Cover Stories

My Knee and Me

By Lynette M Loomis

Lynette M. Loomis is a contributing writer to 55 PLUS. She lives in Pittsford.

More than 10 years ago, I had a knee replacement — twice on the same knee, with an additional knee surgery, in between.

What always comes to mind was the loss of income, a lot of pain for recovery and rehab — and anger.

After three surgeries, I had knee scars that looked like a railroad crossing.

Fast forward. The “other” knee would swell up to the size of a grapefruit making it almost impossible to get off the riding mower or out of the car. Toddlers could outrun me. Stairs took courage. Steroid injections helped but were not a cure. It was time for a new knee.

I went for the X-rays and consult. A little more than 66 ccs of fluid was drained (that’s more than a shot glass) and then I could move my knee. The X-rays showed what I already knew; I was ready. The surgeon was not. He told me to go to physical therapy prior to surgery to improve my range of motion. I was not going to be the victim again. I would own this darn procedure. Control would be mine — in theory.

The pre-surgery manual said to get everything done you could in advance of your surgery. I live alone; therefore, the list was lengthy.

Change the furnace filter. Recolor the grout on the main floor because who knew when I would be able to get up off the floor again. Spray the pulleys on garage door to prevent rust. Clean out every cupboard for the things that had expired in the last decade. Buy extra dog food for the three dogs. Purchase wide-legged pants that could accommodate my surgical dressings. (Many sweatpants aren’t wide enough.) Pick pants and shirts with pockets for the cell phone. Get hair cut (six inches actually) to make it easier to care for.

Find a plastic lawn chair with arms for the shower and have a handheld shower head installed. Make sure there are night lights, as I might not remember where I was sleeping. Fill the bird feeders. Clip toenails. (This is more important than you might think, because you must be like Gumby to reach your toes after surgery.)

Clean the house. Cook and freeze a lot of food. (Prepared foods contain a lot of sodium which is not great for swelling and blood pressure.) I knew from experience not to cook huge pans of anything. It’s difficult to get large pans out of the oven with only one hand, while you cling to your cane or walker. Plus, you get tired of eating the same thing day in and day out. Cabin fever is real enough when you can’t drive. Buy protein drinks. (You’ll need extra protein when recovering and not all brands are the same.) Get cash, so I could reimburse people who shopped for me.

I was compulsive about pre-surgery physical therapy (PT). I went to PT twice a week and then did the prescribed exercises at home to increase strength and muscle flexibility. The surgeon explained that what I went in with would be what I came out with. That’s all I needed to hear to motivate me. The smallest of my three dogs liked to sit on me when I tried to exercise — a nice reminder what it would feel like to gain 18 pounds due to inappropriate eating while recovering.

My surgery was on Valentine’s Day. I didn’t have any other plans, so it was fine. I bought pounds of wrapped chocolate and 15 small bags to distribute to all the medical and support staff I would encounter at Highland Hospital. A little kindness is always appreciated.

One almost needs to have a degree in project management to coordinate all the support needed. For example, I had arranged for a ride to and from the hospital. I arrived there just fine. My arranged ride home from the hospital was intercepted by COVID-19. Hadn’t planned for that. But two strong friends who could get me up the steps into my house arrived to help.

The surgery went fine. The post-operative recovery, in the hospital, consisted of four hours of retching clear liquid. I could breathe, but not easily. Each time I tried to swallow it got worse. I blew up a few bubbles the size of tangerines, which was very interesting. There was no odor or taste to this “stuff.” So, from 5:50 p.m. to 9 p.m., I was a mess. The final cure was two cups of chocolate pudding which pushed the offending “stuff” down to my stomach.

Then, they had me up and walking. One could probably make a cast from my fingerprints as I clutched that walker for dear life. I don’t have stitches. It was superglue, hopefully higher-than-workshop quality.

At home, I tried not to be a martyr and failed. I was not taking enough pain medication. It was prescribed, but I thought I would tough it out. Clearly, I had been watching too many action movies in which the hero gets shot, has the bullet removed with no anesthesia and then rejoins the fight. I increased my meds as prescribed. Home nursing and physical therapy came once or twice a week. They kept reminding me that I did not need to walk them to the door when they left.

My assumption was that I would read a lot of great books. I did not read for two weeks — could not concentrate. Plus, when you go through the agonizing home physical therapy two to three times a day, then ice, then elevate, it’s almost time to begin again.

Big progress.

With my cane, I could walk to the end of the driveway and back, escorted. I would have cheered for myself, but the therapist had to keep reminding me to breathe. Friends continue to shop for me. I have developed a new technique for feeding the birds. I open the kitchen window, place seed on a broom and stretch the broom out the window, dropping the seed on the railing so I can watch the birds. It’s not as nice as having seed all the way down the railing but it’s better than nothing. I am not sure sitting and watching the birds eat is any different than watching TV, but it feels more righteous.

At four weeks I can walk around the house, but not up the stairs. No twisting. Putting on pants is still painful. The physical therapist said, for only four weeks out, I am doing wonderfully. People ask, “So are you all better now?” Not yet, but I am getting there.