Hello! Welcome back. To me. Where have you been? I've been getting knee surgery. And subsequently trying to survive recovery. I feel like I am behind on every project I've ever wanted to do, and I just returned to work (the bill-paying one) today and feel like I can't do anything but rattle off statistics. So pull up a chair. And leave your sense of time at home, you won't need it where we're going.
STRANGE THINGS ABOUT THE HOSPITAL
1. They had a dispenser next to the Kleenex on the wall that was for
baby-wipe type things. There was a red sign on the wall above them
that said "Caution: do not use on skin." (?) There was also a little
picture on the side that had a baby with a no symbol on top. No skin,
no babies. None of us got close enough to see what they were actually
2. There were signs all over the waiting room that said absolutely no
food or drinks allowed, despite the fact that almost every single
group we saw had tons of food and drinks sprawled all over the place.
3. They made me fill out several forms before we went in that were
identical to the forms I'd filled out during the pre-registration
procedure online a few days before. They had me do this after having
not eaten for about 14 hours. I was kind of light headed and useless
anyway, and then had to mark down lots of questions about health
history and whether or not I was sane. It was a really tricky,
unintentionally hilarious exercise. My signature has never looked so
3a. When you get put out for a surgery you have to not eat or drink
anything for 12 hours beforehand. If your surgery is late afternoon,
like mine was, you can have "clear liquids, dry toast or crackers for
up to 6 hours before". I had like a 1/4 cup of rice and about 12 cups
of coffee and water to try and tide me over, and it worked okay until
about 9. At that point my stomach said cheerfully, "hey! I think it
might be snack time, you know?" And my brain would say "oh totally.
Let's do it." And then my knee said, "no wait guys, we are getting
surgery, remember?" And they would say, oh yeah! sorry man." And then
about 3 minutes later my stomach would say cheerfully, "hey! I think
it might be snack time, right? Let's go see." Rinse, lather, repeat.
Once this started happening I found out Anthony's train was late, and
I had to start the tricky process of getting him to Mom's hotel and
then getting all of us to the hospital. It really wasn't THAT tricky,
but it was hard to concentrate a little over the constant "food? >
sure > oh wait, no" loop my various body parts were in. Thankfully,
they really didn't turn up the volume until I was in the hospital bed,
in my cloth-napkin gown and all hooked up to wires, and then they
manifested in the form of Fear And Anxiety rather than RAAR HULK
SMASH, which is a very good thing. Oh, the adventures of low blood
4. Above the drinking fountains in the waiting room there was a
helpful signs that read "WAIT! Talk to your nurse if you are here for
surgery!" Because, you know. No water. They don't want any vomiting.
And really, you don't want any vomiting either.
5. My nurse was a tiny little Asian lady who was so, so nice. Really
good bedside manner, as Mom put it. She was nice enough to ask if I
had problems with needles, and I said as long as I don't see them. She
did all the IV-setting-up work down below the level of the (very tall)
bed. But then I also had Anthony and Mom to
look at, which helped too. We had to hang out in the hospital room for
a LONG time (about three hours) before things really got busy, so it
was kind of strange. Sitting in a cloth napkin, in a hospital bed,
giggling about the CALM channel on the TV, which was a series of
nature shots with a nice little piano score. That got turned on
because I started to kind of freak out a little when I admitted I was
sacred -- dude, how often do people get surgery? I don't often. Hadn't
EVER really, so it's hard to know what to expect. Plus I was starving
and had no Keep It Together reserves left. My nurse offered to "give
me something" for the anxiety but I begged off. I figured I've be on
enough drugs and I was going to spend the rest of the weekend at the
mercy of everyone else, I thought it'd be nice to at least be aware of
what's going on. Even if it was a little scary. I held onto Anthony's
arm and we looked up at the CALM channel on TV, which at that moment
inexplicably had tiny fat donkeys hanging out in a little wooded
glen. Which made me laugh/cry. I don't see donkeys and think, ah, I
feel calm now. I see donkeys (particularly out of context donkeys) and
6. They had a little chart next to the Kleenex and the
wipes-that-weren't-for-skin that had a scale of one to ten, ten being
the worst. It was a pain chart. It had faces on with increasing
degrees of frowny, the last with squinty eyes and tears. We had a lot
of fun wondering about that list, making faces.
7. My anesthesiologist came in to tell me how I would get knocked out.
He told me he would give me some "I don't care drugs" while they
wheeled me down to the room, and then they would give me a little
thing in my IV to really put me out. Then they would put a little mask
blowing the gas and oxygen into me to keep me out. They'd do the knee
stuff, then I'd be wheeled to the recovery room, where I'd come to.
And once I was not dizzy or nauseous, they'd take me to my short stay
room, where I would get crutches and learn to use them, and once I
could sit up and not feel too dizzy or nauseous, and my pain was "a
solid 2 or 3" I would get to go home. He told me all this WITHOUT
8. Then the time came! They took my glasses, and gave me the "I don't
care drugs", put on my ridiculous blue puffy bonnet. Then a guy came
and wheeled me down the hall and through lots of doors. All of the
doors were double doors, but all the doors opened differently. Some
opened out, some in, some only one door opened, but all were automatic
doors. My wheeler-guy and I talked about the doors and how strange
9. Then I was in a room with lots of circle lights and people in lots
of blue things. They were mostly talking about not-me-related things
("when are you going to California?" "Oh yeah I can never get to the
bank before that line gets there".) My knee doctor came and said hi,
but I couldn't see him (no glasses), so I didn't recognize him. Oh well. Shortly
thereafter I woke up in a different room, with a nice lady giving me
ice cubes to chew on. I had a little green light flashing above me,
and I asked what it was. "That means you're ready! We're waiting for a
room for you"
10. The nurses were very encouraging, which is their job, but they did
say I was recovering well. Really quickly. I was MUCH more lucid than
I thought I was going to be on the way home. I was able to give
Anthony directions home, albeit quietly and thinking "let's not vomit
yet" thoughts. I had the window open, much to the dismay of the others
probably. We did the heroic walk up the stairs -- and I did it, I
walked up there, with Anthony holding one hand and Mom behind just in
case. But I toddler-walked all the way up, by myself, and thought I
might throw up but didn't. And then I got on the couch and stayed there
for three days.
The following lists were written four days after surgery
THINGS I COULD TODAY THAT I COULDN'T DO YESTERDAY
- Sleep in bed without supporting pillows. (Okay that's a bit of a cheat because I actually did, but I didn't NEED it to stay propped up on my side, I just like to sleep cozied up next to something.)
- Make toast. (A task that requires two hands and freestanding any time, but in my apartment it also means getting up on a stool and reaching up to the ledge above the cabinets, since that's the only place near enough my kitchen's only outlet.)
- Sit at my desk
- Go up and down stairs without crutches (two flights!)
- Drive the car!
- Walk a block to the coffee place
- Go a whole day without the big pain killers
- Listen to Sesame Street songs on iTunes (I finally got a hold of this big 3 disc set, and it has nothing to do with my knee other than it is going to become my centering, calm-me-down soundtrack for recovery.)
- Help Mom plan her flight back home
THINGS I DID YESTERDAY THAT I DIDN'T DO TODAY BUT ARE OF NOTE
- Took a bath (with knees-and-legs hanging off the side)
- Got weepy with pride from taking steps
ONGOING ISSUES I AM (STILL) WORKING ON
- Sleeping through the night (which is another reason I kept the pillow-bolster, I hoped it'd keep me from rolling around too much. Part of the problem is the ice pack; by 1pm it is almost BOILING if I am under a decent amount of covers. The other part of the problem is my knee never feels great, no matter where I put it.)
- Cold toes (I wore two pairs of socks yesterday around the house and it didn't alleviate the problem, though I'm sure it helped. It's hard when it's chilly out and I dress warmish yet then strap ICE to the bare leg. Rough. I was generally pretty cold all day, but the toes are a problem. Uncomfortably cold, even though I'm wiggling toes and rotating ankles all the time like the nurse told me to, to prevent blood clots. I may soak them in water-and-Cayenne-pepper for a little bit tonight before I go to bed.)
- Walking, i.e., my actual gate and stride (this will take longer than getting up on my feet, I imagine, but it is a little frustrating for me since I was walking badly BEFORE the surgery, and now I have the added bonus of being STIFF AND SWOLLEN. But there's nothing for it but to press on. Keeping the back straight, not moving my hip around to compensate for the limp, but just muscling through it, BENDING that knee, straightening it out in back. Again, again, again. Heel, toe, heel, toe. It is painfully slow going.)
- Standing (I keep standing like I did before: with all my weight on the good leg. The doctor said I need to reverse that for a while, stand with all my weight on the "involved"* leg, and let the good leg take a break. That makes sense, and is totally fair for the good leg since it's been working over time, but it's hard to remember.)
*All the medical people call the surgery leg the involved leg rather than the bad leg as I keep doing. It's a subtle linguistic way of reminding your brain that you are in fact normal, despite all the pain and swelling and drugs and motion problems. I find the idea of this very sweet, despite the difficulty in putting it into practice. Hopefully this will get easier as time goes on.
- What to read next ("Mr. Phillips" was so British and well written, I gulped it down in about two days, which I haven't done in a LONG time. I liked it just as much as "At Large And At Small," which would have gone as fast if I'd had 4 days to lie around and read. And nothing else seems to really click with me like those two things did. I have been rifling listlessly through several books today and nothing really sticks. I don't know what I need, but apparently it isn't "Stand Still Like A Hummingbird", "Catch-22", "Love in the Time of Cholera", or "Debt to Pleasure" (though I may go with that, since I'm already on page 58).
HERE'S HOW THINGS ARE NOW
With the notable exception of my post-op appointment, (where I learned I couldn't straighten my leg from muscle atrophy, saw the creepy cavernous wound-holes, and learned I may never regain feeling in my knee-surface*,) the first week of my recovery was mostly a kind of quiet calmness, a blissful time of tangible progress and great celebration over small achievement. Also flowers. I've received a silly amount of flowers from my parents, but also from the girls at work and from a friend who was breezing through town on an impromptu road trip.
This, the second week, has been a bit more trying. Many of the flowers are dead. I had a second appointment with the knee people, and as my doctor put it, "you are now entering the boring part of recovery." That is, I continue with my physical therapy exercises (so long as I am feeling tight, swollen and uncomfortable,) and wait for the connective tissue to scar together and reinforce the stitches. This is estimated to take about three months, though he thinks the swelling could stop flaring up in one month. THREE MONTHS! People. This is a long time.
During these three months I'm forbidden to do a few things. While it's not like I run, jump, or do yoga all that often, not having these things as an option makes me feel a bit strange, particularly since now there is sometimes no outward sign that I am damaged. (That's right! in the morning I walk almost normally!**) I'm not sure what I'm to do if I'm mugged by crocodiles, if I break a hole in the earth's crust, or if I feel a bit tense and need some loosening up. But I also cannot squat down or kneel down on my knees during these three months, which is really tricky if you clean houses for a living. As David Sedaris says: "Either you want a clean floor, or you want to use a mop. But you cannot have both."
I went back to work today and had to make a series of strange pirouettes and lop-sided-wheelbarrow impressions in order to get down to the baseboards and in the end my left leg felt cheated. Will this cause me to blow my other knee gasket? And how am I supposed to weed my new garden plot? From a chair? Maybe.
*I have to make a conscious effort NOT to think about this, because I find it deeply upsetting, like on a base psychological level.
**Well...walking normally albeit very, very slowly. I take after my grandfather in that I have a pretty brisk, purposeful walk, whereas my new walk is a conscious, slow, pausing gait that hurts. I am hoping that soon people will not be able to detect my limp at all, because I am working hard to get rid of it, but even when the pain goes my walk will not be mine until I want sally forth at a respectable pace again.
Anyway. I threw out most of the dead flowers and that seems to have lightened things up around here. I am trying to remind myself that all the little daily accomplishments are still worth celebrating. To wit:
- Cleaned a WHOLE HOUSE by myself, and part of another.
- Was able to go UP a set of five stairs without toddler walking.
- Only tapped my
- And I didn't cry.
- Did three rounds of PT before work.
I have much to do. Among them:
- Mail the latest etsy order. I have been selling postcards like crazy lately. I wish I could charge $10 for them, then I would have been able to pay my electric bill on what I made last week. But then, the only reason those things are selling is because they're so damn cheap. I don't expect I'll sell anything ever again once I run out of those.
- Try and get my brain back into creating mode. I was fine before the surgery, had great momentum and stamina, but these days it seems like even 20 minutes at the desk makes me feel feeble, insignificant and like I'll never paint anything interesting ever again. I think that simply goes with my general feeling of Being Sick Of This Knee Stuff.
- Similarly: stop moping around, start thinking healthy thoughts.
- Endorse that awesome dude on Linkdin, like I said I would.
- Send thank you notes for the flowers and things.
- Fix my taxes
Oy, that was a lot of words. I'll give you some pictures soon.