My left knee had been bothering me. I thought, ignore it and it will go away, and it worked for a while! Then came the day when I couldn’t ignore it anymore. Walking in front of a nurse at my doctor’s office, she said, “You’d better get that knee looked at.” At the time, I was wearing jeans and thought, she can’t even see any part of my leg! How could she tell?
After hearing the nurse’s comment, my daughter insisted I get my knee checked out. I made an appointment at the orthopedic department of my HMO. The x-rays showed yes, I was missing cartilage on one side of my knee, throwing off my knee, shin and ankle. This affected my gait. I tried a cortisone shot. It only offered one month of relief.
Luckily, I was a prime candidate for knee replacement surgery — the right age, not overweight, no other outstanding medical conditions.
I talked to a lot of people about their surgeries, like my sister-in-law, my brother-in-law, or anyone who had mentioned they had undergone the surgery. There were good tales and bad ones. The consensus seemed to be yes it is painful, but it is worth it too.
I really didn’t do too much self-education. I was afraid if I knew too many gory details, I would change my mind. However, the pre-op education provided by my HMO was excellent. There were lab tests, a required class, and many phone calls.
I felt so well prepared I almost wished they would stop bothering me.
My knee replacement surgery went well. At home, I had a walker and cane to help me get around. After a knee replacement surgery, the worst thing you can do is stay in bed all day and do nothing. Like a walker and cane, a caregiver at home is also a necessity.
I went home the same afternoon as my surgery with instructions, pills, a circulating ice water machine, and a live-in stepdaughter to be my caregiver. The post-op care instructions we followed included:
- Move and ice the knee, and take whatever pain meds are needed to continue movement on a regular basis. I was fortunate to be able to stay in my daughter’s vacant downstairs bedroom to avoid the stairs.
- Use a circulating ice-water machine to keep the water as cold as possible for a long period of time. This keeps the knee cool and reduces swelling.
- Strong medication is necessary because joint movement is so painful. To avoid an overdose, I kept a log to determine the times of my next set of pills. This log was also useful for the caregiver to keep an eye on things. Too much medication is not good for internal organs.
One thing I was not prepared for was the exhaustion. I was sleep deprived due to constant pain.
I spent many nights on YouTube watching the Smothers Brothers, Gregg Braden, Kryon and Shenandoah of country music fame. Stephen Colbert and other late-night hosts kept me company. An eclectic group to be sure, but I might not have survived the nights without them!
Home physical therapy started right away, twice a week for two weeks, and I was determined to succeed. My goal was to go hiking around Mt. Shasta in June. After two weeks, I went to the HMO gym to have therapy with knee replacement surgery patients. Not only did I make progress on my own recovery, I met others in various stages of their recoveries. I met two other patients who had been operated on the same day and by the same doctor as me. Physical therapy is extremely painful but is absolutely necessary for a complete recovery from knee replacement surgery. At therapy, we would compare notes and encourage each other. Sometimes we’d even cry together.
After ten days, my stomach revolted against the strong medication and I had to cut way back.
But, I actually felt that I had more energy once I stopped taking the strong opioid medication. Doctors said to take the pain medication as directed because physical therapy is vital. However, with strong opioid medications, there is always the risk of addiction. Luckily, I didn’t take the medication long enough to become addicted. I was able to use less powerful medications and a topical cream for pain relief.
Some of my friends from therapy and others I had known to have the surgery had recoveries that did not go as smoothly as mine.
- My friend who had knee replacement surgery the same morning I did was an outdoorsman. He exercised too much and had to have some corrective surgery.
- Our other same-day surgery friend had to lose 50 pounds before her surgery. She wanted to lose 50 pounds more after recovery. The extra weight on her knees slowed her recovery somewhat.
- I met another patient who had to have manipulation due to not attending therapy at all. Manipulation is just what it sounds like. Under general anesthesia, doctors jerk the knee around to loosen scar tissue trapping the joint in one position. It’s a very painful process.
- A business acquaintance fell in her home and spent the next month in the hospital in a great deal of pain.
- Another therapy friend got an infection six months after knee replacement surgery. Doctors opened up his knee again and cleaned out.
I am ten months into recovery and my knee is still a bit swollen but there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
It does not quite have the range of motion that the other knee has, but the pain is gone. I walk without a limp. And I made it to Mt. Shasta in June!