I am four weeks past knee-replacement surgery, and I confess that I am losing some of my patience. We Americans are creatures of quick fixes, and the idea of a long and protracted recovery is not very inviting. I guess that is why, prior to surgery, the medical professionals talk so little about post-op recovery. I read a lot pre-op, and I did a lot of pre-surgery exercise to prepare for the big event. At the time, the associated pain seemed almost beneficial, since it was the path to no pain in the future.
The pre-op pain was pretty much what I had been experiencing all along, so I didn’t pay too much attention to it. I assumed that one big bang of post-surgery pain would quickly and miraculously disappear shortly after surgery. I expected pain from the surgery, and I expected pain in each therapy session. I was not expecting pain when I try to sleep in bed or when I sit in my chair with my leg propped up at home. I expected some pain when I initially began to walk and put weight on the leg with the new knee, but I wasn’t expecting pain when I turn from my back to my side in bed and try to resume sleep.
My therapists at Optimus Health Center have been the truth-tellers about post-replacement pain and recovery, but I wasn’t prepared for the length of time they are forecasting for the pain to pass away. The therapists are the ones who “put us back together again” after the removal of vital body parts. They push us to bear through the pain, but I’ve decided that we are just raising the level of pain we can endure so that the “minor” residual pain will not seem so bad. I was stupid enough to ask, “When will all this pain go away?” I wasn’t prepared for the answer, “Never, fully.”
The big toe on my right foot has become the model for my slow recovery. Months ago I dropped something heavy (right now I can’t even remember what I dropped and when) on my toe. The pain was severe and stayed that way for quite some time. Over time, however, the sense of the pain subsided. The toenail turned black and blue, but slowly the root of the nail began to recover and signs of regrowth began to appear at the base of the black and blue nail. For months and months, I nursed that old dead toenail in hope that the newly growing nail would push away the old pain and return to a normal nail. After about half of the nail had regrown, the old nail pulled away and came off. I’m still seeing months and months of continued growth as we nurse the new nail back toward what it once was while trying to prevent the prospect of an ingrown nail. A little part of the body can claim a lot of attention to itself and can require a disproportionate amount of time to resolve the problem.
The toe has now been replaced by the attention demanded by my knee replacement. Occasionally the toe will cry out for a little attention, but generally the knee is shouting for attention and overwhelms the now minor problem of the toe. Since the pain associated with the knee replacement is significant, prescriptions for pain medication have become important. If you are a hairy-chested “real man,” you can get by with over-the-counter pain relievers. I’ve got plenty of hair on my chest, but I’m not ready for mere over-the-counter relief. In fact, I tried an over-the-counter remedy night before last just to see if it would get me though the night. Worst night yet! I have two levels of prescribed pain relievers. I’m beginning to think that the more powerful one might be more helpful in knocking me out for the night and helping me to have a good night’s rest—which I haven’t had yet! I’m gradually moving toward heavy aid for a night’s rest and minor aid for rehab sessions.
I have appreciated the veterans of knee replacement who have offered me encouragement to hang in there. I’ve noticed that all of them are a year or so beyond surgery, so that gives me some hope—or maybe some despair for the next eleven months. A month into recovery, I can’t see or even anticipate what tomorrow might bring. Right now I cannot see much beyond painful stretches of time at night and large doses of pain at various stages of therapy.
Well, you can see that I am in the whiny, feeling sorry for yourself stage of recovery.
When I went to Optimus Health Center prior to my knee replacement to scope out the world of post-operative therapy, I didn’t know what to expect. I saw a room full of people undergoing therapy and rehabilitation. In the midst of the room, I noticed one patient who especially caught my attention. He had had an amputation of one foot and was struggling to get around the rehab area. Resting the stub of one leg on a stool with rollers on it, he was struggling to get around on one leg and the stool. I hadn’t seen him again until my first therapy session this week, but this time we were going through treatment at the same time.
Have you ever noticed how sorry you feel for yourself when you face some obstacle, but how differently you feel when you encounter those who face problems and challenges greater than your own. That was my first reaction to the amputee—I’m glad my situation is not that bad. A knee replacement is far better than an amputation. As I watched this man struggle with his therapy, however, I saw a determination that I hadn’t seen among many of the Optimus clients. So many do the minimum and try to avoid the pain; but this guy and I are different and share something in common. We are pushing through the pain and striving for the very best outcome possible. I saw the determination as he strained to do his best in spite of the pain, and I suddenly found a soul mate. That’s the kind of patient I’m trying to become.
Inspired by this friend, I’m determined to make the best of this knee replacement by committing myself to push hard for the very best outcome. That won’t happen without some pain and suffering. It won’t happen by backing off when things are painful. It won’t happen by being satisfied with mediocre results based on mediocre efforts. At 70, I’m in a lot better shape than many of my fellow septuagenarians; but that’s not my goal. My goal is to be the best I can be with whatever limitations I must address. My therapists may be the only ones who see my determination; but in the end, it’s all up to me. I’m going to be a fighter, a pusher, a striver. I’m going to conquer the pain, compensate for what I’ve lost by doing the best with what I have, and strive to be the best that I can be with all that I have within me.
PS: Last night I had my first good night of rest since my surgery after taking the strongest pain-killer I have available. If I can make it though the night, I can certainly make it through he day. But either way, I’m pushing for the best outcome.