Pt. IV: Tales from a Surprising Knee Surgery (Leaning In, Looking Forward)

Relieved to be back home, I was able to return to our second floor without gasping for breath or feeling that strange chill of too little blood flow to head and extremiities. It signalled a new phase, I hoped, and was pleased to feel able to further right my world by tidying a bit like an ordinary person. I lay down on my blue quilt, staring out windows that framed dark green pines towering above my view. It felt luxurious. As if I had stepped into an unreal, happy vignette. Could this be a better life? Marc made a pleasing meal and we watched a little TV, but then I was ready to turn in. The balm of sleep at last!

The same day following my return home, Naomi and her partner, Adam, came by. He’d flown in from Colorado the night before; it was an earlier planned visit like my daughter’s. And it also happened that my brother and sister-in-law were coming for a couple of days on their way back from an L.A. photography workshop. I had expected before surgery to be in good shape by March, not limping along, poorly recovered. And I wasn’t confident about having visitors yet. But it was a happy occasion to be with my family. Everything worked out well enough. I sat alot rather than head out for energetic jaunts as would have been usual.

Mid-week we had a bigger family meal before folks flew out. Naomi and Adam generously shopped and prepared food. My lovely sister-in-law pitched in. It was a bit tiring yet relaxing, ultimately a replenishment–such is the presence of palpable love. They were pleased I was upright, independently mobile, and interactive despite the sore, knotty knee. Despite troublesome weeks. I didn’t bother to try to pretend it had been otherwise. We could all see progress being made. Even if I was still very pale and bleary-eyed.

A physical therapy session also took place the day after I returned. I was grateful the therapist was easier on me after I explained what happened. The following sessions we got back on track. I did more work, faster, than I had before. I nearly hit the 120 degrees of flexibility. That felt triumphant.

I saw my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. G., two days after the discharge. He knew about the hopsitalization and noted I’d had challenges. I had wanted to share my litany of horrors. Tell him how I had sometimes just hung on. But he had done this work for 35 years and simply examined my leg and knee and declared everything in good shape–the incision well healed, and the blood clot properly addressed. He was done with me in ten minutes. I wanted to be angry with him and to feel “dismissed” although I knew this is more typical than not.

This surgeon has garnered many accolades; when a friend recommended him before an imminent retirement (he retired since that check up), I’d booked my apointment. Dr. G. didn’t create the steady stream of complications. I was medically “unlucky”, experiencing problems a small percentage do. There are risks to any major surgery. In the end, he told me I was ahead of the usual schedule with great knee flexibility and stamina at just five weeks. I could drive again; I could take longer walks. It thrilled me to hear and I sailed out of the office.

I saw Dr. Patrick, my cardiologist, the next week. I was informed I’d be on the Eliquis, a blood thinner, for several months at least but no aspirin (as it is another blood thinner). I imagined the blood in my veins rushing and roiling like a spring creek with such a thinning out…Then we decided to change an old beta blocker to a newer one to see if the break-through arrythmias diminished. Rather than report on all of the next ten days, the summary: the opposite effects occurred than what was to happen–of course, one more thing— and I returned to my old medication without further issues. Chronic pain, exhaustion and general stress can upset the heart. I dearly hoped mine would calm down. And it has.

As I write this, it has been another five weeks since the transfusions and critical repair. Nothing else terrible has happened. The longer I feel better, though, I also wonder if something else is about to go wrong–then pull myself back from that precipice. The worst times of moaning and crying are receding little by little. The experiences are embedded in my brain, but in time they will just be another small portion of the remarkable landscape of memory.

I awaken not feeling worry but anticipation of a decent day. I do check my knee as soon as my eyes open–is it too hot, painful or sensitive? The answer has been “negative” so I get going. I remain anemic; the numbers I want to see are distant. But the hemoglobin was last at 9.2, an improvement though not the 11.2 that’s a low but acceptable number. Red blood cells are still lagging; I have another blood test soon. I’ve been assurred it takes awhile for them to repopulate after such a loss. I am tired after doing chores and breathless when I climb stairs or take walks–some days. But this is less so than three weeks ago, than even last week. Some nights that healing knee desires to bend more, to stretch better and turn and twist–then twinges and shocks awaken me. But I know healing is happening without my full knowledge. The bone, sinew and blood are reparative in action, doing complex work every moment. This generates heat, soreness, swelling even as the prognosis improves.

I still talk to my knee. I apply lotion, smooth out tight bands of muscle, the long reddish scar. I say: you are something to behold; you are a miracle of rejuvenation; a testament to God’s powerful creativity; a blessing to this body.

My oldest Oregon friend, Brenda, toughened by her challenging life– yet possessed of a great tender heart– checks in often. She was so anxious about my state of health that she contacted me daily. She has endured many surgeries and survived difficult illnesses. But she recovers enough, gets back on her feet. She still works full time–counseling prisoners. She possesses soul, gusto, and is one of my heroines. “We’re still here; we’re in that crazy company of long-term survivors. We’re older, crustier; we have to be here for each other.”

I’ve been kept safe during tidal waves of fear and confoundment by indomitable forces of caring. I even am fortunate to have three newer women friends who have visited, checked in, brought me homebaked muffins, full dinners and flowers, and who continue to cheer me on. None of them are free from crises; none are defeated by difficulties yet. We fall and rise and fall. One friend–a serious adventuress– has gone walking with me despite having been hospitalized for a respiratory virus and lingering asthma. We look for opportunities to enjoy ourselves. Being seventy-ish is certainly not the end of good times. Age is barely noted as we embrace each day. Today we are hiking at a state park. I am not sure how well I will do–but we’re heading out. I know I will love every moment.

It is good to be beloved by friends and family. To know that the universe which holds a world so often harsh and cruel is also redemptive and restorative. That there is a synchronicity and symbiosis we must respect. That amazes. We are here to do the work we can do and to find it beautiful and valuable enough. For me, living is predicated upon the connection I have to a boundless energy of love known as Divine Creator, Almighty God.

I can walk the greenery-lined paths now, bracing for hills, keeping eyes on sky and trees. I’m a little clumsy; my right leg can oppose my intentions in an instant. I’m pleased I can climb up and down steps one foot after another; manage a shower in record time; get up, sit down; do daily tasks that were not long ago too taxing. And driving my little red car with the sun roof open to the bright air! I’m able to meet a friend for croissants and a mocha, or just take care of business. Self sufficiency is a tonic to the soul.

Spring blossoms send me into quiet elation. I’ve been down to the river to view its turbulance and tranquility, to hear nature’s wild, harmonious music. I’ve sat in a sliver of sunshine on the balcony, watched pine and maple branches shimmy. I’ve wondered over our hummers at the feeder–such powerful, tiny bodies that put mine to shame. They don’t quit; even rain and wind don’t deter their flight and daily endeavors. If in need of rest, they sit on the feeder under the eaves and simply rest, watchful but calm. What a delight it is to be on the periphery of their world, to watch and learn.

Loss can sharpen the human need to value life more. And to share it more generously. From the depths can arise a new semblance of wholeness. The good thing about being unwell is what it feels like to get better: scrubbed of illness and with it, so many trivialities. Extraneousness and superficiality are poorly tolerated.

I’ve embraced an extreme passion for life ever since childhood. My young friends could find me a bit too intense. I often felt like a poet-vagabond in a world of constructs that meant nothing to me compared to constellations spanning the beyond. I thought I might burn out by thirty, the flame within was so hot. But intensity also fuels a stubborn desire to keep on despite the odds against success. I will keep exploring the soul’s mysteries, remain present within depths of mind and heart. To celebrate the perfection of bones, the heavenly earthiness of blood, skin and nerves. This tent I live in has been torn and repaired often. There is enough common sense combined with courage to utilize, after all. Hope remains a golden wellspring. I was born to the revelations and nuances of this journey, and one day–not today, I pray– will take my leave convinced this human life is a miracle to be believed.

I would very much hope the same for you.

(Click on photos for captions, if desired.)

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