Tomorrow will be 2 weeks since surgery… How did that happen?! One might think that when you’re stuck at home with “nothing to do” that you have plenty of time to crank out blog posts. And believe me, I thought I’d be doing that. A daily journal of sorts for posterity (and for my sanity). Here’s why that didn’t happen.
The first thing to manage after surgery: the 9 bottles of pills they give you to get your body back in fighting shape. From simple things like baby aspirin to help avoid blood clots, to stool softener (being able to have a bowel movement is a milestone), to pain medicine – as well as tummy medicine to keep your stomach from hating all those pills. I have no idea how people who take lots of medicines on a regular basis keep them straight. I, as you’d guess, created a Google sheet on day one with a detailed schedule, printed it, and crossed them off as I took them.
You see, I am a “no thanks to medicine” person, unless it’s absolutely necessary. Which is why during my pre-op appointment with the doctor I asked what was going to be absolutely necessary. They reviewed the list of drugs, and the purpose of each. I assured them I’d do my part, though I was skeptical. But let’s be clear: When you wake up with pain and have to relearn to walk, dress, etc, you listen closely to the kind nurse who says, “You’re going to want to take everything, as directed, so you will be able to move well and fully recover.”
While I’m still on the low end of “what’s absolutely necessary” for pain management, I’ll admit that through tears at the ends of days two and three, I agreed with my husband that I actually needed to take that medicine. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Below are highlights from the past 2 weeks, as best I can remember them.
DAY ONE: Tuesday
On my first full day at home, my legs began to swell, which I had expected. Swelling is painful (also expected), and it’s extra painful when you’re wearing thigh-high compression stockings that are, similar to the Grinch’s heart, two sizes too small (not expected). That’s a story for later. I followed my drug cycle closely, and got up every single hour to walk for 5 minutes around the house, on a walker, then iced and elevated my leg in between. You’d think I was doing laps around our home in that time, but no, 5 minutes on Day One was pretty much a trip to the bathroom and back. Phew. By 7:30 pm, I was exhausted and in tears, but thankfully, the stockings come OFF at night (WOO HOO) and after a night of elevation, I had some relief.
DAY TWO: Wednesday
Repeat Day One. The swelling, though somewhat less, continued (as did the pain). I got up every hour, iced and elevated. I took a shower, with help. Heaven. A home health PT person came and showed me 8 exercises to do 3-4 times a day. Ouch. I said, “You’re kidding.” He said, “You’re not sick. You have to move.” On the bright side, he also showed me how to use a cane saying that I was already moving around so well I’d likely need it before he returned the following Wednesday. Mission accepted. He suggested I do as many ankle pumps as possible (with straight legs, point then flex your feet), which I highly recommend for blood flow. A home health nurse came by to check vitals and wanted to remove my bandage. No, no, no. I explained that the doctor had said to leave it on for 10 days, and it was waterproof, the only reason I was allowed to shower. He reluctantly agreed, and asked if I’d had a bowel movement yet. Nope. Then he said, “Well, if you get to 4-5 days without one, that’s considered an emergency.” In my opinion, that tactic does not encourage bowel movements… Another tearful early evening from swelling.
DAY THREE: Thursday
Groundhog Day, with a twist. I was thankful for but determined to get off that walker. I managed to do all the PT exercises two and a half times. I consider that a win. More getting up every hour, icing, elevating. On this day I was in tears by 1:30 pm… One frustrating part of recovery is that no one knows exactly what will reduce swelling. Too much movement = swelling, not enough = swelling, but what is the Baby Bear amount of movement?! Swelling sucks. Oh, and remember those hose? In desperation, Bart and I looked up sizing online, and the size they put me in (a Medium – ha!) was built for thighs that were 3 inches smaller than mine, when they’re not swollen. Though I didn’t stop whining, I assumed they knew something I didn’t. I haven’t yet mentioned how helpful the girls have been, but let me tell you this: Zoe was such a champ that she puts on those annoying stockings for me EVERY morning. Ella has been the official “pillow under feet” adjuster. I have a phenomenal support team.
DAY FOUR: Friday
I bet you’re wondering about the poop. By Day Four, after drinking 4-5 liters of water every day, taking the stool softener as directed, and proactively eating fiber-rich foods, I began to get concerned, which is also not great for encouraging bowel movements. Plus, one of the most difficult things to do was get on/off the toilet (double ouch), also not helpful. I had a slightly better end of day after another full day of getting up every hour, doing PT exercises 3 times, and more ice and elevation. Slightly worse, my hands were getting blisters from all the pressure I was putting on my poor walker. Thank you, Mary B, for the moleskin pad suggestion; my blisters were gone in one day! It was Friday, the end of the girls’ first week back to school. Somehow we (and by “we” I mean “Bart”) made it through a whole week as a single dad taking care of 3 high maintenance ladies. Love that #SaintBart. Better late than never, here’s a First Day of School picture of those cute girls, which I begged him to take:
DAY FIVE: Saturday
Glorious morning! Not highly productive, but poop. Mission accomplished. I texted several friends with the poop emoji (you’re welcome, friends), but only once (you’re also welcome). Once this milestone was achieved, my body was ready to be normal–well, in that way at least. By this point, I was frustrated by all the things I couldn’t do, like my own laundry. I’ve never been good at asking for help, and asking your overworked husband for “one more thing” is no fun. I had already joked earlier in the week that I was going to change his name to “AND“, since every time I asked him for something I followed that up with another request. Anyway, I’m pretty sure this is the day I used my grabber to finish up my laundry. It was just sitting there in the dryer, which I couldn’t bend down to reach into… So I got the laundry basket, used the grabber to slowly remove one item at a time, slid the basket with my walker into the other room, lifted each piece to fold it on the bed. TORTURE. If I’m not good at asking for help, I’m worse at handling “slow”. There were moments during this week where I chose to breathe through whatever slow thing I had to do (put on my underwear with a grabber, wait for someone to squeeze my fat thigh into a stupid tiny stocking, slide a walker to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and so on). Sometimes I even laughed about it, but most often I tried to find a way to go just a little faster. HA. Forgot to mention, just like we used to reward the girls with M&Ms to convince them to poop in the potty, I got my own reward:
DAY SIX: Sunday.
As proof that I should have journaled real time, Sunday is a blur. Still swelling, and thousands of ankle pumps later, I started obsessing over the fact that Monday would be the one-week mark, and I really wanted off that walker. Enter the “Name the Cane” game. In a very short time, through text messages, I gathered 40 possible names for my soon-to-be best friend. When the PT guy showed me how to use the quad cane last Wednesday, I asked him if a quad or single-point cane was better. He assured me that the quad was more stable (though I had read it it wasn’t quite as easy to master). Anyway, we had a cane, and I was intent on using it, as fast as possible. She needed a name. Front runners by frequency were as follows: Candy, Sugar, Carol, Citizen. Here she is:
On Sunday my friend Alison also shared a tweet from Morgan Fairchild with a picture of herself standing by a hospital bed, announcing that she had just replaced her second hip (she’s 71, the first was in April). I instantly recognized her gown, the privacy curtain, and the font on the bed number. She was clearly at Cedars Sinai, where I’d been, just 6 beds away and less than a week later. Unlike her, I did not win any best hair awards.
DAY SEVEN: Monday
Though I had tested out the cane, let’s call her Candy for now, I began in earnest to use her in the hallway or when Bart was nearby to spot me. There was no way the PT guy wasn’t going to clear me for a full-time cane when he returned on Wednesday, but falling would be very bad. I also wanted to say I technically was on a cane within a week of surgery, and I was. I could cross our big room and back, walk the hallway and back several times, and make my way around the kitchen. That counts. As a super goal-oriented human, I looked for other milestones. I could empty the top shelf of the dishwasher, get my leg in/out of the bed with minimal help, and was rocking my PT exercises. I also decided to email the doctor with an unsolicited progress report and a few questions, including OMG, WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT THESE STOCKINGS?! They called me within 90 minutes (love my doc). The PA was kind enough to admit that they had clearly given me the wrong size, which was unusual. I pointed out that my ankles are deceptively petite. Maybe the nurses just got the hose up above my knees with what they thought was the right size, and it was too late to turn back… In fairness, I had no idea I’d have to wear compression stockings at all, and I literally woke after surgery with them on my legs. With no remedy other than “oops”, Bart and I redoubled our efforts to find a larger size online. Yes, there were lots of frustrating parts of recovery, but this was ridiculous:
DAY EIGHT: Tuesday
Ironically, on Tuesday the hot tub I had very much wanted for my birthday (back in May) arrived, almost 3 months late. One of my restrictions: No pool, tub or hot tub for 6 weeks. What are the chances? Anyway, you may wonder what I’ve been doing with my “sitting on my bum” time. I watched three great movies: Miracle, about the 1980 US men’s hockey team, one of my favorite underdog movies; Hector and the Search for Happiness, also uplifting; and CODA, about a hearing teenage daughter of deaf parents who loves to sing, amazing story (thanks, Alison!). I finished a BOOK (a real, paper one!) for the first time in quite a while, and I really liked it: The Rosie Project. I continued my quest for cane-readiness in earnest. Insert more ice, elevation, PT exercises and minor progress. I haven’t mentioned tears in a few days, but that’s just because I’ve blocked them. The recovery journey is like a rollercoaster of slightly better, slightly worse, repeat.
DAY NINE: Wednesday
PT DAY! I was ready. In fact, I proactively confirmed the PT guy the day before and asked if he was ready to be impressed. He was! Not only did he bless me using a cane full time and ditching the walker, he added, “and you probably don’t need that quad cane for stability.” Almost as soon as I’d named her, I was on the hunt for a new, single-point cane. As of the writing of this post, she’s ordered but still on her way, and she will most definitely have a gen-2 name that implies speed. Stay tuned. You might be curious about whether or not I’ve named my new hip. I have. Her name is Bionic Betty, though I intend to call her B for short. If you’re going live with an implant and want it to stick around, I think you should befriend it. We’ll see how it goes. Also on this day, Bart hooked me up with a “desk” (a wooden cabinet door from our old kitchen) for my recliner so I could do a few video calls while keeping my legs elevated and use my computer without resting it on my thighs.
DAY TEN: Thursday
With cane approval, I was unstoppable. So unstoppable that I walked 1.5 miles (vs. the 1 or fewer I’d been tracking since I got home), per my activity tracker bracelet. To be clear, that mileage was all inside my house. You should see the walker tracks that I can’t get down to the floor to try and remove yet. One day. In fact, this not bending over world is not my favorite. Fun situation? Try dropping the grabber. Thankfully, my friend Sharon sent me two extra grabbers, so I can grab the grabber with another grabber. Not kidding. I’ve done that. Also fun with a grabber? Carefully picking up the clothes you clumsily dropped between the washer and dryer. Oh, and don’t even try to get little kids to NOT play with the grabber. But back to the walking. Just as I was progressing, I regressed. The swelling had lessened, but in its place were aches and soreness from using the cane: left hand, left tricep, right random leg muscles. I also ended up with restless legs and was up a couple of hours in the night trying to calm them…
DAY ELEVEN: Friday
It’s worth mentioning that we have zero chairs in our house with arms (that don’t also have wheels). Our recliner has big, cushy arms, which has ended up working out only because it’s a little higher than your normal chair. However, I’ve been unable to sit at the dinner table with the family since another position to avoid is sitting in – and more importantly getting up from – low chairs and ones that lack arms for support. I honestly can’t remember which day it was, but by Friday I was able to go back to the table for dinner and stand myself up afterwards using the tabletop. I assure you there’s no way I could have done that week one, even with the table for help. Also worth mentioning is that I am a clean person who, unlike many celebrities, takes a shower every day. But between finding a time when Bart can help and getting those freaking stockings on/off, I’ve only achieved a shower every 3 days. Yikes. Oh, but on the bright side, I did receive the “size-up” stockings we ordered, and it really is better (but I still hate them).
DAYS TWELVE & THIRTEEN: Saturday & Sunday
As happens with children once they’re past the rapid growth spurt of milestones, I stopped having big deal moments this weekend. That said, I look forward to the ones to come, which hopefully aren’t too far in the future, such as:
- Getting in/out of bed without pain
- Taking off these stupid stockings for good
- Showering without help or worrying about falling on the way in/out
- Ditching the cane
- Not needing pain meds
- Touching my toes
- Dance parties in the kitchen at breakfast, like the old days :)
This weekend, aside from the normal walk, PT, ice, elevate routine, I had a goal of figuring out how to make two little girls feel special for their rapidly approaching birthdays (Sept 1 & 16). I think we’ve got a solid plan, but I can’t help feeling badly that these sweet, helpful little girls have to worry about their mom or see me in pain as they navigate a new school year during a continued pandemic. Overall, I think we’re doing great as a family, and I know that in short time this will feel like a distant past. Until then, I’ll keep taking one day at a time and staying grateful for all the amazing people in my life who have lifted me up over the past two weeks, just when I needed it.
I hope that when I go back for my post-op appointment on September 7, I’ll be ready to WOW my surgeon with even more progress and get an “all clear” assessment. In the meantime, walk, PT, ice, elevate, BREATHE, repeat. Stay safe out there, and may we all remember to be grateful for what we DO have.