“You’re going to love it!” “You will be so happy you had it done.” “You’ll do great! Just make sure you do the rehab.”
These were the main responses to my news I was having a full knee replacement in late December. I was excited to get so much support from friends and colleagues, but the best advice by far was: “make sure you do the rehab.”
I never wanted to have this or any surgery. I am not a good patient. But, my quality of life was suffering because of my right knee. Teaching, going up and down stairs and standing up after sitting were becoming downright painful.
My grandson even noticed once when I was playing with him and asked, “Zma, why do you run so funny?” Also, it was embarrassing, especially when teaching my yoga class. Nothing like having your leg lock when you’re in the middle of a pose in front of your students.
Trust me, I tried almost everything to avoid major surgery including creams, supplements, injections, arthroscopic procedures and even stem cells. I thought for sure the stem cells would work, but when they were injected into my knee, it swelled up to twice its size.
Rehab and patience
Surgery went well, according to my doctor.
Now I just needed to recover and rehab. When I woke up, I immediately knew that my work was cut out for me.
Even though I wasn’t in pain, I was hooked up to an IV, a nerve block, a drain, an ice machine and nurses would come in all the time to “check” on me, do vitals, give me meds, etc. I didn’t sleep for two days.
I thought things would be better when I went home, but that is when I really started to learn some important lessons. As a former athlete, coach and teacher, I always worked extra hard and went full force to achieve my goals, but now, as I recover, I need to finally learn a virtue I have never possessed. And that is patience.
My home routine for the first three weeks has been structured and slow. I have a machine that moves my knee, but I must be on it for six hours a day. I also have to ice when I’m not moving or on the machine. I never liked to ice before, but now because of the pain, ice is my new best friend.
I also came home with pain meds, which I did not want to take, but have done so to get through the rehab. I am tapering off, but doing so slowly.
I have a physical therapist who comes to the house. He understands my personality, and keeps me from trying to do too much. I want to improve, not screw everything up. My doctor said recovery from the surgery would take three to 12 weeks. I was shooting for three weeks, but now, I think I need to be a little more realistic and take it slow.
Besides patience, I have learned some other lessons:
- Never take the small things in your life for granted. For the first three weeks I cannot take a bath, drink wine, drive or have sex. (I didn’t know any of this before.)
- Follow the doctor’s orders. I'm independent when it comes to my health, but for something like a knee replacement, I have no clue as to what is best. So I am following orders and am lucky to have a great medical team that I can call whenever I need them. And trust me. I do.
- Some people will disappoint, others will shine. Before my surgery many friends and extended family members said that they would call and check up on me to see how I was doing. Well, about half actually did it. However, my husband has been a trooper. He spent his whole Christmas vacation taking care of me. Since he is a former volleyball coach, he notices things I need to work on, especially when I am trying to walk. “Heel to toe. Bend your knees. Make sure your feet are facing forward, not out to the side.” Okay coach!
- Surgery not only challenges you physically, but emotionally. This was a shocker. I thought it would be just about getting my range of motion back in my leg and recovering, but my emotions also took a hit. There have been times when I just wanted to cry because I didn’t feel like I was progressing. I felt like such a burden on my husband and couldn’t do the things I loved. I have never felt so vulnerable. But this is part of the process of recovery process and when it’s done, I know I will be stronger.
So as I move along the road to recovery, I am reminded to be thankful for the amazing people in my life who really care about me, including my dad, who is 94 years old and has called every night to check on me. He always gives me a free advice and his latest is to take “baby steps” toward recovery.
Also, now more than ever, I will give thanks for my health and take better care of my body. It’s lasted for more than 68 years, and it’s about time I started to appreciate it. Here’s to a new year with my new knee. I promise I will take better care of you and thanks for teaching me the value of patience. I needed to learn that.
Sharkie Zartman is a Hermosa Beach resident, professor at El Camino College, author, speaker, former All American athlete and coach, and radio host at healthylife.net.