Monday, October 3, 2011


A few weeks ago I wrote about June's total joint replacement of my left knee.   Recovery was amazingly easy and quick.  I am convinced that the success I have had is due to doing what was asked in the physical therapy sessions, knowing that within a few weeks therapy would be completed and I'd be walking like I did thirty years ago, before brother Jeff and I climbed a mountain in Arizona to scatter our mother's ashes where she loved to hike.

Those six weeks of therapy preceded vacation with Dawn and the kids in Myrtle Beach.  As soon as we returned, I had a follow-up visit with the surgeon who gave me a high-five and agreed to schedule surgery for the right knee.  I had anticipated waiting several weeks, but was amazed when I was told there was an opening in seventeen days.  Fantastic!

Much was the same; some was different.  I'd opted both times for spinal and femoral blocks.  That meant I should feel nothing in the leg operated on for 24 hours following surgery.  That was the case with the first surgery.  But I had a different anesthetist for the second and those blocks wore off in the first 12 hours.  Like the left leg had been, the right leg was wrapped in several layers of padding and held together by an elastic bandage.  Sitting (or lying) still caused no sensation, but to pull myself up in bed required moving the leg and in the hours after surgery, that took my breath away!  I also tested for the return of feeling by using the muscle above my knee cap to pull the leg flat against the mattress.  Ouch!! 

On the day two, contracting that muscle became less stressful.  If I took a deep breath and moved quickly, I could swing the repaired leg out of bed and let my foot rest on the floor.  Twenty-four hours after surgery, the dressing came off and white elastic TED hose were put on both legs.  Occupational therapists came in to help me  learn to dress since my knee would be too stiff initially to bend so that I could put on socks.  Physical therapists came as well to help me learn to walk with my walker.  Over the years my stride changed because I hadn't been able to fully straighten either leg.  Now I could. With the new joints, I found that if I failed to fully extend my foot, the knee clicked.  It didn't hurt, but the sound reminded me to slow down and  walk correctly! Three days post-op, I came home.     

After the first surgery, I'd used a walker for a week and then moved to a cane.  By week three, I was walking unassisted.  When I got to my room after the second surgery, Dawn told me that there had been a hiccup during the operation, and the rod attached to the new knee had poked through my femur.  The doctor had repaired the damage, but it would need time to heal, and I'd  be required to use the walker for six weeks to prevent any possibility of falling.  Well, crap.  However, I reminded myself that six weeks is a short time in the long-term picture.  Get too big for my britches, fall, and spend months recovering from surgery to repair the damage?  Not an option.

Three-times-a-week physical therapy began the day after I returned home.  Good news, bad news.  While I was allowed to put full weight on the leg, the exercises could not stress the bone.   The doctor was firm in saying that I could not twist the knee or spin on my foot.  Apparently that also meant I could do no stair work, but I was encouraged to pedal myself silly on the facility's Nu-Step and stationary bike.  The stand-by exercises of leg lifts, knee bends and heel slides were equally worthwhile and required.

Three weeks post-surgery the staples were removed.  Those white elastic TED hose are annoying and somewhat uncomfortable, so being able to chuck them was welcome.  I'd hoped that the surgeon would x-ray my leg and announce that I could begin driving again and take on all recommended exercises.  Unfortunately, he held firm and said the only way to slow me down, to ensure I wouldn't fall, was to keep me on the walker.  Well, I didn't want to break a leg or screw up the new joint, so I didn't argue.    

However, shortly after that visit,  I allowed myself to use my cane for short distances in the condo.  Then five weeks after surgery, I quit using the cane while indoors but remained cautious as I walked.  As soon as I began taking a more normal stride, the knee muscles of both legs felt better. But the walker remained my escort whenever I left the condo.

When the six-week anniversary of the second surgery arrived, I returned to see the surgeon.  Hallelujah!  X-rays showed that the femur had healed, and I was finally given permission to do all physical therapy exercises AND given permission to drive again!  Finally Dawn was free of her tether to me as chauffeur to appointments.  As soon as she brought me home after the appointment, I grabbed my car keys and headed out to drive myself, free at last, to the grocery store! 

Physical therapy will continue for a few more weeks as the newly introduced exercises continue to strengthen my right leg.  Some muscles surrounding both knees remain stiff, particularly when I sit still for extended periods.  But walking is not painful and I there is subtle improvement every day.   And while I've had a relatively easy time rehabbing both knees, I'm also glad that I'm not an octopus with six legs to go! 

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