Coming back from bilateral knee surgery

I was shocked just now to see that I had placed next to nothing on my blog since my surgery. It has been over 2 weeks. I did some work on an exchange on one of the listservs and sent that to my blog. Otherwise, I’ve been floating from vicodin to vicodin. Considering how many people get this surgery done and that mine was an extreme form of it, it might be worth me going into a little detail.
About 7 years ago I came in from jogging and could barely stand to stand on my left leg. Over time, it spread to my right leg, diagnosed as osteoarthritis. I initially went to my chiropractor who tried a few things and then referred me to an orthopedic guy who I really did not like. He fitted me with a brace and said I’d eventually want to get the knee replaced. Why didn’t I? My fear was that once fitted with an artificial knee or two, I wouldn’t be able to do the workouts I loved, so I dealt with the pain and kept building up my legs. Everyone thought that was a good idea and numerous doctors said as long as I could stand the pain, the leg workouts were OK.
Eventually it got to the point where just walking around COSTCO was exhausting. I drove the cart so I could lean on it. So one day – pretty much at a specific time – I said I’ll just deal with being old and restricted if I can get through the day walking and doing things without such debilitating pain. I had one doctor I liked b/c my wife had seen him and I liked his diagnostic manners and another I got a second opinion from. I stuck with the first one.
He put me on a regimen of meloxicam, a much stronger NSAID than the over-the-counter 1 Aleve a day I had been using. After 2 weeks of that and noting the effects – positive – I stopped doing my leg workouts. That really helped the pain in my knees……………..
NOW, if at this point you think I am stupid b/c I had arthritic knees and I was still doing lunges, one-legged squats, and dead lifts, you should stop reading b/c I have nothing to offer you. This is for people who have certain drives, certain agenda.
OK…… to continue. About that time, mid-January, my wife’s nephew gave me a w/o schedule. It included exercises I had done at one time or another but drastically upped the reps. When I did the leg w/o and had a lot of pain, he said to quit those and double up on the pool w/o. The pool w/o consisted of 36 round trips across a pool (22’) walking, high-stepping and side-stepping. I was amazed at how my legs grew in size and strength. How much those 2 months of this new w/o regimen built me up for the surgery I did not measure, but you must keep it in mind as you consider your own surgery.
I worked out the day before the surgery. The day of, I came out of recovery late in the evening and was discharged the second day i.e. I had surgery Monday p.m. and was discharged Wednesday. I had total knee replacement of both knees i.e. bilateral, simultaneously. As my therapist said, I had 2 major surgeries at the same time. The effect on my body was strong. My surgeon had urged me not to do both at the same time b/c I was at the top edge of the cut-off point as far as age is concerned – 75. As I argued for getting both done, he considered my BMI and my overall health and agreed to do it. I am very glad he did. Yesterday my therapist said the surgeon will be happy when he examines me tomorrow, Wednesday, 2 weeks 1 day post-surgery and takes out the staples.
On that first day after surgery, day one, as the hospital calls it, the physical therapist in the hospital, responsible for getting me ready to go home, said I was very strong, that’s what allowed me to be walking with a walker the first day. When I left the following day, the nurses at the station (small hospital, about 8 patients, for joint and spine surgeries) told me I had set the bar higher for bilateral surgeries.
Two factors account for my rapid progress: my overall strength and health plus my tolerance of pain. Both of those relate to the w/o. If you do not enjoy w/o, then set yourself a program, a regimen, or hire a trainer. I would start a year in advance. Keep your weight down (for some reason, I had added on 5# after the holidays and then another 5 just before surgery! I was up to almost 180# at 5’6-7’. Right now I am below 160 and that dropped off primarily, I think, b/c of a lessened appetite with the pain and medication). The training helps in this way: besides strengthening your body for the assault on it, it keeps the mental-physical connection at top performance so that if you start to fall backwards, for example, you will tighten your leg muscles even though you know that’s going to hurt. There’s nothing sadder than seeing someone lose control of their body. When you are tossing around heavy weights under stress, with fatigued muscles, and managing to push through to your goal, it sharpens those connections. Very important for getting around after surgery.
That same endurance looms large when you think of how every trip to the bathroom is a challenge, every move from a sitting position up into your walker, etc. After a week or so, you get so tired of that feeling, even of the sound of the walker. But your PT awaits you every day, either at home or in the physical therapy center. It hurts and it leaves you wrung out, but that’s no different from w/o.
Regarding pain, I told the surgeon that a few years ago I had had an infected tooth and didn’t get to the dentist until it was dead. She said that must have hurt a lot and I assented and she asked me what I’d taken for it. One ibuprofen I told her. But how many a day, she asked. Just one, I replied. She was amazed. That made me think I may have a high tolerance for pain and that encouraged me to go with the bilateral even though the surgeon told me his bilateral patients complain to him that he didn’t warn them enough how bad it would be. I’m a small man and light, in very good health, and no surgeries or severe illnesses in my past. Those are all factors you should discuss with your doctors – get a second opinion.
At this point, my strength, range of motion, pain level, appetite, etc. are coming back to where they should be, with lots more work to do. But it’s all over except the shouting.
April 20 – one month and I’m walking around the house. Still limited and it generates a bit of pain but it’s walking.

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