OK, ignore the click-bait headline. It’s not all that unbelievable. But I find it pretty fascinating. After all, it’s my knee.
Things that happened after surgery:
- I walked with the help of a walker only a few hours after surgery. But then, almost all total knee replacement patients do.
- I could walk unaided — or with minimal use of a cane — three weeks after surgery. And also drive a car.
- I am taller. The surgery corrects a life-long set of bowed legs that has gotten only worse with my worn-out knees.My right leg with the new knee is now between a quarter-inch and a half-inch taller than before. The left leg will soon add similar height when I have the other knee replaced February 29.
- The new knee does a much better job of letting me know when a cold front is due, when it might rain or when the barometric pressure is dropping.
- How’s the pain? It’s OK. The new joint is a little achy and stiff at times. And it’s still only flexes or bends back about 110 degrees. The surgeon would like 120. But it’s straight and holds weight and stable. Should have done this years ago.
Well, that was different.
I wake up in a perfectly nice hospital room, a 10-inch incision on my right knee and loaded with painkillers. I had just experienced a total knee replacement. And people were now insisting I get out of bed and walk.
Which I did. It went much more smoothly than I thought possible. My aluminum walker, like the one you see old people using to block aisles at HEB, made it easy as pie. I was momentarily hesitant to take that first step. I had just had much of my old knee removed, replaced by a shiny new one of titanium and plastic. Who knew what would happen? I took a step and then took another. Didn’t fall. Wasn’t blinded with pain. In fact, I didn’t have any pain, period. It was wonderful.
The nursing staff and hospital physical therapy guy smiled. Wait, they said. Your body is still pumped with whatever wonderful combination of anesthesia they used for surgery. In three days, it will wear off and you’ll experience the wonders of a wounded body healing from grievous injury. They were right. It wasn’t terrible pain, just something sharp and achy enough to remind you’d had major surgery.
I went in for surgery on a Monday and left Wednesday shortly afternoon. In that time, I learned some PT exercises and how to use the CPM — continuous passive motion — machine which mechanically flexes and extends the knee tirelessly for two hours at a time. Keeps the range of motion supple and muscles and tendons stretched out.
Wednesday, I went home with my exercises, my CPM and pain medication. Ginny kept me on the exercise regimen, as did a home PT guy. Between them, I walked, stretched, flexed, etc.
By Thursday, I was pretty convinced this was the stupidest idea I’d ever had and would never do it again. That’s a pretty common reaction, my surgeon’s office said. Healing is a process and the misery ebbs and flows. But it gets better. Just continue doing the exercises, keep moving and stay ahead of the pain.
True enough. Today is January 24. just shy a day of tw0 weeks since surgery. The pain is more annoying than hurtful and I keep moving. Today, Ginny and I took advantage of an amazingly beautiful Winter day to go to Denman Park and walk. There we traveled 0.37 of a mile and watched ducks play in a pond. That may not sound impressive, but before surgery, I could rarely get much more than a quarter-mile walk without grinding bone on bone.
Ginny and I now have one new knee each. By Summer, we hope, we’ll both have replacement knees all around and go a-traveling. Life, after all, means you keep moving.
Ice on the roof.
Before the sun rises on January 11 and without the aid of coffee, I will report to a hospital on San Antonio’s northside where a pleasantly friendly, skilled orthopedic surgeon will begin the process of removing my old, worn-out right knee. And replace it with a new titanium one. Some 6 to 8 weeks later, we’ll repeat the process on the left one. The medical pros call it TKR — total knee replacement.
I’m really looking forward to it.
More more years than I care to admit, my knees have been a pain. They ache in damp and cold. They grow stiff. They crackle and pop at the most inopportune times. They have grown unstable to the point I feel like I’m walking stilts. Osteoarthritis will do that. It’s a slow degeneration of the cartilage or cushioning material between the joint. Wait long enough and you get bone on bone. That’s where my knees have taken me now.
The surgeon assures me it will be an easy thing, relatively speaking. The operation takes 90 minutes and I’ll spend maybe two nights in the hospital. It has been done a gazillion times with positive results. I will be able to walk more easily and without pain. After I learn to walk again.
There are other benefits. The surgeries will help straighten my bowed legs and make me a little taller.
This is going to be a new experience. I’ve never had major surgery, not counting removal of four wisdom teeth and repair of a deviated septum. I haven’t been hospitalized in nearly 46 years when I spent a week in an Army hospital with mononucleosis.
Ginny went through this some dozen years or so ago when she shattered her left knee while teaching Boy Scouts to ride a bike. One of them had difficulty remembering how to use the brake. The extensiveness of the fracture and complications with her rheumatoid arthritis resulted in a total knee replacement. She will be a difficult act to follow. She hated using a wheelchair and hated using a cane. She wanted to walk and she did as soon as humanly possible, without complaint. I prefer to whimper and complain.
I discovered that before TKR, you must spend an hour in Joint Class, learning how they’ll fit a metal-and-plastic device onto your leg and the strengthening exercises necessary to deal with it. Also, you learn the kinds of drains and IV ports that will be attached and how the surgical incision will be covered. And how you will be up on your feet pretty much as soon as you wake. And then there’s the post-surgery physical therapy.
I am looking forward to it. Really. I’m tired of the pain. I’m tired of cutting short walks with the dogs. I want to explore different cities and lost places with my wife. We have walked all over Paris and London and explored battlefields and our own hometown streets, and there is so much more world to see that require me doing more than hobble around, grimacing.
My rheumatologist told me once you know when it’s time for TKR (I love saying that) when the pain really gets in the way. That’s now. The old knees have done their job middling well for nearly 70 years. It’s time for them to go. We’ll see how it goes.
Twenty years ago this Sunday, on a quiet spring morning, I found myself on a Southwest Airline flight, headed toward Oklahoma City. That had not been my plan that morning. But a phone call to my bureau office sometime after 9 am changed everything.
‘Someone just blew up the federal building in Oklahoma CIty,’ my editor in Dallas yelled. He was not a man given to yelling. I asked for details. You rush off into a storm of a story, it’s good to know what happened, what to expect. ‘Terrorists. Somebody. We don’t know,’ the editor yelled. ‘Just get there.’ So I did.
I called Ginny at home, asked her to throw some clothes in a carry-on, packed up my laptop and called Hertz for a rental car in OKC. Then I rushed to the house. If I hurried, I could make the last morning flight, Ginny drove me to the airport, her face tight with anxiety. She’d sent me off to tornadoes, hurricanes and other calamities. But this was new. This was different.
Conversation boiled over in the airport about the images starting to flood CNN blasting out of every TV set there. Speculation ran rampant that Muslim terrorists were involved. Or maybe drug criminal gangs. The flight was packed I grabbed a window seat and waited to see what would come next once I got to the destination.
As we approached OKC, the pilot advised that we’d be passing over downtown, pointing out the damaged hulk of federal building. The plane’s conversational buzz came to complete silence. I looked out my window and saw the 10-story building with it’s front scooped out in a gaping hole. As firefighters and rescue teams swirled around the base of building, it looked like an ant bed destroyed by a child.
When I got downtown, police had set a security barrier for several blocks. I parked, and ran toward the epicenter of the blast, calling in to the Dallas office to find out who else was there and where we could link up. Up closer, the back of the building looked almost undamaged, but the frenzy of activity around the perimeter of the blast area was more intense. Downtown workers evacuated from neighboring offices stood together, their faces dazed with shock and disbelief. No one could grasp how the kind of horror commonplace in, say, Beirut or elsewhere in the Middle East, could arrive unbidden in their little town. A wind picked up from the north and the stench of burning plastic and other things filled the air. The crowd of bystanders grew larger, their faces locked on the ruined building.
I won’t bore you with the common details of my reporting. For the next four of five days, I met with my colleagues from the Dallas Morning News, talked to people, attended impromptu press conferences with police, fire and federal officials, gleaning the raw data of news. And phoned them in. Like every other reporter, I picked up pieces of the story that homegrown terrorists who viewed themselves as patriots for blowing up office workers and children, had packed a van with barrels of fertilizer and fuel and set it off shortly after 9 a.m on April 19, 1995.
The people of Oklahoma City rebounded. They began doing what they could to help the survivors and grieve with the families of the 168 dead. They talked with disbelief that an American, a ex-soldier could act with such evil intent toward his own countrymen. They cursed the name of Timothy McVeigh, the bomber. and on Sunday, attended church and prayed for his soul and those of the survivors. They talked about how they would rebuild, how they would remember the dead.
My most vivid memory of the event isn’t tied to the rescue teams pulling out the wounded and the dead, or the shell-shocked firefighters working the scene. But on a day or two after the bombing, I stood in a light rain brought by a late cold front, soaking up the images of the ruined downtown. Thousands of panes of glass had been shattered in a 10-block area by the sheer force of the explosion, someone told me. But there, in front of the bombed federal building was a high-rise hotel, every window blown out by the blast. The building seemed to sag and lean inwardly. I could see light-colored drapes, sucked out of the shattered windows as they waved limply in the rain.
It became, for me anyway, the sad reminder that evil can grow in the oddest of places, right here at home.