The Dead Zone

This January marks the third anniversary of my new knee. I’m happy to report that it is healthy! While the surgery and rehab was a challenging, long process, the results have been an improvement to my health.

To most people, I made a remarkable recovery. My doctor and physical therapists were not sure I would ever walk again. Yet here I am able to stand and walk short distances. Of course, I am really never satisfied. I want to be stronger, but have to admit I have made the largest gains possible by now. Further improvements will be smaller and harder won.

When I had my first joint replacement surgeries more than 20 years ago, it was a long recovery time as well. I had numbness around the surgical areas for a long time and it came back so gradually I can’t recall when it happened.

This time, my knee has an area of numbness that I secretly call “the dead zone.” I don’t think the full sensation will ever come back, now that it has been multiple years. Perhaps this contributes to some of my rehab limitations, but on a daily basis it doesn’t bother me.

My dead zone has now become a part of my physical experience. At first it was strange, that I could feel less or that instead of full feeling I sense a buzzing distance from the nerves. The zone did shrink, as it started out larger and circled my joint. Now it concentrates around the kneecap, scar, and area of thigh closest to the joint.

One strange aspect is that I feel oddly protective of an area that I can’t feel. Sometimes I bump my knee and it makes me jump. But I’m not sure if it really hurts or if I just think it should hurt. It’s like imagining a pain and not being sure if it is reality.

When I get a massage, I have a lurking anxiety of having my knee rubbed. Will it hurt? Will it tingle? Is more pressure better or less? Does massage make it better? So far, I haven’t noticed a difference except the anxiety gradually decreasing with time.

Perhaps what surprises me about this relatively new numbness is that I feel the difference inside and not just on the surface of my skin. When I clench my muscles, there is a numbness there like I cannot reach fully into the joint.

Considering the number of surgeries I have had, I think I am lucky to not have more nerve damage and that it is limited to a small, manageable area. My dead zone doesn’t negatively impact my life or functioning—I can do what I need to do. Perhaps it is a kind of super power that I have a spot that is immune to sensation!

Who knows, maybe my knee numbness will continue to gradually fade with a slow growth of nerves. But I am not worried about it and do not trouble myself about my strange little dead zone. It has become a sort of secret unique experience that cannot be seen by others.

I feel that the experience of my RA leaves different marks that tell the tale. My surgical scars denote joint replacements. And little pinprick white dots show old IVs and my PICC line. My numbness reminds me of my new knee. While my strange dead zone is unexpected, I’m glad that it doesn’t bother me or interfere with enjoying my healthy new knee for many years to come.

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