The Bees Knees: Part I
I come from sturdy stock. I’ve survived a lot from my childhood and growing up years. My threshold for pain is high, like natural childbirth high, but the last thirty-eight days have brought me to my knees.
My arthritic knees, a gift from my grandma, have been a source of pain and embarrassment since my thirties. I have repeatedly rubbed Aspercream, Voltaren cream, and Icy Hot on these bony knees I’ve had cortisone shots, rooster cone shots, and rotated ice with heat. I would slowly rise from chairs and avoid all stairs in favor of an elevator. Worrying about my knees has consumed a lot of my life for thirty-plus years.
On a vacation to Washington D.C. a few years ago, I clung to Boo’s arm as we made our way up the eighty-seven steps from the Reflection Pool to the Lincoln Memorial. Rubbing my knees and reverently limping around while snapping photos, I told Boo, “There’s got to be an elevator somewhere. I don’t think I can make it back down.”
I looked all around and found a small sign that said Elevator. It was in the back, back corner of the monument. One lone person in a wheelchair was parked right in front of the elevator doors. “I’ve been waiting for the elevator to come back up for quite a while,” she said.
“I’m going to get my husband and grandson; will you hold the door?” I asked. And she gave me the thumbs up.
Rushing to find Boo and Sam, I called, “Come on guys, I located the elevator!”
Turning the corner, I saw the back of the lady in the wheelchair rolling into the elevator. With her was an assortment of people on crutches, walkers, and canes. I grabbed Boo and my grandson Sam, urging them to get in. All of a sudden Boo says, “Uhh, we’ll meet you at the bottom,” and they walked away. “Chicken!!!” I called after them.
I squeezed myself into the tiny steel trap, making the other riders move closer together. It took a good 5 minutes for the trembling, creaky doors to finally close and I pushed the dirty-looking number ‘one’ on the wall of the elevator. Casually, I glanced to see if there was a number to call if we were to get stuck, but it was too faded to read.
Another long minute later, the elevator jolted and then shuddered as it began to move. S l o w l y, the airless box moved downward, while the wafting July body heat and odor settled heavy on my skin. The smell of old, tarnished metal and flattened carpet that may never have been vacuumed, made me feel claustrophobic. My fellow riders exuded smells from Bengay cream, onions from lunch, and cigarette smoke. I felt a little throw-up in my mouth but managed to hold my breath for the remainder of the ride.
It felt like an eternity as we bumped and gyrated to a stop, waiting another eternity for the doors to open. Luckily I was the first one-off, cursing under my breath at Boo for leaving me and my knees for causing me this stress.
“What took you so long, Nannie?” my grandson asked when I jumped out.
“I’ll tell you later,” I said and took a gasp of fresh air.
So, when my doctor told me this October, “You can take shots and rub creams until you are one hundred years old, but nothing will ever heal your knees. You need knee replacement surgery if you want your life back.”
I cheerfully said, “Let’s do it!” I felt certain this would be my answer as I halfway listened to his explanation about the surgery. I must have blocked out the warnings about throbbing discomfort afterward and tortuous rehab exercises. I zeroed in on the statements, “You’ll be so glad you had the surgery. You’ll be better than brand new.”
On November 8th I arrived at the hospital at 4:45 a.m. and went directly into Pre-Op, where things started to move way too fast. When the anesthesiologist came in to do a nerve block, I started asking, “When do I get the happy juice?”
The nerve block is started at thigh level and a wire is threaded down a major nerve on the front of the leg. Then pain medicine is released through a ball of meds that completely blocks pain in the leg for one week. The nurses and doctors were so kind and thorough and when they told me to sit up in the operating room to get my spinal block, I remember asking, “I hope my doctor had a good breakfast.” That was the last I remember.
Two- and one-half hours later, I was in the recovery room asking when I could eat. I felt drowsy but happy. I told my surgeon, “This was a breeze. Thank you. I’m going to be your best patient ever! You’ll see.”
He smiled and patted my foot, “Keep the good attitude! You’ll need it.”
When I got to my room, I noticed something was attached to me. “What’s this?” I asked the nurse.
‘It’s your nerve block pain medicine. It’s stopping all of the pain right now. You’ll have it for one week and then it comes out. You’ll be so glad you have it. By the way, you have to take a stool softener and a laxative starting today. Pain medicine stops you up.” Still on my ‘happy juice’ high, I didn’t really soak in the reality of what she had just said.
Approximately ninety minutes later, the physical therapist came in and suggested we go for a walk. “Sure,” I said.
As I sat up the nurse helped me with my IV and the nerve block pain ball that I had to wear around my neck because it was attached to my leg. The pain ball was in its own little black bag, like a purse. I tried to move myself to the edge of the bed and discovered I had to use my hands to lift up my own leg to place it in position. The therapist put that stylish white cotton belt around my waist so I wouldn’t fall, and off we went down the hall for a 10-foot walk.
The whole twenty-four hours I spent in the hospital was full of walks and threats. “Be sure to drink your Miralax and take your stool softener.” “If you don’t pee, you’ll get a catheter.” “You have to eat.” There were pages of information given to me and more “Be sure to..” reminders and then poof, I was discharged and going home. Still a little loopy from pain medicine, I asked Boo, “Please stop and buy a bag of Cheetos. I need them.”
Boo gave me a sideways glance, knowing I forbid Cheetos in the house due to my addiction to those orange, crunchy sticks of deliciousness.
“Right now?” he asked.
The next day, the at-home physical therapist came by to begin my three times a week sessions. I wanted to make a good impression, but sadly my greasy hair, old sweatshirt, and baggy pajama bottoms were all I could muster. Oh, and did I say I was wearing a thigh-high pair of white compression hose? When I answered the door using the walker a friend had loaned me, I saw a handsome, thirty-something, young man with a beautiful smile.
“ Hi, I’m your physical therapist, Mitchell. Ready to get started?
To be continued….