Monday, July 19, 2010

Total Knee Replacement

On Monday, May 24, 2010, I joined the ranks of those who have had some kind of total joint replacement. For me, it was my right knee.

For over a year prior to having my right knee replaced, I had been walking on crutches for short distances and using either my wheel chair or a publicly provided motorized cart whenever I went anywhere where walking would be more than a few feet. I've found out from participating in physical therapy at the nursing facility I stayed in for three weeks after the surgery, that my walking distance tolerance is about 150 feet. That is on a good day, which, while at the nursing facility most days were good days. That is also inside, in controlled atmosphere such as temperature, humidity, the surface I am walking on. And, that was with a cane. For me, that is success.

I began this road to disability a long time ago with various physical issues. First of all, I was born with what my mother termed "crooked legs". I was severely knock-kneed. By the time I was able to walk, the podiatrist had my feet taped up to build up my arches and walking in one of two types of shoes: Buster Browns (which I liked) or saddle shoes (which I hated). I can remember having to go get my feet taped once a week or so and that I hated it. The night before each visit to the doctor ended with me sitting on the kitchen counter with my feet soaking in the sinkful of water as my mother pulled off the horrible tape. In my mind, it reminds me of what duct tape looks and feels like today. Back in 1957 and 1958, I have no idea what kind of tape it was. What I do know is that it hurt really bad having that tape pulled off my little feet every week knowing that the next morning I was going to have new tape put on. I remember this going on at least until after I was three years old. Maybe longer. The Buster Browns and the saddle shoes, though, lasted into the first few years of grade school.

I was clumsy. I could walk and skip and run and jump just like the other kids, but not as well. And I fell down a lot. I twisted my ankles all the time. When I was old enough to question my mother about the taped feet, and about my legs (which she would always remind me about if I wanted to do something that might mean doing some kind of damage) I asked her why the doctor taped my feet. All she would say was that he had wanted to put me in braces but she couldn't afford the braces. So the next best thing the doctor could do was try to build up my arches. However, that meant that I could only wear good solid shoes with good arch supports. Good solid shoes like that didn't mix with childhood and childhood games. My mother, wanting to protect me, I suppose, would tell me that it was better if I didn't do certain kinds of activities because "when you get older, you are going to have problems with your legs". By the time I was a teenager thinking about career choices, it seemed that all the careers I was interested in involved being on my feet all day. These were all careers my mother discouraged. After all, when I got older, I was going to have trouble with my legs.

I didn't pay a lot of attention to the warnings my mother issued about my activities. I wasn't allowed to go barefoot, according to the doctor. Once the weather warmed up every spring, and right on through til it got too cold to go barefoot, it was hard to get me to wear shoes of any kind. I wasn't supposed to wear penny loafers, or tennis shoes (not the supportive shoes we know today). I was supposed to wear good supportive shoes with wide toes and high arches. They had to have shoe strings too. Absolutely no slip ons. But I guess by a certain age, I made such a fuss at the shoe store that my mom would give in and buy me the penny loafers and sneakers. I remember I liked Keds...I think because of the little red dot on the heels. I played almost every kind of game the other kids would let me play. I wasn't very good at any of them...the physical games anyway. But I kept trying. As long as they let me, that is. They wanted their teams to win. I wasn't the type to be good at helping them do that.

I loved ice skating. In the winter my cousins all went ice skating in the old canal that flowed just across the highway from their house. I spent a lot of time with them year round playing all kinds of childrens games, fishing, and sledding down the banks of the canal onto the ice. I skated too, as best as I could. I never had my own pair of ice skates. I always had to borrow a pair my older cousins had outgrown, then put on extra pairs of socks until I could get a tight fit with the skates. But it didn't help with my weak ankles, and I barely moved from place to place on ice skates. I wouldn't quit but by the time we would go inside, my feet and legs would be so sore from just the effort of trying to stand up straight and skate like the other kids did. I never would tell anyone how much it hurt. A few years later during the summer, my best friend and next door neighbor and I were having fun balancing on a small tree that had been cut down and was lying in our yard. It had been there for a couple days and we were getting pretty good with our "act". We pretended we were in the circus walking the tight rope. Then the next day the trunk of the tree had been put up on a saw horse for my friend's brother to cut the tree into manageable pieces. He walked away for something or other and we took the challenge. We climbed up on that tree and started in on our act, only this time the tree was in a different position and up off the ground. I lost my balance and started to fall. I looked down at where I was about to land and saw a pretty serious looking broken tree branch pointed right up at me. I knew if I fell on that branch it would dig into me pretty bad. So in the midst of that fall I changed my position and missed the branch but ending up twisting my ankle so badly that I couldn't walk on it. Back then, the doctor didn't bother taking an X-ray. He just squeezed it here and there and decided nothing was broken, wrapped it up in an ace wrap, and told me to keep off it for a few weeks. At that point, my already weak ankles became even weaker. The following winter when I tried to ice skate, I could hardly keep standing up. My feet hurt so bad, along with my ankles from being turned out instead of straight up. When I took the skates off, I found a big blood blister about the size of a quarter or half dollar on the ball of my foot. I never put on a pair of ice skates again after that.

In fifth grade the band director would come around to try to interest students in joining the band. My mother was thrilled! She convinced me of all the wonderful fun things I would get to do for free or for lowered prices that I would never get to do if I didn't join the band. So I got my flutophone and I joined the band. I went from flutophone that year to trumpet in sixth grade. I played trumpet for everything including marching band when we got to the summer after eighth grade when we were officially members of the high school marching band. I loved it! We marched in parades, at festivals, played for horse races at the county fairs, and got to go to Cedar Point every summer except once when we went to Kings Island instead. We competed in the Ohio State Fair Marching Band Contest. And I got to wear white Ked's sneakers! It was part of the uniform. Even in the fall during football season when we wore our full uniforms we still wore those white sneakers. Once football and marching seasons were over we switched gears and went into concert band mode. In ninth grade the director asked if anyone wanted to play a different instrument because he needed someone to play French horn. I volunteered. My mom wasn't thrilled with that because she loved having me play trumpet and dreamed of me playing all kinds of solos. Well, that just wasn't going to happen anyway. I switched to French horn and absolutely loved it. It was a good decision for me. One of the few good decisions I've made in my life. Well, I still got to play trumpet for all the marching season and French horn for the winter season. She was okay with that. In my senior year, I had warts on my foot. Sudden trip to the podiatrist. I hadn't seen him in years. I think because I used to put up such a fuss about going that my mom just stopped taking me. Anyway, he examined my feet and legs while he treated the warts. He told me that my feet and legs looked better than they ever had and that whatever I was doing was working. I looked him in the face and told him that I was marching in band, wearing sneakers, and that I wore penny loafers and went barefoot all the time. He said to keep it up because it was obviously working. I think, looking back on that now, that day had a healing effect for me. I was doing well at something finally. Band. And I had been able to hear the doctor tell me my legs were doing well in spite of all his advice I never paid attention to. I was happy. My mom was happy. At least at that point. And at that point, when I was seventeen years old, I had a baseline to go by about how my legs were doing.

Ending high school meant heading to college and choosing a career. I couldn't choose anything that made my mom happy with me. I chose cosmetology because I loved styling hair. She said absolutely not because I would be on my feet all day long and when I got older my legs would give me trouble. In my heart I wanted to be a dancer but I already knew with my clumsiness that I wouldn't measure up to professional standards. I really wanted to pursue music but for my mother that wasn't a good choice either...because there wouldn't be money in it. If you are young and reading this you have to remember that choices were severely limited for women back in the seventies. Finally, after trying special education as a major and ultimately dropping out of college for awhile, I ended up looking for work. The only work I ever seemed to be able to get was work in nursing homes, either as housekeeper or nursing assistant. After a couple years of working that way, I decided I wanted to become a nurse. Surprise of surprises, my mother was absolutely thrilled!!! But nurses spend their time on their feet. She didn't care! I wanted to be a nurse and she was happy about it. So off I went to nursing school. I chose to try for a Bachelor's degree in nursing so I could go on and get my PhD and go into research. I never made it that far. But the point of this part of the story is about how active I was during my college years. I lived off campus in an apartment complex next to the college. I walked every day I could that the weather would allow. It involved walking through a ravine going up and down hill, then walking from one building to another throughout the campus. I loved it. And I joined the concert band playing the French horn. In the meantime, during one of the labs of my physiology class, we had to blow into this machine to demonstrate how to measure lung power. When it was my turn, I blew the darn needles clear off the measuring board! I had such excellent lung power, most likely from what I learned about breathing in band, plus all the physical activities I was part of and all the walking I was doing. I was 23.

This is long enough for this post. Next time I will take off where I've left off and see how I have come to be dealing with disability now.

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