Today a friend came over to visit. When she asked how I was doing, I got up and danced for her. She was amazed, not because I’m a great dancer but because I could do it at all.
A month ago, as I write this, I got a new right knee. This is not something you want to do on a whim. In fact, you probably don’t want to do it until you are desperate—or until you come to grips with the realization that you are not getting any better or any younger.
There was nothing sudden about my knees giving out. Ten years ago I had arthroscopic surgery on both of them, where an orthopedist fixed up the rough edges of the cartilage. For some people, that’s a useless procedure. It kept ME out of pain for a decade. But finally there was no cartilage left in my right knee. I tried a cortisone shot. It did nothing. And when I came back to the doctor six weeks later, I made my decision. If I wanted to walk pain- free, I had to take the plunge.
For the month before surgery, I religiously did exercises to strengthen my leg muscles. And I also stayed away from crowds, terrified that I’d arrive for surgery and a nurse would tell me, “Go home. You have a cold, and we’re not going to operate on you.”
After leaping that hurdle, I found myself at an orthopedic hospital at six in the morning on Halloween—of all auspicious times. And for the next two days, my life was kind of a surreal hostage situation. If you’re having major surgery, you turn yourself over to the doctors and nurses. And now you even get a wristband with a bar code.
My first memories of the whole experience are kind of fuzzy. The anesthesiologist told me my main anesthetic would be spinal—after a nurse had already attached an IV line to my right arm. He said, “Stand up, face away from me, and hold onto the bed.” That’s the last thing I remember before waking up in the recovery room and being asked to wiggle my toes.
After that, did Norman meet me in my private room? No idea.
Blessedly, they had put something magic in my knee at the end of the operation. For the first day, I really had no pain. And within hours of surgery, they had me up and walking to the bathroom. Some patients went home the next day. But my blood pressure crashed in the morning, and I had to stay two nights.
After the magic bullet wore off, I would have liked what I’ve heard other hospitals do—give you a morphine pump, so you can press a button and have pain relief. My hospital didn’t use them, and I had to rely on oral medications which weren’t all that effective. But the good news for me is that I tolerate pain pretty well. When they asked me to rate my pain on a scale of one to ten, I rarely got above a four. And that, they said, was unusual.
Once I got home, it was a gradual uphill climb. At first, I could barely move my leg. But inch by inch the muscles started working again. I went from a walker to a cane. I made it up and down the stairs—first, once a day and then more. And slowly but surely I got back to normal activity—with the help of first a home nurse and physical therapist and then trips to the therapy facility (aka torture chamber). Finally, one day I could stand long enough to cook a meal. And when I could pull on my slacks without gritting my teeth, I knew I was on the way to dancing again.
The latest Rebecca York release is Christmas Spirit.