Knee Replacement

New Knee – Side View

So, back in February, I had total replacement of my right knee joint. I don’t regret it, I know it was the right decision, and the doctor and hospital staff did a great job. But as I learned, a knee replacement takes work!

I have had “bad knees” forever, part of it due to aging, part if it a hereditary predisposition for arthritis, and part due to carrying extra weight. I’ve had two ‘scopes, (arthroscopic surgeries to repair cartilage) at least one of them in my right knee, and I’m not sure about the left – but the right knee has always been worse.

In 1998 I began to train in Kenpo Karate. I’m pretty sure this was the year I turned 40, (I know you’re doing the math, that’s OK – yeah, I’m old) and although the constant twisting of the knees during quick moving and stance changing probably didn’t help the knees, overall it was a great pursuit. I had both of those knee surgeries while I was training, so that meant taking months away from the mat, but I always came back. As my chiropractor has told me several times, “Karate saved you!” I would have to agree.

What he meant was that along with having a regular exercise routine that would help my back; karate involved such good mental and spiritual development. And the camaraderie was priceless.  I attained my rank of Shodan (First degree black belt) in 2004, and this inspired me to keep going.

Things changed a few years later. Tom had been diagnosed with liver disease in the fall of 2007, and although I took some time off, having the dojo to escape to was helpful. After his first major surgery, he recovered pretty well and was almost a normal kid – except he had liver disease. But with complication after complication that began in February of 2009 and kept going until June, I was wiped out. I couldn’t sustain enough energy to cook, let alone do much else. So, karate, like a few other things I loved, had to be set aside.

I’ve been back quite a few times for special seminars and whatnot, but my routine exercise schedule disappeared. For several years the only exercise I got was stabbing the elevator button at the hospital or punching the doctor’s number into my phone’s keypad. Luckily I found yoga at some point, which was perfect timing. Not only is yoga true exercise – but the lesson in mindfulness was crucial. Also, in the last three years I began to go to the gym regularly, but the damn knees were shot, or close to it. Hence the surgery.

While I was still inpatient, and after I came home; the nurses and physical therapists often quizzed me on what to be on the lookout for:

“Tell me the signs of infection, and what do you do”

“Redness, swelling, fever, heat…and you call the doctor”

“Very good. Now what about a blood clot…?”

“Similar, except usually extreme pain in the leg.”

“Yes! Now remember, if you have unexpected pain in your leg, don’t rub it. That can cause the clot to break away, and it can travel to the lungs, that’s a pulmonary embolism. If you have sudden shortness of breath – call 911.”

What the hell? Scared much?

The thing is, I was actually glad for these warnings. Health professionals don’t actually like to instill the tendency for hypochondria in their patients, so when they do emphasize certain issues, I pay attention. About the rehab in general, I was told what to expect by either my surgeon, the physician’s assistants, the hospital nurses, the hospital PT’s, as well as the visiting nurses and PTs that saw me at home.

Of course my surgeon glossed over the parts about the swelling that would last seemingly forever (up to a year), nor did he mentioned the potential for bruising. In fact, I had a freakishly scary bruise that appeared a couple days after I got home and threatened to take over my whole inner thigh, and trust me, that’s a lot of fleshy real estate to cover. I didn’t know what to make of it, so I made sure I got a visiting nurse to come by the same day, plus I called the on-call doctor. I was relieved that this was considered normal, but yikes

My doctor also made it sound like my rehab would be snappy fast. “You’ll be up and around in no time! We get you up the same day as surgery!” Well, he wasn’t lying. During a routine vital check on my first night’s stay, the nurse and CA (clinical assistant) decided I should get up and try to walk. It sounds a bit sadistic, but although I wasn’t super enthusiastic about it, it’s not like they wrenched me from slumber and made me do laps. First, there’s not much slumber happening anyway, and I only had to walk a few steps to the doorway and back, with my walker and with the two of them on either side. We all survived.

The day I was discharged, I even managed to make it up the stairs to my house. At first I wasn’t too nervous, I had gone over the mechanics of stairs with a PT at the hospital earlier that day, I did manage the small wooden steps in the PT room. But once I hobbled out of the car and over to the stairs, everything changed. How was I going to do this? I felt as weak and uncoordinated as a toddler learning to walk (and scared as hell).

I nearly started to cry, but I did it. Clinging to my husband on one side, and the railing on the other, I slowly made it up the steps. Of course I vowed to never leave the house again – ever – if it meant repeating what I had just done – NEVER EVER! I was kinda serious too. But for the most part all the guidelines and milestones given by the experts have been pretty much on target.

However, they didn’t warn me about the depression.

Stay tuned for Part Two –