Surgery day was a blur. I have discovered this week that my reaction to opiates is to go to sleep. And maybe throw up. Surgery day I spent quite a bit of the time asleep, and ate very little.

Bionic knee
Bionic knee

Yesterday was a more painful day. I was tired of being asleep and not eating, so I opted not to take my big time pain meds. I called the doctor in the morning to get an alternate medication, and leaned on the unflinching rock of Ibuprofin to see me through. I didn’t get the new pain meds until nearly 5, however. Being up on important scientific findings, I supplemented the Ibuprofin with some “Zelda: Twilight Princess” for Wii. The fishing was a royal pain in the hienie and I resorted to a technique I try never to use (aka: asking my husband for help), but eventually I managed to conquer the first level.

My mother in law is here, and full of plans. So far we’ve deconstructed the kitchen table and chairs. For our combined birthday presents, she is paying to have them reupholstered. Also, she is spray painting the metal. This is ideal, since it’s really an awesome table and bench set from the 70s that is perfect for our kitchen, but whose stuffing is emerging. Then this weekend they’re planning on redoing the floor and fixtures in our bathroom – having demolished the floor last trip. I’m glad they’re keeping their plans modest this time.

Pictures from the knee scope
Pictures from the knee scope - I think these are the meniscus tears

How am I recovering from the ACL reconstruction and meniscus tears? Let’s see. I’m in this astonishing articulated brace, which I have to wear 24/7 for at least another day. Tomorrow I can take the brace and dressing off to bathe. I have to sleep in it, which is a bit of a challenge. The pain fluctuates more than I expected. When properly managed, there is less pain I had with the initial injury. This might be partially because I didn’t have prescription pain medication when I busted it the first time. I have some decent range of motion – better than I was expecting – going from fully extended to maybe 35 degrees. The brace, not the knee, seems to be the limiting factor. I’ve been doing some preliminary PT, and can do leg lifts. I finally figured out how to go up and down my stairs on crutches. Although I can bear weight on the knee without much additional pain, it does not seem stable or reliable, so I have to have crutches for all movement. It turns out that all the techniques I’d been using with my sore knee all summer long are the same ones that I need with my recovering knee.
Ice water circulation system
Ice water circulation system

I have this amazing cold pack system going on. There’s a reservoir of ice water that I connect to two ports on my brace. The ice water is circulated under my metal brace around me knee. A sensor shows when the water has gotten too warm. I swear this is the most effective of the pain mitigations, although it requires me to be pretty stationary. Also, I was unprepared for needing bags and bags of ice, so my caretakers have had to make several runs to the corner store. Finally, I can’t really change the ice pack myself — carrying things is hard on crutches and this is awkward and heavy. So I really do need people around me. And as I can tell by a certain rambliness in even this writing … I’m not 100% sharp.

I’m feeling very lucky in my supportive community. My biggest challenge will be the stir-craziness, I think. I am ok in my limited context with the pain meds and ice packs, but I am probably not up for much adventuring. On the other hand, I’m constitutionally ill-suited to sitting still and not doing much. We’ll see which one of these imperatives has the most energy behind it!

My office sent flowers!!!
My office sent flowers!!!

Marvels of modern medicine

There is more to me now than there was this morning. Where I once had a missing ACL and two frayed menisci, I now have an ACL and two shaved down menisci.

I would like to take a moment to talk about the tendon they put in my leg this morning. This tendon was a donated by an organ donor – someone who marked their driver’s license, or talked with their family. I have every hope that the man or woman who is giving me the ability to walk, run, jump and move died at a very old age surrounded peacefully by their family.

When we think of organ donation, we think of the big life saving donations: the heart, lungs, kidney. You might think, “I’m not healthy enough for any of my organs to be of use.” But for other things that make a huge impact on quality of life – knee tendons, corneas etc. – it makes a tremendous difference. I am incredibly grateful for the foresight and generosity of spirit of the donor who has given me a leg to stand on.

That said, let me fascinate you with a discussion of my morning! (Note: if you are faint of stomach regarding medical procedures, please feel free to stop reading now!)

My surgery was originally scheduled for noon. Yesterday, I got a call asking me to come in at 9 instead. On one hand, this was very good news since it’s hard to wait and think with no food, drink or (GASP) coffee! On the other hand, I had to be there two hours early, and Grey cannot be dropped off prior to 8 am. Putting all that together, I drove myself to the hospital.

My procedure was done at the same hospital where my sons were born. I took the same road, just as the sun was rising to burn off the morning mist. It was a lovely day. There was remarkably little waiting around, it seems. I was questioned, prepped, pregnancy-tested (negative!), written on, informed and advised. It seems like a very long time ago. I was wheeled in to do a nerve block before my husband returned. After they had put in my IV and added the block, my husband and my pastor both arrived in the recovery room. We prayed together, joked, talked logistics and waited. It seemed like only a few minutes after that when they kicked the guys out to finalize my preparation for surgery.

One of the last things I remember was telling the nurse how fascinating I found one of the drugs they gave me. I was given a tremendous number of drugs for this procedure. But just before pushing me into the OR they gave me a drug which would allow me to interact and react perfectly normally with them but which would not permit me to remember what happened. Sure enough, that conversation is my last memory. I know that I was awake after that. I assisted and followed instructions. I probably asked questions. I remember none of it.

So Sci-fi!

Anyway, the procedure went well. I came up from anesthesia extremely concerned about whether I had been polite under its influence. That was my first question, not “How did it go” or anything. Apparently I was at least unremarkable under the influence.

I did not have a chance to talk to my surgeon (consciously) after the procedure. He did talk to my husband, though. Although the surgery was a success, not all the news is good news. More of the meniscus was damaged than he had expected, so he had to remove more cartilage than he expected. I have pictures. They look like white stripes. Also, my knee shows some very early signs of arthritis. He said we would discuss this more in my follow up, so I’ll wait to find out what the implications of these two things are. I’m guessing, however, that the Boston Marathon is right out for 2012.

Then I came home! I’ve got some cool gear – for example a neat ice-pack-like device that circulates ice water under my brace. Oh, and an epic brace. But I am already limping around on my crutches, and bearing some weight on my leg.

I’m a little concerned about my big time painkiller. I’m still (I believe) under the effects of the nerve block, so the whole weight of the pain hasn’t hit. However, my reaction to my pain pill is a) throwing up anything that might be in my stomach b) falling dead asleep. While there are ways to mitigate nausea, this is less feeling queasy and more “OMG Bring a bowl NOW!”. This is particularly a problem since the last time I ate anything was last night during the Pat’s game. HUNGRY!

I just did manage to keep something down, but I have a hunch it’s because my last round of vomitus included my pain pill. Not a sustainable model, folks. So I plan on calling tomorrow to see if I can find something less problematic.

Tomorrow I start needing to move and do exercises. I suspect that even that minor effort will wipe me out. But I find hope in that this is, if all goes well, my last knee recovery. I’ve been up and down all summer, but when I make this recovery, I’ll be at the best I can be.

So that’s the news with me. My thanks to everyone who sent prayer and good thoughts, and to all those who decide to share their bodies with others once they are done with them.

Back to life, back to reality

The vacation is over. The children have returned. The schedule is resumed. The fall planning has begun. The rules have been reapplied.

We’re back to our life. But with some changes. (NOTE: One being that I’ve been picking at this post on and off in 5 minute increments for about 4 days now…)

Last night, after Thane’s bed time, my husband, eldest and I laid on a blanket in the backyard, vainly fighting the full moon and suburban light pollution for a shooting glimpse of majestic fire. We laughed, joked, poked each other, and listened to the symphony of insects performing every summer evening. This was a moment that probably would have been an option in our pre-vacation world, but that we would have been to stressed, blind or busy to see. In the lassitude of people whose emotional needs have been met, though, we had a really joyous hour together.

In other urgently important news, Grey does not have a loose tooth. No he does not. He has TWO loose teeth. His bottom two center teeth are extremely wiggly. One has an imminent departure date. I was sniffling a little at dinner about him losing his teeth. He got very sad and tried to assure me that he’d done his very best to take good care of his teeth – brushing and flossing them! Factual analysis of his actual oral hygiene practices aside, I had to rush to reassure him that losing teeth was perfectly normal and expected – but that I like him the way he is and it’s hard to watch him growing up so fast. He gave me some big hugs, that made me feel better about it. (At least until I consider that I should be banking them against the inevitable teenage hug-drought, but that’s just borrowing trouble.)

And then there’s my knee thing. I believe I’ve agonized at length over here about my KNEE and how I’ll have to actually have surgery. I feel like a total wimp. I’ve always seen myself as a strong stoic person (hey! Stop laughing!) In fact if you’d asked me why I chose to give birth – TWICE – without drugs I’d say something about how it wasn’t actually that hard after you got over the screaming bit, and the toughest part was that your jokes just weren’t that funny between pushes. (Ah, hormones! How easy you make it seem in retrospect.) I begin to suspect, however, that I’m actually a wimp about medical procedures. You see, I have no problem with needles. I’ve given about five gallons of blood. No problem! And I’ve never caviled at the procedures I’ve needed. But, uh, I haven’t needed any. Or at least many. This will be my first time unconscious. Not asleep, but knocked out. I’ve never fainted, blanked out, passed out, gone unconscious or had general anesthesia before. This will also be the first time anyone has ever cut me open in any way. And it will definitely be the first time someone has inserted a cadaver tendon threaded through my knee, after trimming off ragged bits of meniscus.

And the more people I talk to, the more this surgery sounds like a big deal. I mean, weeks and weeks of badness. Probably two weeks of incapacitation, followed by a long period of limping. I don’t do well with incapacitation. I prefer to tough my way through the pain and do stuff anyway. In this case, doing so will be stupid and irresponsible. I have no coping skills for when I’m not allowed to tough it out.

It probably means I will have to (gulp) ask for help. So my husband will be with me the day of the surgery. My MIL (who is a saint) is flying down for that week. But that second week? I’m hoping I will be able to limp to the bathroom and get lunch for myself by that second week. But no way can I take care of my children, do the laundry or dishes or make dinner. And our household generates enough work to keep TWO people busy full time doing it. I’m terrible at asking people for help. I’ve had so many kind friends volunteer, and I don’t know how to graciously and gratefully accept.

I guess this whole surgery thing will teach me many things.

But first! We have a first day of kindergarten approaching. I’m hoping to sneak in a camping trip over Labor Day. I have two neat kids who are a ton of fun. My husband brought home about 20 boardgames from Gencon. We’ve had fun playing them together, and with friends. (And hey! We’ve been married for eleven years now!) And all my counters are completely covered in the bounty of my CSA. (Seriously, two watermelons and two cantaloupes!)

And of course, my usual sporadic once-a-week-a-third-of-what-I-want-to-tell-you postings will now resume. At least that should improve with surgery!