My Knee Replacement Blog: What's a Joint Like You Doing in a Girl Like This?

Friday, 6/22/12

Today's the day! (Was supposed to have been ten days ago, but my surgeon had to take an urgent trip).  NPO since 10 pm last night (when I finished the leftovers of Wed. night's Ruth's Chris steak and the last spinach I'll be eating until I'm off the blood thinners I'll be taking as soon as surgery's over), and already thirsty. Pre-op call is 10:30.  Off comes ALL my jewelry--rings (ouch), earrings, pendant. Will be bringing a wristwatch just in case I can't see the wall clock in my room when I come to.  Drive myself (with Carrie at my side) to Northwestern Memorial, because I don't know when next I'll get the chance.  Check in, change into my lovely backless hospital gown and slipper-socks, and wait...and wait...and wait.  TV in my cubicle has no audio, and no closed captioning, so I resort to my iPad, magazines and puzzles.  Kind of tough to do with an IV in one hand and a just-in-case hep-lock catheter in the other, but I persevere. ETD was supposed to be noon, then 2, now 3. At 2 the anesthesia residents come in to place my epidural catheter, which I thought would be a breeze (it certainly was for my C-section 27 years ago) but forgot that I have scoliosis (was diagnosed at 12 and then promptly forgot about it).  The "zaps" down my right flank are like the worst back spasms ever; finally, the residents "go left" and I go numb.  Then the femoral and sciatic catheters are placed, plus a little Versed in my IV.....aaaah, that's better.  Pretty soon, I feel like I'm lying with my knees bent and feet flat on the bed--but in fact my legs are straight out in front of me. Weird. Even stranger is when Dr. W. comes in, uncovers and manipulates my right knee. It seems as if he's just produced someone else's leg from under the bed and is showing it to me. I can hear the crunch as my worn-down knee surfaces grate against each other and chew up some more meniscus. I am DEFINITELY doing the right thing, even if my knee was still functioning somewhat pre-op.

Am wheeled into the OR and next thing I know the clock reads 6:30. Dr. W. gives me the thumbs-up, and the residents say I "did great." (They always say that even though I did nothing but lie there like a lox--and they assure me that I didn't say anything embarrassing....but nothing noteworthy either). Dr. W. informs me that "it took a bit longer than we expected, since we needed to remove 4 screws instead of 2."  I'm then wheeled into Recovery and am still feeling no pain. Then I hear the nurse say "WTF?" (but he doesn't just use the initials). I ask what's up and he tells me there is a note for an "Oxytocin drip." Say what? Am I in labor (in which case, better alert the media and various theologians)? Or am I being hired out as a wet-nurse? Turns out the computer misread "oxycontin" as "oxytocin." Not sure if I ever got the drip, since I don't seem to need more painkillers.  I have a morphine button in my left hand, but no need to push it; and regional anesthetic flowing down the back of my leg and front of my knee courtesy of the painkillers.  The epidural wears off, and I can feel my left leg again. Whew. At 8 pm I am wheeled into my room.

A few minutes after I arrive, so does Carrie. Only then do I find out how wise I'd been not to wait any longer to get my right knee replaced. Surgery took twice as long, with twice as many screws removed from my franken-tibia, because not only was I completely bone-on-bone on the lateral side with my meniscus shredded, but the bone-chips-and-epoxy that had been my right tibial plateau since 1996 had begun to re-fracture. By getting the new knee when I did I probably saved the leg. (OK, Dr. W. saved it).  I am propped up by two nurses and even though I can't feel my right leg from the knee down, I sure can feel it from the knee as my leg is slowly lowered over the side of the bed as I sit. Owww.  I am then allowed to lie down. 

Trying to get some sleep, but the air-pressure booties on my feet are a huge distraction (as well as the whooshing sound the pump makes, the pinching of the catheter, the ambulance sirens outdoors and the patient in the next room's CPAP machine). Every time I do drift off, I am awakened: for vitals, blood draws, glucose-and-INR finger-sticks, etc. We won't discuss the first time I need to use the bathroom--suffice it to say it involves a bedpan and possibly spraining the backs of two rather strapping nurses. Finally, I manage about a solid hour's sleep.

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