The knees so far

Who cares about my knees?

That just sounds ridiculous: the knees so far. I think to myself, who cares? Apparently quite a few of you do, if the emails I’ve received are any indication. I thank you all for that support. But it would seem many of you are also interested to learn about my progress through this journey because you’re facing the possibility of partial or full knee replacements as well. So, I thought perhaps I’d not only write about writing on my blog, but also blather on about this scary and wonderful journey on which I’ve embarked.

Before surgery there’s all the pre-op

Monday was all about my pre-operation appointment at Grey Bruce Health Services in Owen Sound. I’ve been through that process a few times now, and I still find the professionals involved so very kind, informative, knowledgeable and truly invested in their fields. I arrived at registration at 9:00 a.m., was entered into the system, and then made my way to pre-surgery where a team member organized and directed the many pre-op patients with great humour, consideration and efficiency. Those of us involved in the process came to call the room the Party Room, and laughed whenever we rendezvoused again. There was a great feeling of relaxation and camaraderie which went a long way to alleviating some of the concern and anxiety we all felt. We shared stories, encouraged one another. Complete strangers, all of us, from all manner of backgrounds, and there we were comrades in surgery.

My own first appointment was with cardiology for an ECG, which was required because I have a minor blockage in my aorta which causes a bit of a murmur. Nothing serious, but still has to be monitored, especially in light of my surgery next week. The technician and I joked about bras and boobs and getting older, about being wired for sound, the miracles of technology and the advances I’d seen in my life. The tech seemed so very young to me, which only served to make me realize that I was, in fact, a senior citizen being treated by someone who is an experienced professional in her field.

That awareness continued throughout the day. How do these young kids do these things? And how did I get to be old? But no time to consider that; back to pre-surgery and the Party Room.

Appointments in the Party Room

My next stop of the day was to the anesthetist. I’d seen that lovely fellow four years previous when we were first investigating the possibility of uterine cancer. Nothing about him had changed: the same kind, gentle, informative man, mindful of cold hands and invasion of personal space. He explained in detail about epidural anesthesia, the safety and superiority of it as compared to general anesthesia. I am familiar with epidural anesthesia from the hysterectomy I’d had, so was not at all fussed about it. But still, I was very pleased about all the information this anesthetist gave me. He sent me away with information to read, and directions regarding what prescription drugs I could take the morning of my knee surgery, and when to stop taking others.

After that it was a visit to the physiotherapist, with whom I laughed and discussed positive attitude and fortitude along with all the necessary physiotherapy I had undertaken from the information my surgeon’s office had mailed to me, and would expand after surgery. We agreed a walker would be fine for me to use in the hospital, but would pose a problem during my home care what with dealing with 140 year old uneven floors, and two flights of stairs. Canes, she said, might not give me the kind of support I would require. Instead, I will be renting crutches for my home care recovery, employing all the strategies for use I’ve been given. I will also be seeing a physiotherapist at Bluewater Physiotherapy once a week, who will monitor my progress and continue to expand my repertoire of movement.

Unfortunately, the post-operative physiotherapy will come at a cost, because of a lack of funding. That problem will hopefully be rectified when the new block of funding comes through, and be in time for the next spate of physiotherapy I will require in April.

There was, of course, more paperwork to take away and read.

Then it was to the RN. By now I was really feeling overwhelmed by all the information and direction I’d been given, so that when the RN hit me with the tsunami of what will happen, directions, information, health risks, preventative measures, and thus and so, my sense of buoyancy waned, burbled and sank. She was very kind, but also a no-nonsense kind of woman, which I appreciated and respected. There were sheets and sheets of information, an entire booklet to read, answers to spit out like PFDs thrown into the sea, antiseptic sponges to acquire, strict directions regarding home care, what to watch for in my incision, and the caveat: if you’re running a fever or the leg gets hot and swollen, not to bother having my knight hie me off to emergency, but to call 911 and get an ambulance right away. No fooling around. She looked me right in the eye with that scary mom look, wagged her finger at me, and made me swear to do that. I, of course, took the vow.

Shell-shocked, I shuffled my way around the corner to where Gary waited for me in the Party Room, plunked down in my wheelchair and just sort of stared into space. I think he realized I was totally lost, took my report card (they give you a checklist sheet for all your appointments) and gave it to the administrator who oversaw all our appointments.

From there I mustered my wits, and Gary and I made our way to imaging where xrays were taken of my knees and chest. That was the least pleasant experience because of the pain of my knees. But like all else I got through the session, changed back into civies, and then we headed to our last stop at the lab.

Well, almost the last stop, because of course the lab required I surrender an offering, which I obliged, and was then tapped for blood.

By then it was 1:00 p.m. We were both tired, hungry and in need of a second cup of coffee, so we trundled down the hall to the cafeteria, noshed and caffeinated ourselves, and discussed in a desultory fashion the events of the morning and the strategies we would put in place over the coming days. But the discussion became very sober when one of the women who had been part of our merry band asked if she could sit with us, and we learned about a very serious condition she has, the surgery she would have to undergo, and the complete lack of any support people in her life. We so much wanted to help her, and were so helpless to do anything. I’ve thought of her a great deal since coming home, and wonder how she’s going to cope. And it’s also made me realize that all my anxiety is nothing by comparison to what she’s facing, so best I stop whinging and just get on with things.

What happens in hospital

I learned I will be in hospital for only two nights. The first day I will have a catheter which will be removed fairly quickly to prevent a UTI. My nursing team will try to have me sit up on the edge of the bed, and possibly take my first few steps with a walker.

The second day is all about walking, moving, seeing a physiotherapist and navigating stairs. It’s work. They want to be sure the knee is functioning as it should, and that I’m able to cope. Apparently there will be marvelous pain medication, and I’ve been told by the RN not to worry about addiction, just to take the meds, because studies have proven the body doesn’t heal as quickly or effectively when a person is in pain. She said quite plainly, “Don’t be a martyr.” So I won’t.

I’ve been encouraged to eat a diet high in protein and fiber in order to build strong muscles and bones, to drink lots of fluids in order to counteract the constipating effects of the opiates I’ll be given.

I will apparently have a very large dressing on my incision at first, extending from mid-thigh to mid-shin. This will be changed the second day for a smaller dressing.

The third day I go home if everything’s okay, and the incision isn’t inflamed or infected.

Setting up for Post-surgery

First thing I’ve been told is that I cannot be alone for the first 72 hours. No problem.

Follow up appointments have been booked upon receiving direction from my team: my family doctor for removal of staples; physiotherapist for monitoring and home regimen.

Meals have been prepared ahead of time and put in the freezer, so that food can be just microwaved or heated in the oven. This ensures proper meals and reduces stress on everyone.

Acquisition and adjustment of the crutches I require for the following weeks.

And I’ve read through the mountain of information I’ve received, made notes and calendar reminders. I’ve also had to clear my slate of all business for the next 12 weeks, and then do it all over again April 2 when the right knee is done.

All the dressings and antiseptic wipes have been checked and shelved.

I cannot shower for the first five days until the wound is dry. That part will be icky, but hey, I get new knees.

So, there we are, the first leg (forgive the pun!) of the journey is complete. My surgery happens January 16. I likely won’t post again for some weeks. But I’ll try to keep you posted as I’m able, which may be limited to short bursts on Facebook.

And now you know everything I know.

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