I realized this past Friday, April 15th, marked one year since I had a total knee replacement (TKR). The weekend was kinda busy and whatnot….hello Easter…..so I thought I’d take some time now to reflect on my journey this past year. This may be more of a “story” than a blog post. My hope is that maybe my journey may help or encourage someone facing this surgery.
How did I get to the point of TKR?
A good question. I was in the final weeks of training for a duathlon in 2018. As I was in the last few miles of a training run my knee started bothering me. Of course my thought was “nooooo nothing better get in my way for the race “. It settled down and weeks later, I did my second duathlon coming in again first in my age group. That didn’t impress me as much as seeing my finish time against some of the 20something guys. That was satisfying 😜
I wish I knew it was potentially my last duathlon or I would’ve savored every aspect of it more.
As things go, after I finished a race, I dialed back my training for a few weeks. On my first run back out ( weeks later) I felt almost crippled afterwards. I cut out running and focused on cycling but my knee continued to bother me. I finally gave in and headed to my sports doctor ( ahem…. months later) fully expecting to hear I had torn something and would need surgery. After the x ray he came back in and announced, ” you’ve got a good old fashioned case of arthritis going on” this was certainly not what I expected to hear.
He said listen “You’re out there kicking ass and taking names. You are certainly not my usual middle age woman patient. Between life, genetics, and all you’ve been doing, that’s what we’re dealing with. ” We discussed some options, one of which was eventually getting a shot in my knee that could help.
Essentially a band aid, a costly one, only prolonging the inevitable, knee replacement surgery.
I left his office and pretty much dealt with it over the next couple years. The pain in my knee got progressively worse as it was bone on bone. I did go in for the set of two shots ( 600.00 my part with insurance) in the summer of 2020. Unfortunately, I never noticed any change. He told me “ok we’ve tried all the options and the next step is total knee replacement”
Yeah ok…obviously I wasn’t super excited at this prospect. I had never had any surgeries and this one sounded a bit, intense, to put it mildly.
He handed me a referral for an ortho dr, one he assured me, would be focused on getting me back at my athletic endeavors and sent me off.
The next few months involved meeting with the doctor, getting an MRI, another appointment with the surgeon and then finally at that January visit we scheduled the surgery for April 15.
Gosh. I tried several times to work myself out of it as it got closer. But on the other hand I had a knee that hurt enough to keep me awake at night so I was kinda hoping to ditch that problem, among others.
As it got closer there were the usual pre surgical things to do, like labs, a chest x ray and meeting with the surgical nurse who went over all the details for before, during and after surgery.
Over and over I heard “you’ve picked a rough first surgery but you’ll get through it”
I requested to be his first surgery. It was out patient and I would go home that day so I figured being first in meant I’d get out sooner.
My surgery would also be robotic assisted surgery which is super high tech. It allows the surgeon to operate and make cuts and incisions with exact precise cuts in the bone and tissue. This is done in real time with a computer and a very recent CT of my knee. You can learn more reading about Mako Robotic Knee surgery.
I arrived at 5 a.m. trying to act cool but I had to laugh when the nurse asked if I ever had anxiety….I was like…. I mean right now, kinda yeah….she assured me they expected that and not to worry.
Whew! I was normal! 😅
All the final things were done, the surgeon last to appear asking if I was ready for the show. I asked him if he had enough of whatever he needed to be on his A game. He assured me he was good and he was ready to fix my knee up, and then it was off to the OR.
Listen, as I mentioned earlier, this was my first surgery so I was really calculating everything that was going on. I was struck by how bright the OR was, how alert, busy and full on active everyone was greeting me. I asked them if they wanted me to hop over to the other table, and after I got settled a mask was immediately placed over my nose and mouth that felt a little to snug. The guy lifted to adjust it and said ” we’re just giving you some pure oxygen “
And that my friends, was it till I heard two girls talking close to me saying what pretty pink hair I had ( which I did) and did I want a cracker?
Me…. mumbling….are we done?! They assured me we were and if I woke up I could have a cracker. In my head, I was giggling thinking how you offer parrots crackers… 🤣 in reality I was trying to peel my eyes open.
Seriously. Y’all that sleep after surgery is the bomb. I was so cozy. I was hearing the convo in room, the nurses talking to my husband, how things went etc but gosh, I was sooooo good where I was at….like my eyes just didn’t want to be open. I got prompted again…. whyyy are they making me talk??
After accepting ( rather blindly) the crackers and Sprite given to me, I was asked if I wanted to get up and walk.
Me….you know I’m still asleep right? And my leg feels like….nothing…..
Them…. you get to go home if you walk. Ah yes, I remembered now. I got to head home if I did the “required things”.
Eat. Go to bathroom. Walk.
I got up on edge of bed, grabbed the walker and hustled myself out to the hallway when they called me back. One thing my surgeon does is to make sure his patients have a nerve block ” we want you to wake up comfortable”. I thought of it as an epidural in my knee. I had a full leg brace on immobilizing my leg. My foot felt like a thick foam block. Think how your face feels after a dentist visit and novocain.
With a numb leg, a foggy head ( those are good drugs) and zero pain, I crawled into the athletic clothes I had worn. My surgery had been at 7 a.m. and by 1 p.m. I was loaded up heading home 😳
Ya know what’s really trippy? Being in a car sailing down the highway while you’re still looped out from anesthesia.
I kept my eyes closed the ride home ’cause the world was really spinny.
Home and recovery
My surgeon ordered PT ( physical therapy) for 2 weeks at home that started the day after I got home. I was ready to work and do what was needed to get back to doing life. I faithfully did exercises they left for me making them my “job”. I did them 3 times a day and walked as much as I could. I made my leg bend and flex just like I would have before surgery.
It was so amazing to have that awful pain gone in my knee that walking felt great even if I had major surgery two days prior. By day 3 I tossed the walker cause I was walking fine without it and my PT guy said it was more of a hazard to use it if I was walking ok.
Physically, I hadn’t been sure what to expect but I had minimal swelling and no bruising. Of course I lived with my ice pack so I’m sure that helped quite a bit. My PT guy was encouraging telling me I was far ahead of what they expected patients to do a few days out so that built my confidence. And not to mention I was horribly motivated to make things happen. I had goals.
Ok I’m almost embarrassed to say this but I really had minimal pain, and at that I didn’t consider it bad. One thing I paid attention to were all the people who told me to be diligent about staying on track with my pain meds. I’m stubborn but not dumb and certainly wasn’t interested in hurting if it could be avoided. I took them every 6 hours as prescribed even setting a 4 a.m. alarm to stay on track. My goal was to get off of them as soon as possible. Within the week I started spacing them out farther testing it. Gradually I was down to just a night one ( cause I like my sleep 😅) listen to what they tell you about pain meds!
2 weeks post op
2 weeks out I checked in with surgeon and had bandage removed. His stitching skills were impressive
After assessing all of my bending and flexing he cleared me to drive since I wasn’t on the pain meds.
Another thing we discussed was exercise. He knew my goals were to get back on road cycling and at least walking again. I told him I wanted to do a bike race that was 10 weeks post op. What did he think? He said let’s do it! All he asked was that I ride not clipped in so if I had to get off bike fast I wouldn’t wrench my knee.
Of course, I focused a lot on my upper body since I could work that how I wanted
As my leg healed I had moved over to 6 weeks of PT at a place in town. As my therapist told me a lot I wasn’t their “normal” patient. Being fairly strong and fit going into this surgery had definitely given me an advantage. Since I exercised before surgery the moves were work but doable work. He would put me on bike at the end of our sessions.
My first time on was my first slap in the face with my surgery.
I couldn’t do a full spin rotation.
How could this be? Riding a bike was well, riding a bike. I gingerly tried to press forward when my foot slipped causing it to go farther than planned.
That was the first genuine pain I had felt. I saw stars. Not cool.
I was in tears, literally crying thankful my back was to the room so no one would see a grown woman crying.
I felt all my goals shifting. How could I do a race in 7 weeks if I couldn’t pedal fully? I was crushed when I left PT that day.
I came home and started reading and there was a suggestion of pedaling backwards first. Then gradually ease into going forward. Next time I went I tried that. And I did it the following time…each time pressing into it a bit more…..then finally a full spin. I held my breath easing into another round and another. Tears came again this time but they were of joy. It was all I could do not to whoop out loud 😅
As I kept practicing on the bike at PT and on my trainer at home, race day loomed closer and I was pressed deciding if I’d be ready to do a 18 mile race in a few weeks. Being on the bike I still hadn’t gotten any serious miles on me. I finally felt confident enough to hit the road, this was about 8 weeks post op. I did 9 miles for my first ride.
Unfortunately by the time I felt I could do the race, no matter what my speed, the race had sold out. I was a bit crushed and then decided I would simply do my own “race”. Really it was about me and my goals anyway, right? I determined I would get up the same day as race, leave out in the morning and do that 18 mile ride making it a celebration of my body and what it could do.
And I did it.
The morning was gorgeous and I had never felt more alive. Although riding not clipped in felt awkward, I managed to get it done. And not just 18 miles, but a little more with gravy on top 😉
It turned into a nearly 20 mile ride. 😊
Needless to say when I saw my surgeon a couple weeks later he immediately asked if I did it. Ha he was honestly like a proud parent.
Where am I now?
The knee healed up pretty nice…..and I really don’t mind my battle wound.
I make jokes that I may be the old person who tells the weather by my knee 🤣 it does feel tighter when the weather changes. My surgeon said its the barometric pressure.
Other things: when I’m on my feet all day or it’s hot my leg can feel like it’s ” fuller” or tight. My bending, and straightening of my leg is as good as it was before surgery. I’m able to do things I could prior. My knee itself can still feel tight around the surgical area but my surgeon said it can be a solid year or longer for things to settle down. A small area is still numb. That may or may not go away. Being on my hands and knees is doable, but I have to position my weight right as it can be uncomfortable, like in the surgical area.
Strength wise I think my right leg is lots stronger now than my left. My legs are strong but I find myself doing a little extra with the left to make it keep up. I am always mindful that I can and should always be pushing my new knee a little more to continue to get the maximum from it.
Since I had this surgery at least 6 people I know have had it. They have reached out and asked questions. I have answered based on my experience and journey but they will be different for all of us. Our experience will be based on many factors from our overall health, fitness, physical limitations and our mental determination (which I believe is the biggest factor for success) ask questions and make sure you educate yourself on all things associated with it. Oh yeah, and do everything you’re told, including managing your pain meds.
Tell me, have you had a TKR or are you seeing one in your future?