March 3, 2017 – Sentara Obici Hospital, Suffolk, Virginia
A milestone week for me! Knee replacement surgery.
Knee replacement was one of those “mountains” in my life that I was not confident in tackling. Even after two prior knee surgeries (33 and 20 years ago), I was intimidated. It would be (at least in my mind!) an admission of aging. Could I be “normal” again afterward? Could I endure the pain? So many unknowns – left the door cracked for fear to creep in. What an ugly, sick creature fear is. Its only strength is its ability to keep you from doing something – maybe something new – that could advance your life. Maybe doing the right thing even when you aren’t sure there is any reward. Maybe even doing the right thing when you think the likely outcome will be pain or punishment.
I took THE STEP. Started the ball rolling. Tuesday morning, I showed up. At the hospital. I joked about the thought of making a last second dash for “freedom” – only to be caught – darted like a wild animal or tazed – on the front lawn of the hospital, and dragged back in. Instead, I sat in the pre-op area with an attitude of resignation, much like an animal in the slaughter chute. “IT” was going to happen and there was nothing I could do to avoid it now. I just needed to sit there and wait. I joked with the nurses – humor and levity being my way of getting through a tense situation. Everyone was nice. Capable, skilled actually, confident, and “professional.” Once the surgeon marked the knee with his initials, “IT” was definitely going to happen.
Having had anesthesia before, I was determined to monitor that “moment” when I fell under the effects of the anesthetic drugs. “That” didn’t happen. I jabbered on. Suddenly, I awoke coming out of the operating room. Lucid. As if I has just awoken from a nap. Jabbering again (So maybe, just maybe, I was overly talkative.) I may even have called the physician’s assistant “Doogie Howser” to his face. I meant it as a compliment – really I did.
Funny thing – NO PAIN! Miracles (make that skill and science!) of anesthesiology. I love those folks.
I had survived.
But… Would I ever be normal again?
Day 1. My first time in physical therapy I was determined I was going to have the strength of Bo Jackson and the stamina of Michael Phelps! An overachiever! Well… after working really hard on my knee flexion… I fainted! The result of a combination of breath-holding and mild dehydration, I was told. My comeback… I joked about “selling” the technique to the other patients in the group therapy. My wife said I was the “class clown!”
Was it easy? No! Pushing yourself past the point of discomfort is never easy. The result of not doing it: stiffness, reduced flexibility, and long-term… not normal mobility. I simply HAD TO push through it.
The next two days, I learned and watched. Nurses, assistants, physical therapists, and the doctors – all caring for people. They really did care. I was actually able to slow down and have real conversations, get to know my caregivers. People interaction. It made the experience I had feared into a joyful one.
Fear… what was that? Why had I let it work on me so much before this experience? Had I known how this week would be, I would have run joyfully to the hospital long ago. Lesson learned! Be optimistic anyway. Actually choose to be optimistic. Fear is a bully, but it is weak and fades once you start running toward that thing you fear.
So, I actually lived. I have a ways to go in my recovery and rehabilitation process before I am “normal.” Actually, my expectation is that I will be stronger and much more mobile than I was at the time of surgery. I have that image in my mind. The take-home lesson is to learn that I can actually conquer fear when I just decide to run forward, make the decision I am afraid of. You can do it too.
Fairfield Bain, Guest Blogger