well.  It's all part of the journey - the drugs and the very invasive surgery have their side effects and sadly this is one of them.  As always, not everyone falls into this trap.  You will be happy to know I am past this phase thank goodness!  

4. Don't let other people's (unrealistic) expectations get you down  You will no doubt hear about that aunt who practically danced out of the hospital after their knee surgery.  Or the brother-in-law  who never needed to use a cane.  Well bully for them.  Until you have gone through this surgery you haven't got a friggin clue. Your leg has almost been amputated and then put back together. Apparently the tissues inside your knee and area look like hamburger meat. Tell them to watch the You Tube video on Knee replacement and get back to you on that. Not that I have watched it thank you very much - I still have a right knee that will need replacing some day and I just don't want to know.  Knee replacement surgery is one of the toughest surgeries there is.  I ran into a former co-worker a few weeks back whose mother-in-law had recent knee surgery as well as two previous open heart surgeries.  Apparently she said the knee replacement recovery was tougher than both of those surgeries.  I was the subject of gossip in my apartment building because I was advised not to walk further than a half block by my therapists due to the swelling. (until finally they got tired of me whining about wanting to go to the farmers market and told me to go for it - I've never looked back) One woman (biggest gossip in the building) said that obviously I was not doing my exercises and that's why I couldn't walk.  That really hurt especially as she had no idea of the facts. Stepping into the elevator a month or so ago a woman innocently said to me "it's sure taking you a long time to recuperate isn't it.  I know lots of people who recovered faster than you did".  Well gee thanks.... Don't EVER say that to someone recuperating from anything whether it's a loss, an injury or surgeryI know she did not mean it in a hurtful way but the emotional thing cuts in and it's taken personally.  

5. Find a mentor  Try and find someone who has been through this before.  I was so lucky to have my friend Dorothy who had been through this two years previously.   I hadn't been around when she had the surgery or through her recuperation as I was away for my dream six months then.  I phoned and cried in her ear many a time and she sympathized and never judged as she had "been there, done that". I honestly don't know how I could have done it without her.  She even loaned me some tools to help with my exercises.  She knew all about the emotional thing and didn't say "put your big girl pants on" and I appreciated that.  I hope to become a mentor myself so I am putting it out there right now - feel free to contact me through this page or Facebook if you or anyone you know is facing this surgery. 

6. Get support online  If you can have both a mentor AND support online like I did you are lucky.  And I was.  Facebook has knee replacement support groups which are invaluable.  Even though I didn't post much it was so informative and encouraging to read how others are coping with the same things you are.  Okay there are always the ones who post their over the top successes like walking three blocks without a cane five days after surgery (seriously...he even posted a video...bastard!) but most of us aren't rock stars and we rejoice in the accomplishments and sympathize with each other when things aren't great.  You just have to resist comparing yourself....

7. Have a support system - I was very lucky to have the support of family, friends and neighbours. Local friends and neighbours phoned, texted and brought food and groceries when they visited. Others like my sister and good friends lived far away but still texted and messaged and phoned.  I appreciated it all and can't even imagine going through this on my own. I'm not even going to start listing off names because I will forget someone. You know who you are.  As I said in my previous post you sure find out who your true friends are...The fact that people reached out to me was invaluable.  For those first few months I didn't feel like reaching out as I really had nothing to talk about unless you wanted to hear about my physio therapy session or hear me whining (okay I confess..it was full scale bitching) about how bored I was and what a black hole my life was.  Oh yeah and my rotten bend...they heard all about that too. They rejoiced when I texted or messaged my latest bend number and consoled me when it wasn't good news.  My friends and family came through for me and I will love them forever for this.

8.  I still fantasize about icing my knee.  Yes after a long walk it is all I can think about while on the homeward trek..while I'm not icing nearly as much it still feels SO good!  Who knew?

9. I'll probably never be able to soak in a bathtub again.  I used to love soaking in a bath but it got more and more difficult to manoeuvre in and out of.  Getting out involved rolling onto my knees and hauling myself out.  Once you have a knee replacement you can no longer put your knee on a hard surface.  As much as I am diligent about doing my squats I don't think my knees will ever be strong enough to lift myself straight up out of a tub. Then again one of the last exercises physio wanted me to do was kneel on my bed or a soft surface with my legs dangling over and pull them up - luckily I left physio shortly after and that exercise was promptly dropped from my regime. I try to do new things most days and am gradually increasing my walking distance. Simple things like crossing a major street before the pedestrian light turned to 0 had me pumping my fist in the air and yelling "yes". (which got me a few strange looks)  I have walked twice in my beloved Wascana Park with friends and it's been fantastic.  I've been out for meals and events with friends.  I turned 65 a couple of weeks ago and I didn't go quietly.  Slowly but surely my life is coming back.

Yes, life is looking good.  I am going on a short getaway next month with some walking buddies.  In mid September I am finally off on another holiday.  Yes!!!  My travels will take me to Toronto/Hamilton, Buffalo, New York, North Carolina, Detroit and area and Chicago.  I will be gone just over a month visiting family and friends which is a gentle way to introduce Thelma into our life of adventures and see how she behaves.  I will be going to two Paul McCartney concerts so I've been working on Thelma's boogying skills.  They do need some work. The day I booked my first flight of the trip you would have had to slap me to get the grin off my face. However, my dream of traveling in Asia next winter remains a dream at this point.  I will do it but it will have to wait until I feel confident I can handle it. It all seems a bit daunting at the moment.  That doesn't mean I don't have a stack of guide books from the library for Sri Lanka and South India that I peruse now and again and dream. I  am a champion dreamer.  It will happen - I'm just not sure when.  The upcoming trip will help to determine whether I am ready or not.  As soon as I am ready I will be off.

My first walk in Wascana Park since last year - and on my birthday!  (the cane was sitting by a tree - I was showing off! )


So to quote my favourite band:  "I have to admit it's getting better. It's getting better all the time!".


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