Twice this summer parts of my body were cut open, bone was sawed and soft tissue pulled apart to make room for titanium and plastic parts that were hammered and cemented into place, then soft tissue was reassembled, and wounds stitched and glued shut. The only evidence are thin scars that bisect each knee, which will fade in time to slight silvery lines. In our world of increasingly high tech medicine, this is still a brutal and physical surgery, both precise and crude.
One knee is 13 weeks old and the other is 7 weeks old. At a recent doctor’s visit, the surgeon said I looked “fantastic.” I do errands, tend to easy household tasks, cook meals, meet friends for lunch, walk with a normal gait most of the time. In spite of lingering stiffness and soreness, my knees bend and straighten with increasing fluidity. I still use a cane for longer walks but will probably let that go soon. I need to rebuild strength in my leg muscles, regain stamina and good balance but that will come.
I take part in an online forum where I exchange updates and rants, commiserations and celebrations with other joint replacement travellers. Our journeys do not proceed in a straight line; instead, they are tangled like a piece of yarn left too long in the knitting bag—up, down, and sideways—days of feeling strong, energetic alternate with days of immense fatigue; pain free knees give way to soreness and swelling; plateaus yield to progress then setbacks and another plateau. Inevitably, emotions follow a similarly tangled trajectory with gratitude and optimism often giving way to tears and frustration. This has been especially true for me after the second surgery as my spirit whines like a tired toddler, “Are we there yet??? Why is this taking so long???”
I recently listened to a friend describe a hike she’d taken earlier in the day—I could imagine the pull on leg muscles, the expansion of lungs, the scent of moist woodsy air, the accelerated heart beat, the sense of achievement. “Just think,” she said, “soon you’ll be hiking too.” I hope so but it feels like a misty dream right now when I measure my walks in feet rather than miles, minutes rather than hours. But I tell myself that despite the slowness of recovery, the end result, if healing continues to go well, are functional joints to replace ones that were no longer reliable–and that’s a wonderful thing.