Wednesday marked a special point in my life, but damn if I remembered it.
March 4 marked six months since my bilateral (both-at-once) knee replacement surgery. What does one do for one’s self to mark such august occasion? Take yourself out to dinner? Send a kind note to the surgeon and staff that took care of you those first days afterward? Celebrate with a long walk on your new, pain-free joints?
I did none of the above because, truth be told, a life without agony south of my hips is the new normal and the thought that it had been a half-year since undergoing the procedure never crossed my mind.
What I AM constantly aware of is the fact that I have a whole lot of my life back, something I’m reminded of with each step, each flex of the knee, every time I can crouch down without hearing grinding noises and feeling that dull, familiar, range-of-motion-limiting ache. It’s top of mind when friends and even complete strangers no longer ask, “Why are you limping?” It’s front and center when I see pre-op videos of myself, before and after, looking far older than my years as I try getting onstage at a speaking event, or walking down a street in Rome or Paris while on vacation, ambling and sweating, trying to keep up with able-bodied friends.
The anniversary passed without notice. The relief is there every waking moment, and the gratitude to those who made the new life happen will never fade away.
That includes all of those fine folks at West Allis Memorial who had me up and in a chair about a half hour after I came to that September afternoon, who had me walking the floor about an hour after that, who checked me through the night and made sure the post-op pain was tolerable (yes, there’s discomfort but nothing you can’t tough out). Next came the rehab folks, those kind, patient, compassionate souls who massaged, supported, challenged and coerced me though weeks of exercises, teaching me anew what a healthy stride looked like after years of making do on knees that were more than past-prime. The body, you come to learn, is a resilient thing, able to adjust and compensate to get life done with the least amount of discomfort. Never mind what those changes do to the rest of the body, as walking funny does strange things to your back, hips and other parts you don’t even think have something to do with being ambulatory.
And of course, there’s family: God bless the relatives immediate and otherwise who showed concern, compassion and care. That includes a wife and son who made sure each day I had what I needed, who hooked me up to flex/ice machines, who ministered to every need, a daughter and son in law who made sure the house was configured to handle someone in my condition. Thanks as well to the neighbors and friends who brought food, offered any manner of help or who just sent a funny e-mail to break up the at-home monotony.
One person conspicuously absent is all this is my surgeon, the guy who did this amazing, mobility-restoring procedure. Dr. Mark Wichman gave me a lot of my life back and you can’t give enough thanks to someone like that, certainly not in the space of a blog. I hope he knows of my eternal gratitude.
So no, the anniversary wasn’t marked with formalities which speaks volumes as to what knee replacement has meant in my life. Wednesday, March 4 was…just another day. Another pain-free, sans-limp, let’s-do-some-time-on-the-treadmill day. And in a way, that’s probably the best of all ways to celebrate: by being back to what passes for “normal” for a guy my age.
Now comes the part where the guy who was so reluctant to have bilateral knee replacement surgery wags his finger at those who need it and haven’t had it done yet. The part where he says the obligatory, “I should have had it done YEARS ago.” The part where I become a zealot for a procedure I avoided like the plague for way too long. Does it hurt? Hells, yes, but you know in the moment that the new, short-term discomfort is going to lead to a better existence during which you aren’t in pain with every step. Is it disruptive? You bet—five weeks off the job, living life with a walker, not being able to sleep, doing sometimes-painful rehab exercises? Yep, that’s baked into the deal but it you do what you’re told you’ll be amazed at how your body responds. Is it humbling? Indeed. Those first mornings are tough, when you realize that you can’t move on your own, that you’re a prisoner in your body. And,, you don’t know the meaning of “humble” until that night when you find yourself stuck on a toilet you can’t get up off of. It’s also the kind of thing that reinforces your will, your desire to get back to where you were.
Or even beyond.
Happy anniversary, new knees. Hope you’re getting used to me, because I’m sure lovin’ you. The best way to celebrate is to keep smiling about the new “me” and, moving forward, to help anyone else out there suffering with life-alteringly painful joints. I’m here as a resource to anyone suffering or perhaps thinking about having replacement surgery. Six months into a new life, I’m a walking example of what you DON’T have to deal with.
It’s getting up near 60 degrees right now. Time for a walk.