“How are you feeling? Are you getting along all right?” Like most people recovering from surgery, I put the best face on it when fielding questions from friends and colleagues. No one wants to hear a whining, “poor me” response or worse, a blow by blow description of how I’m faring. Having parts replaced – in my case a knee – is no big deal these days.
Still, I wish I could go back in time, take a mulligan, and erase that one moment when I twisted my torso but my knee stayed put. Turned out that knee has a meniscus, and it was torn. After repairing it, the surgeon proudly informed me he’d “saved 80% of the cartilage.” He left the hospital with another notch on his surgical belt; I left with bone meeting bone on the piece he’d thrown away, sorely missing that 20%.
That’s why a few months ago I was sitting in the orthopedic surgeon’s office (which turns out to be a great place to meet men – athletes past their prime who’ll be good to go in no time). I elected to have major surgery because the only other choice on the ballot was “step, groan, repeat.” Post-op is no picnic, but it’s term-limited.
If we’re talking about the big items – healing, being reasonably pain-free, and confident that I’m headed toward a full recovery, I have only good things to report. So how can I complain?
Well excuse me, but being temporarily disabled is no picnic. Having to rely on neighbors and friends over and over again is awkward for me and inconvenient for them. They insist that they want to help and they mean it, but how many times can I go to the same well?
Keeping track of doctor’s and physical therapy appointments, figuring out how to get back and forth until I can drive again, and even picking up prescriptions (not to mention remembering to refill them) are mandatory additions to my “to do” list. There’s plenty of time for these new tasks because most of my usual activities are “temporarily on hold.” Business associates don’t expect my physical recovery to render me unfit for phone calls and emails.
But productive concentration and the fog of medication are mutually exclusive. I’m straining my brain just figuring out what to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’m also wondering why suburban drugstores don’t deliver. Am I the first post-op patient who lives alone and can’t drive because I’m taking the strong pain-killers I need refilled?
“Is that little bit of swelling around my wound to be expected or is it cause for concern?”
“How can I wean myself off the pain meds when it hurts like hell if I stretch out the time between doses?”
Surgeons don’t have time to deal with these concerns, but someone should. Between post-op visits, is someone on the doctor’s staff supposed to field those questions? If so, it’s a well-kept secret. Some questions have no answers, but that doesn’t stop me from wondering: “When will I be able to sleep comfortably again, undisturbed by my knees accidentally going bump in the night?”
There’s much more to this recovery business than meeting physical benchmarks. It’s an emotional ride as well. Being sidelined, even temporarily, isn’t fun. For a self-reliant person, needing help with simple things gets old fast. But you won’t catch me kvetching (whining is not my style). This little rant is me taking a self-indulgent, one-time-only opportunity to wince and share it. How am I feeling?” As my suffering-but-stoic grandma would say, “Don’t ask.”