Lewis Grizzard, the late, great Southern humorist and columnist, once wrote a book “They Tore My Heart Out and Stomped That Sucker Flat,” which was about the major open heart surgery he endured. Certainly not comparing the relative seriousness of the two, but since I had a full knee replacement on February 26, I’m thinking of writing something like “They Ripped My Knee Apart and Forgot To Tell Me How Much It Would Hurt” (although they did tell me).
For me, this procedure had been coming for the last several years. Decades of activity had left me with no meniscus on my left leg joint, walking distances, golf, and even everyday tasks were becoming painful.
It’s like Gary Groff, my trusted and now retired family physician told me a few years back, “Richard, our knees are like tires—they wear out. You’ve been playing tennis, basketball, and golf for years. You’ve got no tread left”.
Or, as Jeff Noblin, the eminent orthopaedic surgeon who ultimately took care of business for me, told me back in December, “Richard, you’ve ridden this horse as far as it will go”.
During these past few years of therapy and shots to help my knee, Dr. Noblin had also pointed out what would eventually be the key to my decision—that if I just wanted to be a “couch potato” going forward, we really didn’t have to do anything, but that if I wanted to remain active, a replacement would one day be in order. There was never any question which route I wanted to go on that, and so it was that I headed in for my appointed procedure back at the end of February.
By all rights, the surgery went well. I was up and hobbling down the corridor on a walker the next day, then went home that evening. That’s when the fun started.
As most of you know, for major procedures like this, the medical team uses what’s commonly known as a pain block. This medication, when used effectively (in my case it was), pretty much eliminates most of the extreme pain that the surgery causes for a day or two. Then. It. Wears. Off.
Holy moly, it wears off. Now you can feel the effects of having an eight-inch incision cut into you knee plus all the carpentry work that was done inside. Yeah, you have pain meds to take, but nothing like the juice you got during and after the procedure.
While you’re learning to tolerate the pain, here comes home health to get you started on physical therapy. Luckily, I had ace therapist Kecia Perkins come out, and she helped me through the beginning exercises. Of course, I had to gut out the CPM machine for a total of six hours each day for three weeks, which in common parlance would be called a knee stretcher.
So now I’m on to full-throttle physical therapy three times a week at Singing River Hospital, led by my guru Pam Craft, the therapist who has taken me through several recoveries, including ACL surgery (same knee) ten years ago. I have graduated from the walker to a cane (don’t need it always) and am making great strides.
Boy, you look around and this sort of thing happens to a lot of us as we become, ahem, more seasoned. The first day of therapy I heard a familiar voice and there stood Russ Walker, there to rehab his second knee replacement. In addition to the two knees, Russ has also had a hip replacement and major heart surgery. He and I have been friends basically our entire lives, and when we talk about our maladies, all we can do is shake our heads and chuckle.
Right before I had my knee replacement, I received an email from Tom Thornhill, an old friend and fellow PHS Class of 66 graduate, saying that he wanted to let hometown folks know that he had recently had heart surgery. Wait, what?
Turns out that Tommy, who now lives in Atlanta, had gone into the hospital on January 30 for a heart cath to check out what he thought was slight pain. Not so fast—he had three major blockages, necessitating open heart/bypass surgery the next day. After three days in ICU and four additional days in the hospital, Tom is now home recuperating. He is thankfully doing well, but dang. (We now get on the phone and compare rehab notes: “Hey, the other night, I slept four hours straight.” “Really? That’s great!”)
I’m obviously leaving out folks in my family/friend group who have gone through major medical issues recently. It’s part of the deal when you stick around for a while, and the best thing to do is accept what is presented, try to live healthy, and press forward with a positive attitude.
When I was describing my surgery and ongoing rehab earlier, it probably sounded pretty tough, and it was/is. However, thanks to modern medicine, the procedure is available, and now I can look forward to a more stable, somewhat pain-free knee if all goes well.
Also, thanks to Nurse Mary Jon, my sons Cooper and Wesley, and a superb medical team, I believe I am headed in a positive direction.
Life can be challenging, and a little weird sometimes. I don’t even want to talk about coronavirus right now—maybe in another column. What I do know is that, through the grace of God, we do have this wonderful, sometimes crazy world in which to live, and it is up to us to take the tough times as they come, realizing that we are afforded many more good times to savor.
Richard Lucas may be contacted at [email protected].