Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Quick Perspective on the Knee Replacement Surgery

My good friend Roland Lazenby told me the other day that as soon as he finishes his newest book, a biography of Michael Jordan, he's going to have knee replacement surgery. He wanted to know what I thought about it and I gave him a short answer that I wasn't satisfied with.

Let me expand upon that a little bit by telling all of you what it's like at the three-week mark.

This is a painful surgery. It is painful. Let me stress that it hurts. Don't skip over that part mentally when the docs, nurses and teachers of your class tell you it is painful. I did and was blindsided. Some of the pain comes from the simple fact that I've had two of the biggest bones in my body sawed in half, had--essentially--a spike driven into them, and been sewn up again. For me, a lot of it comes from the fact that pain meds don't seem to work with my chemistry.

The pain is distracting, uncomfortable and forbids sleep, which is needed for recovery.

My digestive system has been in an uproar for about four weeks now, beginning a week before surgery when I began taking medication. That can be as painful as the knee. My appetite didn't exist (it's coming back), but I've also lost 25 pounds. Food tastes awful and my sense of smell was out of whack for a while.

I have required myself to have a level of discipline in order to move around, exercise and do as much for myself as possible. I'm walking a mile to a mile and a half a day now and am doing my own household chores. During the first two weeks I had three wonderful friends (Christine Ward, a nurse; Janeson Keeley, who used to write for us at FRONT; and Christina Koomen, my favorite ex-wife) waiting on me hand and foot. My Leah was spending the weekends with me doing it all, as well. Not many of us have that luxury. I am extremely fortunate and I will suggest that they made the impossible possible. There's no way to repay that kind of friendship, either, so enjoy it.

I have forced myself to eat the right foods even when I either couldn't taste them or when they tasted so bad that they almost made me nauseated. That was a good move because all of my vital numbers remain good.

My substitute physical therapist gave me some important inside info yesterday about why we were doing some of the painful exercises we were doing. One reason is to break up scar tissue that would have to be taken out surgically otherwise. Another is to strengthen weak quadriceps that are a key to walking properly in the future. I'll need flexing and extending to the degree I can get it and the more the better. That means pain and work.

One of the strongest pieces of advice I can give is this: if you're not in good shape, delay the surgery until you are. Work especially hard on getting your quadriceps strong because the stronger they are, the quicker you will recover. They are a key element in the strength of your leg and your knee. I was in good physical condition going in and getting there helped me develop good habits for recovery.

Here's a hard one: It is necessary to be patient. It's hard to get a straight answer from anybody about how long this or that will take because "it depends on the indvidual," so get ready for the long haul. You will not be back to work in two weeks; you won't be driving in a month; you won't climb McAfee's Knob in October. I was told yesterday to count on six months of vigorous healing.

The drugs--especially early--mess with your mind. Don't think about writing or doing anything that requires concentration. Ain't happenin'.

Listen to the people who know what the hell they're doing and follow directions.

And remember it hurts.


  1. Dan,
    As I stated before I had full knee replacements on both knees at the same time 6 years ago. I am so sorry you have had such a difficult time! I totally agree being in the best shape possible physically, mentally, and spiritually is a must! As for the pain, yes painfully, but the immediate relief I experienced from the grinding bone on bone pain I had been in on a daily basis for years superseded the surgical pain by far. Maybe the pain medication worked better for me! I only took it for a short time and switched to OTC drugs asap because it made me feel like shit. Can you say that here? I had to give myself shots in my stomach daily for a couple of weeks to prevent blood clots. Not so pleasant. I am in no way trying to minimize this surgery it is a BIG deal. However the quality of my life was taking a serious hit because of my worn out knees. I was gingerly climbing fences again at 6 weeks and driving again shortly there after. I have witnesses. Totally back to normal a year. I strongly encourage those standing on the sidelines of their life to get in shape and take the leap. Don't wait until you become so sedentary you fall into a cycle of too fat, too tired, too much pain, or too scared to take advantage of this medical miracle. Your pain will soon be over Dan and you will be walking across the street pain free and you will wonder why didn't I do this sooner!
    Welcome to your new life!
    Trish White

  2. Thanks so much for all the info Dan. My hubby is walking bone on bone in both knees and he will need the surgery eventually. He is 60 and is hoping to make it to 62 so he can retire and then have it, he cannot take that kind of time off work. Thanks for all the heads up info. Godspeed on the healing!
    -Sandi Saunders

  3. Well, darling Dan, it’s so good to hear your blog voice once more and to know your brain cells are firing well. I know the last month has been frustrating (and painful), but also filled with gifts and rewards and lessons. You are now fully planted on the other side of healing, and time and tenacity will do the rest. I was honored to be part of this process and share the caregiving with Christina, Christine and Janeson. You are a man well-loved

  4. Sandi: Be absolutely certain your husband works on his quads. It will save a great deal of pain later. And be sure the physical therapist is one who knows the rules, pushes like a good coach and is thoroughly supportive. This means a lot.

  5. Thank you Trish. I know what's there and am working for it. I hope others do, too.

  6. There are many things which should be considered before going for a knee replacement surgery. The main thing is that are you strong enough to recover from this surgery??