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Straight Story: A New Knee

Updated: Jan 18, 2020

December 17 was a day that will live in infamy, that is, in my skeletal world. According to two different orthopods, both of my knees were “shot.” After trying steroid injections and stem cell treatments in a somewhat desperate avoidance of surgery, I had the right knee replaced with a Smith and Nephew Journey 2 mechanical contraption just before Christmas.

Two female friends who’ve had this surgery confided that this was going to be a bitch. One said, “two weeks of hell,” and the other said “six weeks.” One male friend said it was no big deal, but he’s a guy who’s stronger than I am, not to mention his wife probably hovered about while he did nothing more than mend.

With no wife of my own, my timeline wound up in the middle. At four weeks and one day, I finally felt the incision pain ease, but that was not due to meds. The pain one feels from this surgery stems from a combination of things that include swelling, bruising, sawing off the tips of your femur and tibia, cutting away your ACL, PCL, and knee cap, having two metal pieces rammed into your bones, not to mention, a very long incision that runs on top of a joint that needs to bend when you walk. Yikes.

So Much for Opioid Addiction

Post-op, I madly took Oxycontin until I couldn’t handle the side effects, which included feeling dopey all the time and, ahem, terribly constipated. From there, I switched to Tramadol plus Acetaminophen, a combo that works fairly well, but not completely. Luckily, I don’t have opioid addiction, because over-the-counter meds are useless against this pervasive type of pain.

My surgeon warned me that I “was going to have trouble,” because my right knee was very knock-kneed (valgus), and the angle of correction was severe. When you get a mechanical knee, it’s straight, which is wonderful, but it’s also painful because your muscles, tendons, and ligaments keep trying to go the same direction they’ve been accustomed to for decades. Muscle relaxers helped immensely with this problem.

Evil Stockings and Cooking vs. My Guy

As loving as my husband is, he is a guy, and his idea of taking care of me and my idea of taking care of him are two different things. We almost got a divorce over the thigh-high compression stockings you are required to wear post-op to prevent swelling. These are torturous things that are impossible to pull on, even over a toe, not to mention your foot, calf, knee, and thigh.

Knowing this was not going to be Bill’s forte, I asked friends, family, and even my in-home PT therapist to put the stocking on for me, until the day arrived that it was just me and Bill, staring at each other with the realization that we had to do this ourselves and survive the experience.

Bill was under the mistaken impression that he was supposed to put the stocking on and yank it up my entire leg with one masculine swoop. After many pushes, pulls, twists, and swear words, with my yelling back, “slow and gentle,” Bill eventually learned at least to get the damn stocking on my foot. From there, I inched it upward. At night, I had to take the thing off, which was a similarly harrowing experience, until I was able to bend my knee well enough to apply and remove the stocking myself, which has saved our marriage.

Other than the stockings, the biggest issue for us has been meals, since I’m the family cook. Bill simply doesn’t know how to plan or prepare a meal. So we’ve been trying to find a solution that works. Most frozen or prepared foods, as well as restaurant meals, have far too much sodium for our diets. So, some nights we wound up eating steamed rice, cereal and milk, or even popcorn (real popcorn, real popper). The result is we’ve both lost weight, which is a good thing.

My Body Pillow and Ice, Ice, Ice

Nights have been the most difficult time, as I am a side sleeper, but you cannot lie on your side after knee replacement surgery. Believe me, I’ve tried all sorts of positions, but the throbbing was extreme. So I learned to sleep on my back. However, with the new knee in full extension on the mattress, the throbbing continued.

My physical therapist recommended a body pillow, which has been my salvation. It’s long enough that can I plop my entire leg on it to keep the knee elevated without a bended knee or pressure under the knee. This doesn’t ease all pain, but it does help with overnight swelling.

Another salvation has been ice packs. We keep six in the freezer and I use them on and off during the day, which is another “Ahhhhhhh, relief,” moment. Another is my CPM machine, an awkward contraption that raises, bends, and then extends my leg as I lie on the sofa. I hated it at first, but grew to love it as I realized how much good it did for me.

Pat’s Zoomer

A friend loaned me a caddy that fits on the front of the walker I had to use the first few weeks and also at night for potty runs. So that I didn’t have to wake Bill, I learned that I could whisper into my iPhone, “Flashlight On,” then slide the phone on the caddy front pocket to serve as my headlight as I went to the bathroom. One thing you have to do, though, is put the phone on silent, as the darn thing shouts back at you, "It's on!"

My husband thought my walker headlight was funny, so he bought me a license plate that says, “Pat’s Zoomer.” It’s about the only thing that has made me smile during this ordeal.

I Can’t Even Drown my Pain in Gin

Because I continue to take pain meds, I cannot enjoy my nightly martinis that I probably shouldn’t drink anyway. This has resulted in my losing weight—yay—and I’m considering giving up booze until I lose 50 pounds. If that’s all I needed to do, why in the world have I always been dieting? I’m happy to give up martinis for six months if I can get the pounds off. I have sampled a glass of wine now and then, so that’s an option if I’ve just gotta have a drink, but more than one glass of anything and Tramadol don’t mix.

The biggest mistake I’ve made was trying to do too much too soon. After three weeks, I started feeling a bit less pain, so I started doing things like cooking or laundry. Problem was, my knee would blow up with swelling and screaming pain. One area felt like a paring knife was stuck in my knee, and I simply could not overcome this stabbing feeling, even with double meds. This was the pain that lasted four weeks and one day.

So, to avoid aggravating it, I learned to simply lie in my CPM machine, ice the knee, and watch TV for hours, something I do not ordinarily do. My husband and I quickly grew weary of the 24-hour news rants, so we’ve been DVR-ing everything from “Blacklist” to “Stumptown,” “The Crown,” and “Lost in Space,” along with my favorite cooking shows on PBS, including “Lydia’s Kitchen” and “Milk Street.”

However, I refuse to endure Bill’s daytime taste in videos, which leans toward World War II military training films and archeological history of the Pyramids in Egypt. In fact, I told him that I cannot stand another documentary about King Tut, so I send him to his Batcave when he wants to watch stuff like that.

One huge disappointment has been my inability to sit at my iMac and complete final edits to my third novel BACKSTORY. Because my leg won’t bend beyond 75 degrees, I remain uncomfortable seated, and I cannot "computer" well enough with a laptop on my stomach.

The good news is, I begin out-patient physical therapy on Monday, so wish me luck. I look forward to sitting at my iMac again and completing the tasks to launch BACKSTORY.

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