I was given a button connected to a morphine pump. They told me that every six minutes, I could push the button to deliver a tiny amount of morphine my bloodstream. But because of the anesthesia, I wasn’t remembering instructions very well. My wife broke the rules by taking control of the button to keep my pain under control.
After several hours of fading in and out of consciousness, my surgeon came in and asked if I wanted to try to stand on the new replacement knees. Seriously, doc – would you? I think they phrase it like that so it seems as though it was all your idea.
Nurses gathered up the wires and tubes connecting me to various appliances in the room, two physical therapists held me under the armpits, and lifted me to a standing position behind a walker, which I grasped like a drowning man.
People seem curious about the pain. It was blinding, overwhelming, stunning. But it wasn’t the worst pain I have ever felt; I wouldn’t experience that until the following day.
There was a reclining chair adjacent to the hospital bed, and the P/Ts coached me through a heavily-assisted 90-degree turn, and then I was directed to sit in the chair. I plopped down, gasping from the pain and the effort, and was allowed to rest there for two hours. Then, the P/Ts rejoined me for the return trip to the bed.
It was much worse getting up that second time, because every cell in my body knew what was coming. I cursed and sweated, struggling that three feet back to the bed.
After another short rest, the staff introduced me to four pieces of equipment that I shall hate for the rest of my life. I call them the “squeezers,” the “freezers,” the “straighteners” and the “benders.”
- The squeezers are two air bladders that are wrapped around each lower leg. A small pump inflates one, which tightens around the leg briefly, and is then deflated. The process is repeated on the other leg, alternating all night long. The purpose of this device is to keep the blood moving on bedridden patients to prevent blood clots. But the truth is that the bladders rub on the skin a little bit when they inflate, over and over, until you want to scream.
- The freezers are four pads about the size of ping-pong paddles, connected through a series of hoses to small refrigeration units. Two pads are placed on either side of each knee, and refigerated liquid is pumped through them all night long. They reduce swelling, but they also refrigerate the blood of the patient. I suffered from painful bouts of uncontrollable shivering, despite being covered with five blankets.
- The straighteners are reinforced wraps that cover the entire leg, preventing it from bending. These are strapped on all night, to prevent involuntary movements that might disrupt the healing process. They’re horrible, because they pretty much prevent every other kind of movement, voluntary or not.
- The benders are machines that slowly bend the leg to a programmable angle, over and over again, up to six hours a day on each leg. There are several designs for these machines, but in my experience, the best ones are those that have no scrotum-pinching parts.