A Brand New Knee

Last January I had my first joint revision surgery (which is a replacement for an existing artificial joint) on my left knee. After a long haul treating an infection by replacing the knee with a temporary spacer and having IV antibiotics for about two months, I finally could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

We scheduled the surgery for as early in possible in January because I was eager to get my recovery started. Unfortunately, this time an epidural couldn’t successfully be given, so I had to go under general anesthesia. But the knee replacement surgery went well and I woke in the afternoon with my leg newly bandaged.

The next day the nurses got me up twice to use my walker and experience the feel of standing again. However, on the second day I became pale and lethargic. My blood test results showed I needed an infusion of blood so they gave me two units. It was a strange feeling to need blood—to me the closest comparison is to feel ghost-like. I had no energy and just felt awful overall, like I couldn’t do much of anything but lay still.

The blood units worked like a charm and the next day I was practicing walking again. It was very hard and I was extremely weak, but I was amazed to be standing on my knee and not to feel pain. When I think about it, it still amazes me. I moved off the pain medication quickly because the new knee, even with the surgical recovery needed, felt so much better than the infected knee and the temporary spacer.

My stay in the hospital lasted about 10 days as I began my recovery and physical therapy. I was then moved into the physical therapy rehab unit for more intensive PT. At this time the doctor ordered an x-ray to confirm the knee replacement was doing well.

The main concern was for the soft tissues around my knee. The surgeries had caused a lot of trauma to the muscles, tendons and such, plus I had a great deal of atrophy from 20 years of limited motion in my left knee. The doctor was worried about how they would heal and if they would be strong enough to keep my knee strong and stable.

With this in mind, my doctor fitted my knee with a brace that would be locked in extension. We would keep my knee in the leg brace for about a month following the surgery to give the soft tissues a head start at healing, which would hopefully provide stabilizing support for the knee. After a month, he would loosen the setting on the brace to allow for limited flexion.

My early rehab work continued to strengthen my right leg and practice using my walker. But I also started some exercises to begin using my left leg. Even with all the physical therapy between surgeries, my left leg was extremely weak and for awhile I needed help with all movement. And while the locked brace helped with keeping my leg stable, it hindered by ability to regain strength.

I received good care in the hospital and rehab. Although I really wanted to go home, they helped me to begin my healing and recovery. Additionally, my husband came to see me every day. He helped me with my basic needs and learned my exercises by my side.

I spent more than a month total as an inpatient and was so excited to go home just before Valentine’s Day. Before I left, the doctor loosened the knee brace so I could begin flexing my knee. The knee brace stayed on to provide support because my leg was still very week, but it was a start at normalcy. Another great milestone was to have my PICC line removed. It was the last thing that had to be done before I left. It had served me well, but felt liberating not to have a port in my arm to worry about.

I still had a lot of work to do. In many ways the real recovery work was just beginning, but it was great to get home—just in time to enjoy Valentine’s flowers on my own dining room table.

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