Remember that TV show, the Bionic Man? He could do amazing feats, jumping over cars and racing across the countryside faster than a train. He was almost like Superman in many ways, who could leap over tall buildings in a single bound. When I was scheduled for an operation to replace my old knee with a brand-new, titanium and Teflon knee, I had visions of prodigious feats in my future, at least on a par with the Bionic Man.
I’ve learned to live with pain as my right knee slowly became weaker and more arthritic over the last eleven or twelve years. Most of the time the pain was quite manageable but it was always there in the background. I am sure that countless people have had to live with more, but for me it was still an unwelcome constant in my life for too many years. It never went away.
My personal pain devil sits on my shoulder with a pitchfork in his hand. When I push too hard or do something stupid “Igor” gives me a good jab. Sometimes it is a bright piercing pain that brings a grimace to my jaw. If Igor is in a charitable mood, the pain is a dull, bone-ache centered on my knee. Most of the time a fist full of Ibuprofen brings it under control. Ice packs work too.
An arthroscopy in 1998 bought me eight years of manageable relief and almost-normal use, and a leg brace two years ago postponed knee replacement a little longer. Despite all this, however, Igor and the knee pain were always there. Several specialists said it would go away only when I got a new knee and after a dozen years I’d had enough.
Last fall I had a long talk with Dr. Moody, a knee replacement specialist in Auburn, Maine. He came highly recommended and has done thousands of joint procedures over the years, and patiently discussed all the options open to me, considering my age, lifestyle, and level of activity. A total knee replacement was the right fit for me. So I wouldn’t miss a season of skiing, my total knee replacement was scheduled for March 2009.
Friends who have had the operation all wondered why they had waited so long. “The operation itself is a breeze, ‘cause you’re knocked out,” said friend Beth Wadsworth who had her knee done in January. “It is the physical therapy that will really be a challenge. It is going to be much worse than whatever pain you had with the knee, at least for the first few weeks. Hang in there, do your exercises, and you’ll be OK in time.”
I had hardly awoken from my anesthesia when the nurses at St. Mary’s hospital in Lewiston had me exercising my right leg. I can’t remember all they said to me, but there were lots of heavy-duty drugs involved and I wasn’t always the most lucid. I called friends after the surgery to let them know I was still alive, but it was a disaster. A couple called back days later and said “Was that you? I couldn’t understand a thing you were trying to say!”
Surgery was on Tuesday afternoon and I was discharged Thursday afternoon. After an agonizing ride home in the car over Maine’s mud-season frost heaves my day settled into a regular, albeit boring routine. 90 minutes on a mechanical bending and stretching machine followed by 30 minutes of leg lifts and bends. By then I was so exhausted that a couple hour nap was in order, only to start the process of exercise and naps all over again for the rest of the day.
The knee still hurts and Igor is still sitting on my shoulder, but I am relying less and less on pain meds and am slowly getting better at getting around. Brian, my three-times a week visiting physical therapist, scolded me for walking around without crutches on his first visit, but says I’m doing OK and to keep to the exercise schedule.
A week after being discharged from the hospital I had an epiphany moment! I awoke about 6:00 in the morning and was instantly aware of nothing! No knee pain, no stiffness, no Igor! It was like stopping on a hike in the woods and experiencing total silence. Could this be what it is going to be like when I’m done all my therapy, when I’m cured of my knee pain? Wow!
The delightful feeling lasted about 10 minutes, but it was wonderful! And it happened again after awaking from my early afternoon nap! I started to get pretty cocky – “I can lick this thing! This ain’t so bad! Who’s afraid of a little knee surgery?”
All this must have really annoyed my long-time companion, because after supper Igor summoned a devil friend of his and they went after both knees with 2x4s. I whimpered something to Penny to put my supper in the icebox, limped into the bedroom, shut the door, turned out the lights, popped two Percocet pain tabs and crawled into bed in horrible pain.
“Probably pushed too hard,” Brian said the next day on his visit. “This happens from time to time, but will happen less as times goes on if you keep up with the exercises. The good times will get better, and in a few weeks all this will be just a memory.”
“And when can I plan on leaping tall buildings in a single bound?” I asked. “I was assured I could do that with my new knee.”
“Soon,” was all he would say. “Soon. Why don’t you start small, say with those little houses from Monopoly?”
It has now been more than three weeks since surgery and I’m making great progress. I can now leap two Monopoly houses from Baltic Avenue in a single stride. I can’t wait to work up to those little hotels! Oh, and to say “goodbye” to Igor and his pitchfork.