Friday, August 3, 2012

Say hi to my (new) knee

Back in black, and blue. Or more of a purple, fading into brown and yellow now. Such artistic bruises all over my leg. So here I am, unafraid ex-Christian Scientist and above-knee amputee, reporting from ring-side after having my only knee replaced. Send your gimp to Joint Camp this summer! No, it wasn't what I'd planned either.
Doctors are very reluctant to replace the only knee of an amputee. I'd talked to another AK amp who's been through the deal. His main advice was to be prepared to put my prosthetic leg on every single time I got out of bed for the foreseeable future: no legless crutching around the house.

Conveniently, by the day of my surgery, my knee hurt too much to walk with crutches anyway. The pain had taught me that my bed and the toilet would need to be raised. I'd need to step down onto my artificial leg and keep it straight so it didn't buckle. I'd have to give the nurses clear directions about how I needed to raise the hospital bed or set my feet a certain way, even when it looked counter-intuitive: my fake leg jutting out, awkward but solid, like a horse talking a bow. I'm top rate at advocating for myself in a medical setting. It comes from having spent months lobbying to have my leg amputated.

Of course, then there would be PT.

My friends said, Oh, you'll ace it! Piece of cake! You'll fly through!

That was the plan. It did not go accordingly.

At Joint Camp last week we were all chased out of our rooms twice a day and sent on a forced march down the endless hall to physical therapy. We crept along on our walkers, each accompanied by a nurse, an aide or family member pushing our wheeled recliners behind us in a little parade. We arranged ourselves in a row on the linoleum of the big room. We each had a tuft of gauze Saran-wrapped onto a swollen leg. I noticed right off that I was the age of the middle-aged daughters, the "coaches" who coaxed their mom or dad for one more rep, one more minuscule, seemingly impossible lift of a leg.

Well, no matter. I arranged my prosthetic leg in the recliner and gasped through the exercises. Being the odd case was familiar: I've spent too many horsemanship clinics, as both student or instructor, working with the complicated horse at one end of the line.  I was prepared in theory to tough it out. I'm the hard-ass former child-soldier who can Take It. No problem.

I cried straight through most of the physical therapy classes.

Cried silently, so steadily that the wad of tissues in my fist were as vital as the Styrofoam cup of water I gulped. This was nothing like learning to walk on my prosthesis five years ago. This just plain hurt.

The stiffness was a punch to my most vulnerable spot. I spent my teen years praying, aching, striving to see my fused left knee move. When it didn't, I believed I'd failed to be healed. Now I was in the belly of the medical beast, trying to go through motions to let me walk, still fending off a flickery flashback of knee weakness. Knee malfunction. Knee futility.

And I let myself cry. Lately I only seem to cry when I feel safe. I couldn't quite reconcile safety with my current pain and fear of permanent incapacitation. But I've worked hard on not being hard-ass and emotionally calloused. I know I need to let myself feel.

What I felt was pain. I hated it and it made me cry. But I also had that right. My last day of PT my tears rolled down my cheeks the instant the physical therapist walked through the door. Pavlov's patient. (I felt just a little bit bad for the guy.) But when I groaned into my leg lifts, woila: I raised my leg. I lifted it maybe a quarter inch.

It's a process. I've been home a week tonight. Moving this brand new joint into usefulness. It bears me no ill will: it doesn't hurt to stand on it. Just the outrage of the disrupted muscles and tendons. We move, and we hurt. Part of being human. Film at eleven. 

No comments:

Post a Comment