|Sacred Heart Hospital|
We got up at 3:30 on Thursday morning for the 7:30 surgery. The anesthesiologist and the surgeon, Brian, visited me as I lay in bed in the holding area. The anesthesiologist was mellow; Brian, intense as ever, was chewing his gum violently. If he hadn't come well-recommended, I would have suspected that whatever brains he was born with had been displaced by testosterone. I said that it was time for him to work his magic, and he gave me the best reassurance imaginable, "This isn't magic; it's carpentry.
I received my spinal in the OR where doctors have replaced their masks with what look like helmets. I could hear the saw and smell the stench as Brian cut through my bones. Then came the hammering of metal, and I remembered his carpentry allusion.
The recovery room nurse said that the hospital regularly books more people into surgery than it has places to put them, but that if I were lucky, a room might open up later in the day. If I wasn't lucky, I would have to hope for a better tomorrow.
Three and a half hours later, a room opened up. The labor and delivery rooms (where Peggy used to work) are spacious and have good views of the McKenzie River and the Coburg Hills, so I expected the orthopedic floor to be the same. It was not. My room was so small (not to mention dingy) that workers were forever having to move some things around to get to other things. An outside wall blocked any view lower than the tops of the nearby Coburg Hills.
The pain was intense, and Brian had gone on vacation without following through on his promise of extra narcotics. When I colored the air with expressions of indignation, the powers that be decided to give me 30 mgs of oxycodone at once each morning and an additional 10 mgs every three hours round the clock. A pharmacist dropped by and said I was at risk of respiratory arrest from what she considered an ungodly amount of narcotics. I assured her that she was wrong, and she went away sulking. That night, a 10 mg Ambien, a 45 mg Remeron, a 5 mg Flexeril, and various other drugs were added to the oxycodone, and I became so shit-faced that I didn't know I was in the hospital.
A few hours after surgery, a physical therapist had me walking (with a walker) and doing flexibility exercises. The next day, I attended my first joint rehabilitation class (two of them a day), and walked the loop that circled around the orthopedic floor (there was even a board on which to advance your magnet every time you completed a loop). While in bed, one machine circulated cold water around the surgical site, another machine massaged both legs in the direction of my heart, and the bed itself had a barely noticeable massage function that increased circulation and prevented bed sores.
The day after surgery, my temperature hit 38.2 C (100.7 F), my knee swelled to half again its normal size, and I wasn't getting nearly enough laxative to allay the narcotic-induced constipation. When I said that I hadn't pooped since the day before the surgery, I was given a dose of ExLax. When that didn't work, I opted for a suppository, but the result was more worthy of a housecat than a man. By the next day (two days after surgery), my temperature was normal, but I felt like I had a five pound weight on my chest. I hated to mention it to the Nurse Bridget, because I didn't want pandemonium to develop over something that I really didn't think was a problem. Prudence won the day, and Bridget immediately called her supervisor. When Bridget told her that my color was good, that the pain didn't radiate, and that it felt more like pressure than actual pain; she was told not to worry. An hour later, I felt fine and said I wanted to go home. My total time in the hospital had been 56 hours.
The first thing did when I got home was to exchange greetings with three mystified cats. The second was take a couple of sodium docusates, drink a lot of water, and eat a lot of prunes. A few hours later, I had that long awaited bowel movement, but it didn't amount to much, which was just as well because lowering myself onto the pot took so long that I ended up pooping from a standing position. This very scenario had been a concern of mine at the hospital where I told Nurse Bridget that I'm a refined person, and that refined people rarely take dumps on the floor.
My embarrassment brought to mind an experience Peggy had when she was a new nurse with a dying patient who was having bout after bout of diarrhea, each of which hit him so fast that he was unable to wait for a bedpan. His last words were repeated apologies to Peggy, and she has never stopped regretting that she was unable to find words that would have enabled that man to die in peace. If she had said what she was thinking, she would have told him that it was an honor to attend to the needs of a man for whom she felt such affection and respect. She couldn't say this because she had only met him that day and because it would have represented a greater act of intimacy than her need for professionalism would have allowed. I can but say that the workers who served me best while I was in the hospital were the ones who seemed vulnerable.
Compared to the pain that I live with and the pain that followed my three shoulder surgeries, the pain from this surgery just isn't that bad. I was told to expect hell, but my primary feeling is joy as I prepare to get on with my life minus one source of pain. My ignorance of how little pain normal people experience had at times caused me to suspect that I was simply a woos, but now that my vision has cleared, I say to you that I really do suffer. To the knee replacement fear-mongers in particular, I would scream, "What! You call this pain?" While I suppose it's possible that I'm so stupid that it takes days for pain in my knee to register in my brain, I am nonetheless optimistic.
Today is Monday, so I'm only four days post-op, yet every time I do my exercises, I see improvement. I just hope I can resist my desire to push myself too hard too fast. Brian said it would be six weeks before I could mow the lawn, but while I was out the backyard just now watching the solar eclipse, I thought to myself, "Hell, I could mow today."