I am now thirty-two days post bilateral knee replacement surgery, and I thought I’d share some of the surprising and often humbling lessons and experiences so far. I hope you can make it through all this. I tried to make it entertaining.
Knees, I command you to extend!
I never imagined that one of the biggest challenges after surgery would be straightening my legs. I thought my legs were straight, but just because I can accomplish full Uttanasana (standing forward fold), does not mean I’m straightening my legs. My physical therapist said that was all well and good, but I was just straining the tendons rather than using muscles. The straightening was not really straight anyway. I looked in the mirror just to see. I am walking with a modified Neanderthal gait, legs bent, body slightly hunched, knuckles dragging on the ground. The result has been a low back that aches so badly by the end of the day that it literally feels like it’s on fire, swollen legs, also aching so badly that all I want to do is curl up in the fetal position and cry.
So, my rehab program includes releasing my psoas muscles with a Thera-Cane, which also makes me cry some mornings. I keep a box of Kleenex by my yoga mat. Then, I release the muscles of my lower back which levels my hips, then I knead the scar tissue and adhesions around the scars and the new knees, massaging all the muscles, and then putting weight above and below my knees to straighten my legs. I use sand bags weighing about fifteen pounds. I use a lot of Kleenex in the three or four minutes of sweating and crying through that exercise. I know I’m promoting Kleenex a lot, but they do have a wide selection of very soft tissue in attractive boxes.
I have to learn to walk again. It’s like a walking meditation every time I walk. Really. So many muscles shut down with this surgery, that they have to wake up again and regain strength. I thought I was such a stud going out to snowshoe a week after surgery. Turns out I was not a stud at all, I was being kind of stupid. I was just thinking walking was no big deal. My physical therapist said that I wasn’t using the muscles needed for a correct gait, so I was just Neanderthalling through the neighborhood on my snow shoes. He said I was just hanging off scar tissue to walk, which sounded scary. Although I try to pretend with him that I am very wise and patient, he sees right through me and knows my compulsivity often overrides any sensible behavior.
Now that I am regaining the neuro-connectivity and proprioception, I can tell my walking muscles to engage. My left butt cheek does not follow instructions well, so it takes a few tries. I have to feel my butt to see if anything is clenched. I have to take each step very slowly, placing my heels and rolling onto the balls of my feet. I walk very slowly, and people have been very patient. I hang my head in shame remembering all the occasions when I was in a hurry, usually my own doing because I overload my schedule and am unrealistic about what I can actually do, and felt like I wanted to scream when the person in front of me was walking (or driving) more slowly that I thought they should be. Now, I see how wonderful it can be to be right in the moment, heel/toe, heel/toe. I walk with intention, and I move over when I sense people behind me and apologize. They offer to open the door, tell me I can walk as slowly as I need to, and they offer to carry my packages from the post office to my car, which makes me cry. I keep Kleenex in the car too.
I have a temporary disabled placard that hangs on my rear-view mirror. This has been a real gift, especially because we’ve had such a heavy winter with tons of snow. I have to pick my way across snow covered walkways, and watch every step. I have noticed that many people park in the disabled spots illegally. I have taken down numerous license plate numbers and called the police, angry and dismayed at how people could take a spot that a person with a disability might need. I only have a temporary disability. When I think of elderly people and people with permanent disabilities having no place to park, or having to walk on public walkways that are not properly cleared of snow and ice each day of their lives, I feel heartbroken. The usual excuse coming from people who park in the disabled spots is “I was only running in for a minute.” The other day, I needed the spot in front of my office building, and someone in a big truck had taken up both disabled spots. Not only that, the walkway was so icy and snowy that I had to hold on to the wall and creep across the walkway hoping I could make it to the elevator. I left a note on his windshield and called the police. I saw him read my note, and he wrote one to me and left it on my windshield. It said, “I work here doing snow removal.”
My husband is an angel. I honestly don’t know how I ended up with this extraordinary human being. He appeared in my life in November of 2010, and I just knew right in that moment as he stood in my doorway, that my life would change forever. His energy was so resonant, that I felt I had to step out of its sphere for a second. He is without question, the most generous, kind, compassionate and patient human being I have ever known. I have been blessed. In the past year, I have had five surgeries or procedures requiring some sort of anesthesia. First, it was my left shoulder, then it was oral surgery to have implants, then I was having stomach problems so severe that I didn’t want to eat, so I had two endoscopies, then I had a total hysterectomy on November 12th, 2018. A week later, my granddaughter was born, and I drove down to Hayward to be with my daughter in the first week. I was carrying on with my usual activities, which usually involves overdoing it on pretty much everything, until every activity, save for running in the pool with my Aqua-Jogger, was so painful, I ended each activity in tears and agony. I kept Kleenex in my pockets at all times. I knew knee replacement was imminent, and it really got to the point where I dreaded going Nordic skiing, or trail running (which was more like a Neanderthalian shuffle) and even riding my bike. My orthopedic surgeon said it was time, and I opted for both knees at once rather than doing one at a time. The surgery is a huge ordeal as is the recovery. Patients require twenty-four hour care to monitor medication, change the ice in the ice machines, help with getting to the bathroom, cooking, cleaning, and everything else. Add three or four hours of snow removal to that, and it’s easily a fifteen-hour day on disrupted sleep. And he works at a local resort as a massage therapist on top of everything else.
Jon did all of it, with a smile on his face, and endless patience when I was sobbing in pain, and frustrated over my lack of ability to help him. He never once lost his cool, or showed me any sign that he was over me and over all of the extra work he had to do. He gave and gave and gave, and I am deeply humbled and so grateful I cannot find words. I will never pick on him again for not taking the Kleenex out of his pajama pockets before they go through the laundry, or for anything else. If I do nag and complain, I vow to apologize immediately and remember that none of my obsessive cleaning rituals and standards really matter when I think of all the generosity, compassion and kindness Jon has so willingly given to me. If I can be even half the angel to him as he has been for me, I would consider it my greatest privilege.