Oh God My Knee - Part One
I had right knee replacement surgery six months ago. I had been avoiding it for two years. During those years, one day I could hardly walk, the next two days the knee was fine. I saw the doc I would eventually use, Kevin Ehrhart, because of his prominence in the field and also because two friends had fine experiences with him. He then said, two years ago, that the xray showed my knee looked like chicken bones. A frightening image but nonetheless I wasn’t ready. I figured I could control the intermittent pain with pills, exercise and meditation. My friend Stef, a nurse who had her knee replaced told me “You’ll know when you’re ready, you won’t have another choice.” I depended on that statement.
Seven months ago I knew I was ready. Nothing had been working anymore and the pain was fairly constant. I couldn’t walk on the beach anymore, which was a giant loss for me. But Dr. Ehrhart didn’t have a surgery space available for three months – mostly because he was having his own knee replace and wouldn’t be performing surgery for a long time. Oh, karma! I saw him in January, cried and pleaded, and he squeezed me in for February 6.
I was in the hospital for four days; I don’t recall why or almost all of what happened while I was there. I guess I was zonked out on heavy painkillers most of the time. I know Tom was with me most of the days, his best friend Jon appeared the morning of the surgery as he always does on the very rare occasions one of us is in a hospital. Jon is a Jewish Unitarian minister, so he spends a certain amount of his workday shepherding his flock through hospital stays. He knows what questions to ask the team, how to reject their offerings and suggest others, and how to give comfort to the patient and his/ her family nervously trying to be useful.
I recall nothing about his being with Tom and me that day. I also don’t remember the doctor coming in afterwards and talking to us all about the surgery. Tom told me later that he said the knee problem was much bigger than it showed on the x-rays, but that he had taken care of it. Who was going to operate on him I later wondered?
Here's a few tidbits of what I remember: I knew that the doctor was renowned for using robotics for knee replacements. I didn’t know what that meant and didn’t care to find out. Too much information for my small brain and oversized anxiety level. I never like that level of tech detail. But when they wheeled me into the operating room, standing next to my table was a gizmo that looked like a robot in a sci-fi movie and I giggled. Was this machine going to replace Dr. Ehrhart? Talk to the team in that weird speech from a film? I didn’t want to know, I still don’t.
I vaguely remember the food, which it seemed to me they were bringing constantly in oversized dishes. It looked disgusting and was inedible, everything resembling chunks of overcooked pot roast. I had no appetite at all, especially for this mess. I think the first time I ate anything was three days after surgery when Tom went to the cafeteria and brought us both very tasty quesadillas. I didn’t understand why nobody on the staff seemed concerned about my not eating anything at all. Tom now tells me that I did have some yogurt here and there and ice cream several times. Apparently that was enough.
I also recall hallucinating. One morning, when Tom wasn’t there as he had an early client, I felt certain I was going to die and almost immediately. I shrieked a lot to the nurse with my plight, kept dialing Tom on the phone while he calmly assured me each time he answered that I was ok. People gathered around, gave me some drug or other and placated me. I found out later that hallucinations are a common side effect of taking oxycodone which they were feeding me regularly for the pain.
A few words about that killer drug: It’s highly addictive, causes extreme reactions like mine, is a famous street drug, and is given because it’s a major pain killer that works quickly and efficiently and makes you feel happy. I’ll never take it again, even though they sent me home with a large bottle of it which sat on my bathroom sink as a reminder.
Knee surgery: I have this much to say about this surgery, and the post op situation. It hurts, it hurts, it hurts. Like no anguish I’ve ever had. And I wasn’t expecting it. Everybody was so sympathetic, compassionate, Stef brought over her heavenly lasagna, Tom walked and continues to walk Roxie our dog, Susan got us stuff from Trader Joe’s. The only person who didn’t seem to give a damn about my agony was my physical therapist.
Two days after coming home from the hospital Charlie H. arrived. My home physical therapist for the next three weeks. She is tiny, strong, and pushes my leg with her exercises until I’m screaming (Karen told me to scream when the torture gets too much.) She also instructs me to do the exercises the hospital gave me three times a day. Followed by a half-hour of ice. Followed by a walk up and down the hallways in front of my apartment door. This becomes my life, I think of nothing else, I do nothing more.
At least I can read the day’s NY Times while I’m icing on my bed. This is what my days have been like for the next month, except for the one-time we went to have mani/pedis, and the next day to our anniversary dinner with friends at our favorite local Italian restaurant. I wore mascara for the first time in a month.
I grew to dread Charlie’s frequent visits, even though she was encouraging about my recovery. I think she’s being cruel, uncompassionate, uncompromising. She doesn’t care when I tell her of my anguish. I want to push her over a cliff. Instead, I follow her instructions because of what everybody on Facebook tells me about having to religiously do the dread exercises. And I remember that my brother had a knee replacement many years ago and because of the stubborn jerk that he was, he never did the recovery exercises and thus never walked right or played tennis again.
I give Charlie apples at the end of each visit. They are sitting in a big bowl on our buffet, and she started eyeing them on our first session. Maybe I’m trying to bribe her into not pulling and pushing my leg so damn hard. If so, it’s not working. We’ve had to order more apples just for killer Charlie.
Check out my recent memoir MY MOTHER WOULD HATE THIS BOOK. It is now available in hardcover, paperback & eBook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or order through your local bookstore. https://www.amazon.com/Mother-Would-Hate-This-Book