New knees have become commonplace in today’s world. We complain about the long wait. When the time comes, it’s wonderful and yet scary. Just in case, there is someone else who feels or has felt like me, I’m telling my story. Here is the first instalment.
Alone and Yet Not Alone
Alone, Yet Not Alone
This coming Friday I am embarking on a journey, a privilege for sure. Necessary, I think so, I hope so.
Two weeks ago, I received the phone call. “We have a date for you,” Taylor, Dr. Preston’s receptionist said. We’d like to schedule your surgery for Thursday May 4th.”
I have been waiting for this phone call for the last eight months and for two years before that. The noise of people walking, talking as they wandered in the mall where I was standing, almost drowned out Taylor’s voice.
“Pardon,” I answered. “Please repeat that.”
“We have an opening for your knee surgery on May 5th. Can you go to the hospital tomorrow for your post op.”
My heart thumped as my body temperature soared. At nearly 79, I was having a hot flash. My eyes searched the mall for the nearest chair. “Just a moment I’ll check.” I really didn’t have to check, I knew, that Thursday was the start of an already full week of extremely important commitments. My mind raced like a gerbil on his exercise wheel. What will I do? I needed a moment to breathe, to think. I brought up my schedule on my phone. “I have a guest speaking engagement on May 5th. It’s been scheduled for months. I can’t back out now. On the 7th, Kevin a colleague, and long time friend is being ordained. I’m his mentor. On Monday we leave to visit my sister in Blenheim for four days. I can’t. I just can’t. I could feel my eyes fill with tears. Can I take ten minutes and call my husband?”
Taylor was sweet. “Of course.”
“Oh, thank you. I will call back in ten minutes.”
Please be home, Tom. He was. We talked. Always supportive, Tom listened to my dilemma. “Of course, you have to fulfil your responsibilities,” Tom said.
I thanked him and called Taylor back. “I just can’t have surgery on May 5th. I’m so sorry. Please don’t put me at the bottom of your list.” Whatever she thought, Taylor was compassionate.
“It’s ok. There will be another date.”
I hung up feeling awful. That horrible feeling remained in my gut all afternoon. About four I called my colleague, friend and minister, Rev. Cathy, and poured out my story ending with, “Could you fill in for me. The topic is storytelling and faith. I’ll write up the talk, you’ll only have to read it, and tell the stories. Rev. Cathy being my long-time friend, answered, “Just let me check my schedule. I have Bible study in the morning. We can cancel or one of the participants can lead. Yes, I’ll do it.”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you.” My heart cried. I’ll miss Kevin’s ordination, the visit with Anne, they’ll understand but will I.”
I called Taylor back. “Is it too late. I’ve changed my mind.”
I imagined her frustration. “I’ll call you back. I’ve given away the pre-op appointment. I’ll need to talk with the hospital.”
I called Rev. Cathy. “We have to wait to know it’s a go.”
“That’s ok. I’ll keep the day.”
The next day, I was at an area women’s gathering selling my books when the phone call came from Taylor. “Pre op is set for this coming Tues. Surgery is Friday, May 5th.”
“Friday, I thought it was Thursday.”
“You said you couldn’t come Thursday. I’ve scheduled it for Friday.”
Relief flooded my heart, followed quickly by remorse and fear. I’ll have to call Kevin and Anne. Should I be doing this. Is my knee really bad enough? I sat down in the nearest chair. A dagger tore through my knee. Yes, I need it.
“Thank you, thank you, Taylor. You’re wonderful.” Taylor went on to set up my pre-op appointment with Dr. Preston and give me more instructions.
I hung up the phone, and took several deep breaths. It’s actually going to happen. I’m going to get a new knee. Breathe Jan, just breathe. Then came my prayer, “Thank you God. I sure hope this is your will. I hope my knee is bad enough. I know you will be with me regardless. Thank you God.” I called Tom and then Cathy. Breathe Jan, just breathe. Shaking, I leaned heavy on the chair’s arms, and slowly stood through the sharp stab that echoed and re-echoed in my knee. I need this. Yes, I really need this.
Already it’s been a journey. The phone calls to Kevin and Anne were hard. Both people were understanding. Still, regret, guilt, sadness filled my soul. Cathy of course was relieved. Her responsibility was reduced to prayer. Tom was excited. I try for excitement. I’ve been praying a lot. I need God’s reassurance.
I need your prayers. I’m doing my pre-op exercises. Preparations are going forward at home. I’ve cleared my calendar. Today I go to the library for books to read. I’m focusing on all the writing I will get done. Every time I stand up, sit down and walk, the pain speaks. “You need the operation. You need the operation.”
Jesus said, “I will be with you always, even unto the end of the age.”
(Matthew: 28: 20)
Jesus walks with us through people, friends and strangers. I am truly grateful.
A New Knee (Part Three)
It’s been seven days. Tonight I finally feel like writing something. My original hope was to chronicle this journey for others. I’ve learned so much about myself, my body and the love of friends and family.
Friday May 5th, Tom and I drove to the hospital. My feelings were still a total mess. Yes, I wanted this new knee. Yes, I was terrified. Did I really need it. Will I regret this? There was no line up to register. We walked in and a smiling young woman motioned us over to her desk. Clutching my green passport book to knee surgery, and my cane, I presented my health card. Her gentle tone as she collected my information said it all. This would be a good experience. She fastened the identification arm band around my wrist and a second one listing my sensitivity to penicillin and morphine. Do you know where you need to go now? She asked. I nodded. “Ok, the elevators are over there. Go to the fifth floor and follow the signs to surgery and outpatients.
Tom and I stepped onto the elevator with several others, one wearing a lovely pink uniform. She stepped off at the fifth floor with us. She pointed us in the right direction and went on about her day. We trudged down the hall, around the corner, and down the hall some more. Eventually, the signs led us to surgery and outpatients and once again there was a desk and a person with a friendly smile. She looked at my OHIP card, checked the information with me, and then motioned toward the chairs. You can wait there,” she said. “It won’t be long.”
It wasn’t. We waited. I phoned my daughter. Tom and I talked of the day ahead. My name was called. We followed a person to a cubicle. I was given a hospital gown, a large plastic bag and asked to change. This was the last stop for Tom. We kissed. “You’ll be fine,” He said, and walked back the way he had come. I changed and climbed aboard the stretcher. My journey had begun. I wondered if I should hop down and run away as fast as my miserable leg would allow. No, I’ve made the commitment. I’m here. Let’s get on with it.
Our first stop on the stretcher journey was the “block room”. The anesthetist arrived and asked, “Do you want a complete anesthetic or the epidural. I didn’t know I still had a choice. Which is best I stammered. She carefully explained about the value of the epidural and the nerve block and what would happen. “I don’t want to watch or hear,” I declared.
“Oh no, I’ll see to that.”
I opted for the epidural. Afterall, recovery is faster and I was intent on a fast recovery. I don’t really remember what happened after that. I remember seeing Dr. Preston, and him asking, “which knee are we fixing?”
I awoke in the recovery room. Surgery over. I missed all the sawing and hammering and drilling and whatever else had taken place. Someone talked to me. I opened my eyes and saw kind caring faces. I dozed off and woke up and talked to those faces. I have no idea how long it was before once again me and my stretcher were travelling down the hospital corridor. Our destination, a single room with the sun streaming in a big window. “You’re doing fine,” the nurse said. She introduced herself and talked with me a bit.
Suddenly my bed became wet. My bladder had emptied without my permission. “That’s fine, she said, to be expected. You’re frozen from the waist down. Thus began my first day with my new knee. The sheets were changed with me still in the bed. I’ll get you a bed pan, she said. And a brief.”
“A brief?” I questioned. My mind clicked, “A diaper.?”
“Oh we don’t call them diapers, their briefs.
Off she went returning quickly to remove the bedpan and put on the brief. It felt like a diaper. Thus began my overnight stay in hospital. What I wasn’t prepared for was the fact that having an epidural meant I would have no bladder control until the freezing was gone. All night every time I sort of sat up, moved whatever, the leakage happened. I thought of young Riley wearing his pull ups, briefs, his diaper, for several hours without changing. I followed his example. Where did the liquid go. I wasn’t laying in a pool yet the intravenous kept feeding saline solution into my arm and my bladder kept oozing all night long. I hated the indignity of it all. My brief was certainly necessary. It soon became soggy. I rang for the nurse. She willingly brought me another. What a night! The white board across the room said bedrest. She said, “we’ll get you up for the bathroom in the morning after you’ve seen physio. You’ll be fine, just relax.
I felt no pain. I felt nothing exactly and yet I felt the warmth and the surge every time my bladder let go. Eventually I nodded off only to wake up again to the beep, beep, beep of the intravenous machine. I rang the nurse. She came in and adjusted it and apologized. “I’m sorry, she said. They’re testing the hospital generators. These machines don’t like the shift. The third time this happened we were both getting frustrated and yet there was nothing to do but call the nurse and wait for her to shut the machine off and restart it.
Eventually, the machine settled down. I settled down and morning came. First breakfast and then physio. Of course, I was able to get up. My leg was still frozen, not totally but enough. I walked down the hall. Climbed up and down the six steps and was deemed ready to go home. I felt great. Look at me. Look at me. At home, I climbed the six steps into the house and was able to walk back and forth to the bathroom with a walker. What I didn’t know was that all the freezing was not gone from my leg or the effects of the epidural had not worn off.
About eight o’clock reality hit. Pain…oh yes!!! Bring on the anthropromorphine, or any other pain killer. I’ll swallow it all. My thoughts kept coming back to this was elective surgery. I asked for this. I wanted this. Was my knee really that bad. But I couldn’t go back. My old knee was gone. My sweet yet strong daughter said, “ Of course you have doubts. I remember when I was in labour with my first baby. I thought, “Can I please go back. I’ve changed my mind. But of course that wasn’t possible.” She gave me a hug. You gotta go through it. You can’t go over it. You can’t go around it. You can’t go back. You’ve got to go through, Mom. You can do this.” Her reference to the old childhood song, I’goin on a bear hunt, made me smile. Her hug told me I’d be fine. That was my second night. I got through it without much sleep. At least I was at home. Tom was with me. And I had the cold rush machine that was to become my best friend.
Installment Four – A New Knee
I’m into the fourth week, post surgery. I’ve endured the worst of this journey. At least I hope so. I’m expecting to bottom out and start the uphill climb any day now.
A new knee sounds like an adventure, a privilege. And it is and yet it’s also a rough journey. I thought I was prepared and I was to a certain extent. I had done my exercises and prepared my knee. I did some googling about the process and thought I knew a lot.
I knew nothing. I expected the exercises to be tough and they are. I didn’t expect the nerve complications in my leg and foot. That is even tougher. It has slowed my recovery. At this point I have lots of bend in my leg. I have a wonderful ice machine that keeps cooling down the knee and surrounding area. Most of all I have Tom and my daughter Connie. What would I do without them?
So here are a few tips. First, they say they don’t want you to come home to be alone. They (the doctor and the hospital) are 100% correct. You need someone there and not just to care for you physically. You need someone to care for you emotionally too. Recovering from knee surgery is not easy.
They call it elective surgery and it is. The problem with that for me is, I’d like now to make a different choice but of course there is never any going back. In the quiet back of my mind has been running the lament, “Why did I want a new knee? My leg wasn’t that bad. I was managing.” So don’t be surprised if you feel the same way after two or three weeks. I’m sure in another two months I’ll be singing a different story. Don’t be hard on yourself. This is a tough journey. Keep in mind how wonderful it will be to walk without pain because that is what is ahead. Think positive. That’s always been my motto. St. Paul said, “ Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things…And God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8&9)
Today the physiotherapist said I had 126 degree bend in the new knee. All I need to is maintain. She said the nerve pain and discomfort will go. It will take time but it will go. The cold rush machine is fabulous. It brings relief from the heat and the feeling that my knee might explode. At this moment these are the good things, the pure, the lovely the admirable. Remember to pick out the good things they will always be there.
It’s been five weeks. I’m doing well. The exercises are tough and they are also my distraction from the nerve pain. That’s what my daughter, Connie, calls it. For me it’s not exactly pain it’s as if my leg is an electric fence and anytime anything touches it I get a shock. My family doctor, Dr. Laura Lawson has be wonderful. At first I felt deserted. The surgeon did my knee and then went on a two week holiday. By the time I found that out it was week three and the long weekend. Dr. Laura was away. When she returned to work, I was able to see her right away. I’ve seen her at least three times maybe four in the last two weeks.
I’m now sleeping thanks to a sleeping pill. I went almost four weeks sleeping 2 hours, being awake for 3 and then sleeping another hour or two and it was finally daylight. By the time I saw Dr. Laura I was so sleep deprived I would have taken any pill she offered. So now I’m sleeping. In her words, “Let’s get you some rest. We’ll worry about weaning you off these later.” So that’s what I’m doing. I sleep eight hours every night. Of course I have bathroom breaks but I go right back to sleep. She’s also given me medication for the nerve endings in my leg and assured me it will go away. She’s taken time to care for my physical difficulties and my resulting emotional overload. She’s fabulous. She’s efficient and caring and so is her nurse Kathleen. Between the wonderful care I received at the hospital and my family doctor I am truly truly grateful.
On this fifth Sunday I went tom church. It was fabulous. People greeted me with hugs of welcome. I felt like a celebrity. The service was full of the Holy spirit as it always is. The music was great. The choir sang “Angels Among us”. What a wonderful anthem. I just sat there and soaked it all in, sang and prayed from the bottom of my heart. When the service was ready to go home. My energy was depleted and my heart was full.
At home I rested until Tom returned. He of course stayed for coffee and chat. My daughter brought me home. This afternoon was busy. I kept taking a rest and doing what I could. At this point I can walk at home without a cane. I can walk without a limp. I’m not quite ready to dance but it’s coming. We went for a walk after supper. I was only two long blocks but it was enough. I’m getting there and I’m happy with my progress. I see Dr. Preston on Wednesday. I’m hoping to get permission to drive. I’ll keep doing exercises and enjoying my cold rush machine and taking my pills till the swelling subsides. It seems my leg has not take kindly to the effects of the saw and the hammer and the drill. The bones are still aching some but not nearly as much. I’m nearly there. I’m truly grateful.