Double knee replacement: 2 & 1/2 weeks out

I’m on the proverbial road to recovery after double knee replacement on Thursday, September 14th.

I graduated from walker to cane today at physical therapy (PT). Well, I’m to use the cane only for indoors right now, but it’s nice to have a hand free for carrying things from one room to the other.

Getting to this point was gradual. Almost every day I see a bit of improvement. But it started out rough!

Right after surgery, even using the walker was tough. Everything I had to do caused pain. I hadn’t thought of what it would be like to be to be in pain and need help to do something seemingly as simple as go to the bathroom.

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Lots of brackets in the hospital 

I was in the hospital for three nights, and my sister blessed me greatly by staying the night with me each night. Yes, a nurse could have taken care of me, but they have a bunch of folks to take care of while my sister could get me what I needed right then, no wait. Plus, when I started throwing up when the nurse took the drains out of my legs, my sister was there to point out to the nurse that I passed out, too. The nurse was so focused on what she was doing that she wasn’t on top of how I was responding. I came to surrounded by five nurses in a flurry of activity.

I think I passed out a couple more times during that several hour period, but I’m not sure, as that time 24 to 48 hours after surgery was pretty groggy. Who knows if it was the pain meds, anesthesia effects (my guess since anesthesia is tough on me), or blood loss that caused me to keep passing out? I had a blood transfusion that afternoon, and it was pretty much uphill from there, so perhaps that was the answer. Saturday was a much better day than Friday.

The Physician’s Assistant who’d managed to get my pain meds balanced and who ordered the transfusion was the one who delivered the news on Sunday midday that I’d get to go the the inpatient rehab center that afternoon. That good news was an indication that I was on the right road now.

I had a week in the inpatient rehab center, Sunday to Sunday. That was a good transition place for getting me ready to be at home. I had physical therapy (PT) twice a day and occupational therapy (OT) once a day. PT was mostly walking and learning how to go up and down stairs and how to get in and out of a car. And standing and sitting and walking.  And walking some more.

Lots of walking, which was very painful at the beginning. Standing hurt a lot, too. Sitting was easier, but I still had to kind of drop into a chair and not go down gradually.

OT involved figuring out how to shower once I got home, looking at the arrangement of my bathrooms and learning how to set up a shower chair and get in and out of the tub. I thought I’d be able to use the built-in shower seat in my master bath, but it is too small. A shower chair in my hall bathroom works much better for now. Later, when my legs are stronger, I’ll be able to use the shower in my bathroom.

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After-PT ice packs on my knees

The biggest challenge of inpatient rehab was getting my pain meds on time for PT and OT. I swear about one third of the time I had PT or OT with little to no pain meds in my system. I’ll call the nurses station 30 to 40 minutes before I actually needed my pain meds so that they’d have time to get them to me. That often didn’t work.

Sometimes they’d be timely, sometimes not. That was frustrating for me and an incentive for getting home, where I’d be able to take pain meds when I need them.

The Physician’s Assistant at the rehab center was a former student from the high school where I taught for a long time (he recognized me), and he’s the one who came up with a solution to keep at least some pain meds in my system at all times. I shared my troubles with getting them on time, and he came up with a two-tier system that worked better.

But it was still hard to keep the right amount of pain meds in my system because the nurses were so inconsistent. I think maybe they have too many patients to take care of. And some honestly didn’t seem concerned with being timely. Their philosophy seemed to be “I get to you when I get to you.” So what if pain hampered my ability to have a good PT or OT session? That didn’t matter much at all to them.

The PT and OT folks there were very good, though. They were almost all personable and caring, pushing gently when they needed to and letting up a bit when the pain was too much. That week in rehab got me to the point where I felt comfortable coming home, felt that with my sister’s help I could handle being home.

And I did handle being home fairly easily. The 15 stairs I had to get up turned out to be no big deal. And I could get around with the walker very well.

My sister has been a wonderful nurse, cook, chauffeur, medicine picker-upper, fetcher of all kinds of things, bath setup person and assistant, medicine giver, and cat caretaker, as well as the one who hooked up my TV and wrangled with Comcast on the phone for me. Plus, I’m sure there are more things she’s done for me, ones I’m not remembering right at this moment. There are so many!

I now have outpatient PT three times last week with a former student/athlete from the early days of my teaching/coaching career. She has been as good as I expected (and I expected the best!). She’s the one who has to torture me with both bending and straightening my knee, and she has done it as gently as possible while still getting improvement during the week.

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Outpatient PT torture stretch

I’ll be on the outpatient three-times-a-week PT cycle at least another couple of weeks. I’m hoping to be able to take care of myself at home by this weekend so that my sister can get back to her life in New England.

That’s when I’ll need to start calling on friends for help, especially for chauffeur service to PT and back. I’m hoping to be able to drive soonish, but for now I still need the pain meds, plus my knees don’t bend really well or move quite as easily as I’ll need them to when I drive. So I’ll need drivers to get me to and from PT.

I’m pleased with my progress. I had the staples out (painful!) on Friday, and the scars are healing well. I can bend and straighten as much as expected at this point, maybe even a bit better than expected with my right knee. I can get around the house more easily each day. Getting in and out of the car is no big deal, nor is going up and down my stairs.

I still walk too flat-footed and look down too much when I walk, but my Frankenstein knees still have a ways to go. My legs don’t quite do what my brain tells them to do . . .  yet.

Am I glad I had this surgery? Yes – even though the day after surgery I asked why in the world I had this done to me.

Am I glad I had both knees replaced at the same time? Yes. This surgery is very painful (50x more painful than my hysterectomy this spring), but I can’t imagine that there is a lot less pain with only one knee replaced at a time. At some point you get into big pain, and then you can’t really differentiate a whole lot about what is hurting. At least that’s my experience.

I don’t think I’ve had as much pain as lots of folks do. When I’m sitting still, the pain isn’t bad at all. I hardly notice it.

I’ve been able to sleep most of the night nearly every night (well, except for in the hospital where they wake you every hour or so). The pain meds have done their job (except for when the nurses didn’t get them to me in a timely manner).

I’ve been fortunate. Very fortunate.

I know some of that is the support I’ve gotten from friends and family, prayers and good energy sent my way. I’m very grateful for that.

And a lot is my sister’s care and love. I feel sorry for those who don’t have a great caretaker like my sister. She is a true Godsend for me. I’m especially grateful for her.

Okay, that will be enough writing for today. I need to get up and moving and do my afternoon set of PT exercises.

If you have questions about knee replacement or recovery, please don’t hesitate to ask. Sometimes having the perspective of someone who has gone through a similar situation can be helpful.

And I’m happy to help.

So it’s onward for me, further down the road to recovery, careful heel-to-toe steps with my eyes on the horizon!

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Fewer bracelets in the rehab hospital 

 

 

 

 

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