My Alaskan cousin once said that a problem is just an opportunity in work clothes. When I had my knee replaced in October 2017 I put this phrase to the test. My surgery was on a Friday and my first PT appointment was no less than three days later. Never mind that my leg had been sliced, sawed and pounded and hurt worse than any pain I’d felt before. I knew that getting my knee mobilized (not to mention the rest of me) was key to my recovery and sanity. Achieving as much mobility in my knee was going to be mighty painful but the idea of giving up a single degree of flexion and extension was worse. As a dancer, a yogi and an all-around active person I knew I had a narrow window to achieve my goal. So I donned my metaphorical work clothes, grabbed my walker and embarked on my journey of recovery. Clunk. Step. Clunk Step.
The first Monday after my surgery I clunk-stepped my way to a well-known physical therapy rehab center in Philly. As my PT directed me to another floor I overheard the owner whispering to him to Get rid of the walker. I thought that was a dandy idea too although I don’t think that’s what the owner was concerned about.
My personal trainer guided me towards the workout area past a hall lined with glossy photos of local notables, socialites and beautiful people. I wondered if I might someday grace that wall myself but this seemed a long way off. The walker definitely did not make me feel notable or beautiful and more and more I was starting to understand the owners’ point of view. Note to self: lose the walker and get an agent.
I started my first session (and every session thereafter) by sitting on a stationary bike and doing half revolutions. My knee at this point felt as though it was stuffed with cardboard. I was incapable of pulling my knee through a complete revolution on the bike and would be for some time to come. This first session was torture. I clunk-dragged my way through the hour session sweating as much from the exertion as the pain. Each training session ended with me lying on a table while a PT manipulated my knee into the red zone of flexion and extension. It was hard to believe this was good for me. Note to self: Google knee replacements breaking.
On Wednesday I did the usual warm up with my super-stiff, still-bandaged knee. Pulling it through that tippy-top point of the revolution felt as far away as Mt. Everest. Never mind that my friend Dave Becker in Colorado was doing full revolutions a week after his TKR. I had to remind myself that Dave’s brother younger brother, Jon, had survived a devastating injury from a crocodile attack in Costa Rica and that the Becker Norwegian pain receptors were probably different from my Swedish ones. Further into the work out I flat out sobbed when I was asked to do straight-leg raises.I could no more lift my leg off that massage table than fly. Det här gör ont.
On Friday, one week after my surgery, I arrived by cane. I’m not sure if that was because of the Becker Factor or because I’d been shamed by the owner. I soon came to realize that graduating to the cane was related to incremental but measurable improvement. When it came time for straight leg raises I did TEN and didn’t cry. Note to self: Look up synonyms for thrilled.
I continued to diligently work my PT and my home exercises and started using a CPM or Continuous Passive Motion machine. My time on the CPM involved six hours of daily mechanically assisted flexion and extension often while enjoying the latest Netflix binge. Even in my passive couch potato moments I was working my knee and the sense of agency was empowering. When I was not on the couch attached to that contraption I would do my seated squats, heel raises and stretches as much as possible.
Two weeks after my surgery came the big reveal when I was allowed to remove the waterproof bandage. The incision was gruesome and glued together. It felt good to get it off. Another milestone.! See exhibit 1.
Roll the camera ahead ten months and I have a lot of proud reporting to share. (See exhibit 2) I am back to teaching and practicing yoga as well as working out at the gym. I have embraced the limitations of my knee and surprisingly get a lot of satisfaction from creating new ways to do Asanas (yoga postures) when the shapes don’t work for my body. I can walk down inclines and stairs without pain and my knee is strong and stable. What a huge relief! In spite of the recovery my TKR was worth it. After all, a problem is just an opportunity in work clothes.