The first five weeks
Once down on the ward, I eagerly accepted the offer of some toast and marmalade and a cup of tea. Some food at last! How long I was to spend on the ward was a big unknown. Anything up to four days we’d be told before the op, but that would depend on numerous factors.
I felt Ok. Still couldn’t feel my legs but the rest of me was fine. As I’d gone down in the lift from recovery, I had felt a little sick briefly, but that had passed. All was well. Until that is, Sue turned up and I threw up – those cardboard sick bowls don’t hold much! Once cleaned up I felt better again and I settled into the routine of ward-life.
Tea, food, pills, sleep, saline drip and repeat. In the wee small hours, I needed the loo, so with the help of the nurse, I was helped out of bed and, with a walking frame, made my way through to the loo. I had been trying to wee and failing for ages, certainly nothing significant within six hours of the op which seemed to be a benchmark the nurses were setting me. So a bottle was thrust in my hand but in the relief of my visit, I forgot to use the bottle!
Breakfast finally came and then I had the chance to take a shower. (I managed to almost fill a second wee bottle too, much to the nurse’s delight). Then it was ward rounds. I showed the doc that I could lift my leg off the bed (one of the exercises I would be doing over the next few weeks). I was told that if the Xray was good, I would be going home that day which was great news.
Xray completed and all the other tests passed, including managing stairs on crutches with the therapist, I awaited the arrival of my giftbag of drugs. And so it was down in the lift to the outside! It was just over 24 hours since I was last there but it seemed like a lifetime!
Once home I slowly made my way to the bedroom and turned on the cycling, this was my planned recovery strategy; watch the Vuelta Grand Tour whilst gently exercising my leg!
Over the course of the next few hours, something happened that I hadn’t thought about. Prior to the op, I had had a nerve blocker injected into my leg. The reason I had been able to lift my leg for the doctor, was that there was still no pain! As the blocker wore off the pain steadily increased and I had to get my painkiller regime sorted. I didn’t sleep much that night and I was glad when it was morning and it was time for more drugs!
Over the next few hours, the pain receded as the painkillers kicked in (my daughter, a doctor, had advised me to spread the painkillers out over a 24 hour period and not during normal waking hours – this worked).
And so things began to improve. Every day there seemed to be another achievement. Faster and more confident on the crutches came first, then after a few days, able to walk around the house on one crutch, then a couple of days later one crutch outside. Exercises were going OK, although the only one I couldn’t do was lifting my leg off the bed!
Just two days shy of two weeks after the op, Sue was away running the Great North Run and I was invited out for dinner. I had been walking around the house without a crutch for two days and I decided that I would head down to dinner on one (so if I had a drink I had three legs to walk home on!). That was the last time I touched my crutches.
After two weeks, my dressing was checked at the surgery and all was well. The scar site was still sensitive but had healed well. I was very odd all of a sudden to have the knee touching my trousers.
Every day, there have been noticeable improvements. More movement in the leg, less pain, longer walks, swelling reducing, all good signs. My trip after three weeks, to the physio, was the next step. I had been trying hard not to walk with a limp and arriving at the physio, I was determined to do my best!
Stairs were still a slight issue, I was having to swing my leg slightly sideways to raise it the necessary height and going downstairs I was tending to go step by step with my weak leg and not alternate legs as normal. The Physio was pleased though and sent me away with another appointment in four weeks and a few more exercises to do.
The next test was the bike. Just shy of four weeks after the op, I sat on my turbo trainer and tentatively tested my knee. I could pedal for 3/4 of the revolution but not the back quarter for my left leg. Next day I sat on the bike again and had slightly more movement until I looked away and suddenly found myself pedalling the full 360 degrees! Wow, how did that happen? I was amazed.
Four weeks and two days after the op, I was walking 4km with the dog at lunchtime and was contemplating sitting in the car and seeing how that feels. There was still lots I can’t do (like the evening dog walks in the rain!!) but the daily improvement was noticeable.
My second visit to the physio was my last; I was discharged with a stretchy band, a few more exercises and a referral to the Live life Better Derbyshire service. Despite the patronising tone of their communications, the service gives me 12 weeks of free access to a local gym along with a planned programme to help me get my leg back to its previous strength.
I was back driving, with permission after five weeks, and the daily improvements continue. After seven weeks, the tight feeling around the knee (presumably caused by the swelling) noticeably decreased and whilst the knee isn’t entirely back to its normal size, it isn’t far off.
The oddest thing is the surface feeling of my knee. Obviously, nerves were cut during the operation so the loss of feeling was to be expected but, particularly at the end of the day after my knee has spent the day rubbing against my trousers, it becomes a real irritant. I’m sat at the moment with my trouser leg pulled up! I am getting feeling back in the skin but wearing shorts all winter isn’t terribly practical! I’m not sure what to do about this and will consult the consultant on Wednesday when I see him for the post-op follow-up.
When I had googled partial knees before the op, I found many short paragraphs about partials, but everything about recovery times etc had applied to total knees and usually written generally. I like to think I was slightly atypical of most total knees patients, younger and fitter for certain. So I didn’t know what to expect from my recovery at all. This is one reason why I have put fingers to keyboard to record my experience. I’m no expert, certainly not a medic, but if these pieces help someone that they’ll have done some good.
As time progresses I’ll revisit these words and add to them as necessary but for now, I’m off down the cellar to sit on the bike and have another spin!