No, I haven’t fallen off the edge of the earth. And no, I haven’t been too busy playing tennis to blog. Sadly, tennis isn’t in my plans for the near future, and by near future I mean several months. Almost 3 weeks out from my knee surgery, I can say that without crying. I’m not happy about it, but frankly, as bad as my knee was and as hard as the recovery has been, I can’t even imagine playing. I’m glad the US Open coincided with my convalescence; it kept me entertained and still, which is a tall order for this busybody.
I expected recovery to be hard, but I didn’t realize how time-consuming rehab would be. I do physical therapy and a modified workout 5 days a week, with one day of just PT and 20 minutes on the bike and one day of rest & recovery to round out my week. The rest & recovery day is the hardest for me. I love the free time early in the day, but by about 2 p.m. I’m antsy and jonesing for a good sweat.
Been spending more time than I ever have, ever in my whole life, sprawled on the couch in front of the TV, exhausted and spent. After getting my kids off to school, doing PT and the modified workout, running an errand or two and feeding myself, I’m done. All I can manage is to splay out; lifting my arm to point the remote at the TV is a big chore. Such a strange state of being for me. I’m trying to be patient, and of course being so so so tired helps in that pursuit.
The good news is that progress is being made. While the PT is brutal, and forcing my knee to do things it most definitely does not want to do is hard work, I can see real improvement over the previous week. I’m still under strict orders to let the pain be my guide, but I’m pushing myself a bit more every day. Yesterday the big accomplishment was step-ups (stepping up onto a low bench and forcing my knee to bend as if I were going up a flight of stairs). At first, the bending motion was excruciating, but by about the 20th rep it got easier. Today it was a modified squat with the big rubber ball. Real squats, which were a big part of my life pre-surgery, are off the menu for me, forever. Or as long as I have this cartilage-deficient knee. If I choose to get a new knee, I can squat all day long, but with this old clunker, no squats and no lunges. If I linger too long on the fact that I can’t do two of my favorite exercises–in addition to the moratorium on tennis–I’ll get very sad, so I’m zipping right on by those topics. Gonna try and focus on what I can do, and see how far that gets me. For now, the list of things I can do is pretty short, but I’m doing those things with less pain overall, so I’m calling that a win. I have a newfound respect for anyone who lives with chronic pain. Knowing that mine is temporary is comforting (although 3 weeks is a loooong time when you’re in the thick of it!).
It’s been two weeks since my knee surgery. A fortnight, as they’d say on Downton Abbey. While I’m not one to sit still by preference, I would rate this healing process a solid “not bad.” It’s certainly nothing I would choose; I much prefer to be a perpetual busybody. Being constrained by my body makes me crazy, and I used to fight it mightily. I still hate it, but am coming to accept it. I’m not one for horn-tooting, but I’ve gotten a lot better at convalescing since cancer and infection so rudely interrupted my life. Put a knee surgery, albeit a complicated one, into that context and you’ll see what I mean. I’ll never love being grounded, and I’ll always yearn to be able to do more, go faster, move freely, and aim higher, but I’m doing ok. A solid “not bad.”
Physical therapy started in earnest on Monday, despite the Labor Day holiday. I was definitely laboring in my PT session, no doubt. While a good, hard workout leaves me spent and satisfied, a good, hard PT session is an entirely different animal. Making my battered knee do things it doesn’t want to do, like bend and straighten without hiding behind a limp and an outward-swinging cheating motion, is hard work. Convincing my knee that going down a set of stairs is not cause to sit down and cry is rough. My trainer is a hard-ass with no sympathy and no mercy — just the way I like it. Yesterday I was surrounded by real athletes — not adrenalin & endorphin junkies who pursue fitness but athletes who live & breathe by their sport. Watching them grind out a crazy-hard workout while I felt desolate by the endless floor exercises my PT requires, I noticed the green-eyed monster creeping in. Yep, I was jealous of those able-bodied guys whose bodies sailed through increasingly difficult exercises. Burpees with a 3-step box jump? Easy. Overhead press with gigantic plates and metal chains thrown in for extra weight? Cinchy. One-arm rows while balancing one-legged on the Bosu ball? Piece of cake. Their form is impeccable, their bodies never lagged, and their muscles rippled showily beneath their dry-fit clothes. I was flat-out jealous.
I’m still swollen, bruised, and slow. My form is decidedly old-lady, and just getting onto a couple of the weight machines was tricky. On a normal day, I’d just hike my leg up and hop onto those machines, but these days, my steps are slow and borderline shuffling, and hiking up a leg and hopping on aren’t on the menu. As I struggled through my workout, right leg shaking angrily with the effort, I realized that those athletes who looked so effortless were out of place. They’re NFL players, and the season has started. So…why aren’t they working out in far-flung cities, with their teams? Two had just been cut from their teams, and one didn’t get asked back at all. They had a bigger problem than I have with my rehab: they’ve lost their jobs and are scrambling to find another spot on another team. So while their bodies haven’t stopped them from doing what they want, circumstances have. I’m guessing they feel as much stress and frustration as I do, and who knows — they may look at me enviously, because all I’ve got to worry about is a few months of rehab while their very livelihood is on the line.
Perspective. Once again, perspective smacked me upside the head.
I guess I needed that little reminder that while I’m “not bad,” I could be a whole lot worse.
Today is a day of rest & recovery. At the end of yesterday’s session, when my trainer ordered me to rest today, I balked. Rest?? I’m just now starting to see some progress. My range of motion is better, and I managed to use a different cardio machine than just the bike (my least-favorite, by a lot). I’d worked up a good sweat and was starting to catch a glimpse of a decent workout, after a bit of a dry spell. I didn’t want to rest & recover, I want to go, go go! Later that evening, though, as the muscle strain and soreness and the ever-present tightness around my kneecap set in, I understood. So today I will stay out of the gym. I will rest & recover. I was tempted, though, after I dropped off my middle-schooler, to run on over to the gym as is my routine. One day away, and I miss that place like a lovesick crackhead, as Ke$ha so eloquently says.
Our little piggie found a lipstick in my purse and after she tried it out, she got some on the carpet.
Not bad, Piggie. Not bad.
The knee surgery went well yesterday. Got up at the crack of dawn to truck on into the Medical Center and was at the surgery center at 6:10 a.m. Sherpa Amy came prepared with a rollie bag full of projects and snacks, even a picnic lunch. She reminded me to tell the doc that morphine is not my friend via IV but intramuscularly in the behind works fine. She brought me home while Trevor filled my prescriptions, then helped Macy with her knitting. I would love to sing her praises even more but don’t want to risk someone else wanting to partake of her medical concierge services. I’m selfish like that.
After filling out the requisite paperwork, I was escorted back to anesthesia land, one of my favorite places. The anesthesiologist was flat-out awesome. He looked about 25 and played football in college. Based on the size of his thighs, I’m guessing he special-orders his scrubs. He held my hand and said he was taking me to the prom–his little joke to distract me from him inspecting my veins, which are combative and uncooperative on a good day. One quick poke to my left hand, and my prom date was in.
My surgeon came to visit and to double check that I did want the lateral release procedure in addition to the arthroscope. I said yes, please. Ever since I learned that my kneecap was dislocated, I’ve been creeped out and was ready to get it back in line.
After our chat, I got half of my anesthesia cocktail but had to wait for the other half until I got into the OR. I had to haul myself up on the operating table, which would have been difficult if I’d consumed the entire cocktail. I vaguely recall being in the OR but don’t remember getting on the table.
A couple more pics of the lateral release:
Next thing I know, I’m waking up in recovery and fighting hard to keep my eyes open. I’m weird about wanting to prove that I’m ok and ready to go home. Even when I know in my heart of hearts that I should stay, I want to go. Kinda sounds like the basis for a country song. I’ve got an ace bandage from mid-calf to a several inches above my knee, and lord knows what’s under the ace bandage. I’m not all that curious to see. I know that there are 3 incisions, all of which are stitched closed. The ace bandage can come off tomorrow, and I’ll get a look at the stuff inside.
The good news from the surgeon: both procedures were successful. The bad news: I have no cartilage under my knee cap. None. Nada. Zip. So while my kneecap is realigned again, I’ll still be dealing with the pain. Hopefully not as bad as it has been; I’m optimistic, or delusional, either one fits. Dr Alani also said that even after the scope and the lateral release, I can’t do squats or lunges. Ever. Sigh. That makes me quite sad because those are things I actually like to do. I’m weird that way. And stubborn, too: the fact that he says I can’t do it incites me to try. My handlers are going to be hard at work on this one.
Because there’s no cartilage under my kneecap, I will most likely need a knee replacement at some point down the road. Add that to my list of things to do.
Today I have 2 goals: to take my twice-daily antibiotics without letting myself be transported to the awfulness that was 267 straight days of antibiotics after my post-mastectomy infection. I can do this. The second goal is try to bear some weight on my right leg and see how the knee responds. My guess is that its response will be angry. I’m tempted to start weaning myself off the pain meds, but I can hear my handlers protesting that it’s too soon, and that I’m going to need the meds even more after I try to put some weight on my bum leg. But the Lortab makes me itchy and spacey. I can’t take anti-inflammatories because of the PRP he injected into my knee. The autologous injection’s purpose is to stimulate the inflammatory response that helps our bodies heal. Anti-inflammatories short-circuit that response. Same for ice: I’d like nothing more than a big bag of ice on my knee right now, but it too can hinder the PRP’s success. So no ice, no OTC meds for me.
The surgical center staff talked a lot about the pain associated with the lateral release, and I smiled knowingly because I’ve been through so much worse. All I have to do is toss out the words “bilateral mastectomy,” “nosocomial infection,” “multiple tissue debridements,” and “DIEP reconstruction,” and the nurses realized that it’s all relative. An IV in my hand, a few little incisions and some cut connective tissue don’t scare me. Looking back on my previous surgeries reminds me that while it’s a hassle to hobble and a drag to be on crutches, it’s a piece of cake comparatively speaking. If one good thing has come from all the surgeries I’ve had it’s that I’ve learned to be much more patient with the healing process — a big step for a busybody like me. Instead of gnashing my teeth because I’m on the DL again, I’m sending happy, healing thoughts to my beleaguered body. As my sweet survivor sister Jenny reminds me, “It’s temporary.” Hopefully I’ll be recovered in time for some fall tennis, when the sun-soaked TX weather eases a bit.