Much has happened in the past two months. Last year I was diagnosed with early signs of osteoarthritis in my knees. As a runner, it spelt disaster. It wasn’t easy to accept I may never be able to run the way I used to. With that came a host of emotions I couldn’t deal with.
When I was ready to slip my running shoes on again, I found I couldn’t run more than two times a week. My knees were sore and I was forced to take time off to rest. I’d also decided to change my running club. This wasn’t an easy decision to make as it’s where I took running seriously and turned it into a success. Yet the time felt right to move on, to shut the door on the past and look to the future.
Little did I know that further setbacks were waiting when I decided to join another club. I made an appointment to see an Orthopaedic Surgeon said to be the “bee’s knees”. Upon studying the MRI scans, he confirmed that although they looked bad, he could “fix” them. This meant performing arthroscopy on both knees to clean the fragmented cartilage and inject vials of ACP, my own healthy blood to boost the healing process. He said it was a minor procedure and I’d be out of work for two days and be back to normal again.
I didn’t like undergoing another procedure and didn’t have a good feeling about it. However, it seemed like a quick fix, exactly what my knees needed to get back to running. I didn’t take time to think it through, instead setting a date for the first week in February. I had a jam packed month with Neil’s birthday, two Romance Writing Workshops and a busy period at work.
As the date drew closer, I started to panick. The procedure entailed going under anaesthetic. I loathed it’s side effects of nausea and weakness. When I informed people within my circle of the pending op, I didn’t hear positive stories. Yet I’d already committed to the date and felt I couldn’t back out. I told myself it was normal to feel jittery about an op, that other’s experiences wouldn’t be mine. I’d be fine and before long, would be running again.
On the morning of the op, Neil and I rushed to the hospital to check in. We were taken by surprise when the hospital informed we needed to pay in a hefty amount that the medical aid wouldn’t cover. I was taken aback. I’d never had to do this before. I lost my cool and said, “What happens if I die on the operating table, would we still be responsible for the bill?” Neil calmed me down and said not to stress, that he’d pay and everything would be fine.
But I wasn’t alright. I was angry and scared. All I had was Neil assuring he’d stay by my side and be waiting when it was done. He walked alongside me as they wheeled me into theatre, saying how much he loved me. The anaesthetist was waiting to insert a needle in my vein and before long I was out. I came to when I was brought back to the ward and found Neil waiting as promised.
I drifted in and out of sleep. Nausea was setting in and I battled to have something to eat before I was discharged. My knees were tightly wrapped in bandages and I couldn’t feel a thing. The Surgeon came by to say the op was a success. I enquired whether I needed crutches to walk or had to see the physio before I left. He said not at all, I’d be able to move around when I got home and further treatment wasn’t necessary.
Neil helped me to dress, put me in a wheelchair and took me home. When I got home I jumped straight into bed to sleep off the rest of the anaesthetic. Awaking the next morning to go to the loo, I couldn’t get down the two stairs leading to the bathroom. My right knee was locked, it felt like the patella was raw and every movement I made was punctuated with pain. I sensed something was wrong. This wasn’t merely the aftereffects of surgery and anaesthetic, this was serious.
I tried to contact the Surgeon’s office but since it was a Friday afternoon, no one was answering. I was in a state, sobbing thinking the worst. Neil tried to allay my fears saying the pain would settle and I needed to give it time. I wasn’t buying it. I removed the bandages as they were suffocating me. I was shocked to see how swollen my knees were. The right even more so. The wounds were covered with transparent plasters. They were caked in dry blood and were a hideous sight.
Even though the surgeon didn’t tell me to ice my knees or elevate them, I did so religiously. I knew what was needed to get the swelling down. I couldn’t sleep comfortably for every movement brought on a fresh shot of pain in the knees. I was living on pain meds, numbing myself.
By Sunday evening, it was clear there was no way I’d be okay to return to work. I could barely get around, let alone drive. I informed my Boss that something was terribly wrong and I needed to see the Surgeon. I called the Surgeon the next morning and relayed my symptoms. He didn’t seem taken aback by my condition, saying I needed rest, to keep icing the knees and see him on Wednesday. I was livid. Here I was, in agony, unable to get around, not recovering the way he said I would and he didn’t care.
When Wednesday rolled around, my condition hadn’t improved. Neil took me to the hospital and we walked to the Doctor’s room at a snail’s pace. Sitting before the Surgeon, I spoke my mind. I asked whether he’d worked more on the right knee as it couldn’t bend. He said yes, as it had more damage. I questioned why he omitted to mention this and also why he hadn’t said that it would take longer to recover. He said in most cases patients heal quickly. Then there was the 10% who took longer. Obviously I fell into that bracket. I said he should have alerted me to this, that I shouldn’t have been given false hope I’d be fine. He apologised and seemed to take me serious thereafter. He said I should see a physio and cycle as soon as possible to strengthen the knees. I looked at him dumbfounded… now I had to fork out more money to see a physio to fix my knees due to his doing. And how was I going to cycle when I could barely walk!
To say I was disappointed in the procedure and the Surgeon would be an understatement. I wouldn’t recommend it as it’s been a long and frustrating road to recovery. I was booked off for the rest of the week recover. During this time my anxiety spiralled. I didn’t have faith in physio’s either, yet I had no choice but to find one desperately. Through sheer luck I found a physio who answered all my questions on the phone and seemed to know her thing. I immediately set up an appointment with Wendy Snyers. After a brief examination she picked up that the patella on the right knee had run off track. The muscles along the entire leg had stiffened thus not allowing any movement. She said I was probably weak on my right side heading into the op and since the main aim was to fix the knees, my muscles caved in. She had to release the fascia throughout the leg. This was done by pressing deep into the muscles, emitting a pain that was unbearable. The result was I could bend my knee and had some movement. For the first time since the op, I had hope that I’d turned the corner and would heal.
But it wasn’t a quick recovery. I had to see her four more times for my knee to gain full mobility. Walking around was an effort as I’d become slow. I had to go to gym three times a week to cycle. I found the more I cycled, the patella stayed on track and the muscles surrounding the knees grew stronger. I had to learn to climb stairs again. I’d lost count of the many times I cried out of pure frustration.
I took so much for granted when I was healthy and fit. I thought I was invincible and my body would remain this way. It’s only when one has an op or gets older, does it sink in how precious the human body is. It carries one through the storms of life and demands protection and care.
From this dilemma I learnt to trust my instincts. They are like whisperings of unease bubbling around. They shouldn’t be underestimated for they hold power and speak truth. When I ignore them, terrible things transpire. I’m trying to be more receptive to them, to listen carefully, not to make hasty decisions, affording myself the gift of time and patience to figure it out.