After three years of hobbling around on a knee that was clearly deteriorating, I made the (to me) bold move of having total knee replacement. It was not for lack of “sticking it out”–I used supplements, gels, exercise, anything to delay the inevitable. Finally, it was one of my very best friends on one of her walks that I ruefully call the “Batan Death March” that the scales were tipped in favor of getting the surgery.

I was not against surgery –it was just an inevitability that I thought I could put off for a little while longer. My reasons were valid–I didn’t want to take time off from work,  I was very busy,  I didn’t want to take a chunk of time and render myself “inactive” to heal. There were a million reasons why I didn’t want to do it now, but there were  also some solid reasons to do it now.

“You are too young!”, my friend exclaimed as she took brisk, long strides in Hartshorne Woods, my wonky knee and I pulling up the rear. “Do it! You will be so glad that you did!”

I knew she was right, she had had the surgery just the year before with stellar results. The point is, still in our 50’s, the outcomes of joint replacement are great and we can really enjoy life going forward. The only difference, which I didn’t want to point out to her, was that she had a husband who had been home with her through her recuperation. Another person who is legally and emotionally responsible for her care. As a widow, I did not.

My husband had had double knee replacement–done six weeks from each other. His knees were so deteriorated that the pain of post-surgery paled in comparison to what he endured daily. In his case, it was really a very welcome and happy occasion. But, I did all the driving, I changed bandages, doled out medication, monitored his activity post-op. Lifted his legs to the bed in the early days, helped put pants legs on, and tied shoes. I knew intrinsically what was involved and I also knew there wasn’t one single person who could do that for me. 

Not One, but Many

Faced with that, I created a “care plan” that resembled the shift sheet at a McDonalds. My mother-in-law, always faithful and always available (no matter what she has to do behind the scenes to be so) volunteered for the surgical shift. She picked me up the morning of my surgery, was my emergency in-hospital contact, and stayed until I was moved to a room. Regrettably, it was so late at that point, visiting hours were over. But I knew she was there and in absence of my own mother, there was no one better. 

The next day at discharge, there was my mother–in-law and my eldest daughter who came armed with lunch and snacks and a no-nonsense, get things done attitude that was comforting in its familiarity. 

My sister dovetailed with my daughter and came laden with comfort items, such as tea with real milk and sugar. Years before, we had foregone real milk for almond milk and of course sugar was tossed, a comfortable cup of childhood tea never tasted the same. A toaster, for toast of course (more childhood comfort food) and various and sundry other items. 

She came prepared to dig in for the weekend and thank God she did. I needed more help than I thought in the early days. I could not have done it alone! 

Without a ton of storage, my guest supplies,  with the exception of towels, are non-existent. She slept on my couch, with her serape as a blanket. I offered my comforter, but she said she was fine. I knew better. 

We had some laughs with this little tribe of gals–they helped lift my leg before it cooperated on its own, spotted me on bathroom runs, fed me, helped me dress and overall cared for me in ways I could not care for myself.

I missed my mother desperately and unexpectedly during this time, but I was comforted by both my sister and my daughter’s “Nan-ness.” Those early days were on the rough side, but with my little posse I was able to get through it.

My best-friend relieved my sister. She, who I met the first day of Freshman orientation, came in with supplies from the drugstore, sandwiches and her good humor. She tagged in the afternoon my sister  left after three days, to go to work. My friend’s visit was poignant in that she was squeezing this in while caring for a husband who was going to undergo chemo the following week. She worked from my little apartment a little bit, which gave me the opportunity to start checking emails for my job. My extreme FOMO made my “out sick” week narrow down to being out sick for two days and working from home the rest of the time. Linda knew my boyfriend from college, so every night we were like coeds again, laughing with him on speaker phone and just having silly fun.

As the heavy stuff subsided, I had my youngest daughter stay overnight. She took the ferry after work and went back to New Jersey in the morning for her job. She was sweet and helpful and pleasant to have with me. She was humorous and easy, we watched movies and chatted. She was a welcome visitor. And my son came and worked from my apartment, offering assistance whenever necessary. He was my chaperone for my first foray outdoors. I had a walker and we walked slowly and carefully to the small, pretty park across from my apartment. We sat for a minute or two and laughed at all the other walker gals, most in their 80’s who were promenading around the park’s perimeter. A much older man, who didn’t need a walker, commented on my walker in a flirtatious way.  We both laughed. 

Of course, because I’m a worrier I thought beforehand, “Should I be electing to get this surgery and put myself at risk? Is that necessary to do that to the kids?”

But their resounding opinion was that I should get the surgery before my activity was hampered any further. They had watched their father, who was self-employed, wait years until he found a window of time where he could be out, even for just a few days. His condition had so deteriorated before surgery, that our freezer was half-filled with ice packs, which were needed the minute he walked through the door. My kids were happy I could do this and encouraged me to do so. 

The Curse of the Capable

After one week, it was clear that I was on my way and independent. Although I welcomed the company, I no longer needed supervision or physical help dressing or taking care of myself. 

My wonderful  boyfriend, who lives out of state and who works much of the time across the country, called constantly checking in and providing his very humorous take on everything. He provided emotional TLC when I needed it and pure gut-busting laughter when I needed that too!

Most of the time, I was just fine. Hobbling on my cane to the refrigerator to get something to eat. Sometimes, I was lonely cursing myself that I didn’t line up with anyone for the end of the week. It is the curse of the capable that I tend to undersell my need. “Are you sure you are alright Mama?” my daughter asked.” I can come by after work”

“I’m fine sweetheart, really.” and I was until I wasn’t, and that was my own fault. 

Only The Lonely

By the second week I was fully working from home–client calls, emails, proposals all done while on my bed propped up by pillows with an ice pack almost permanently cupping my knee.

Although I didn’t mind working from home, it is a lonely business. Used to my small office in a large high rise, the sheer lack of human contact made the days seem to drag. I like chit-chatting with the attorney on my floor as we get our water, or sharing laughs with my local Starbucks staff, it is the stuff that makes up my day and without it I was just plain bored. 

After 5 pm, when I was sure that I was a little “worked out” I would head out to the park across the street. The first time I ventured out on my own, I had swapped the walker for a cane. Feeling rather daring, but safe, I walked past the concierge’s desk where the two men were chatting. “There she is! What, no walker today?” “I’ve graduated to a cane!” I answered jauntily, waving the cane in the air dramatically. I sat on a park bench and caught up with my boyfriend for an hour or so and came back in. A little of the loneliness allayed for the time being. 

A few days later, my physical therapist told me I didn’t need the cane, so I went out without it to the surprised exclamations of the building staff. “No cane? You are really coming along! You’ll be dancing soon.” Never one to shy away from banter, I answered  “Well I’ve got a wedding next weekend, so that better be soon enough!”

The small interactions help to ameliorate the loneliness. Next week, I will be back in my office after three weeks of being off and working from home. I’m sure I will relish being back in business again, but I will always cherish the time spent with those who love and care for me.

It’s a tough business being vulnerable and having to ask for help, this month I examine this through the lens of my recent surgery and recovery.

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