So if you’re following my surgery story, when we last left off I had just been knocked out.
The next thing I remember was hearing the chatter of the two nurses in the recovery room and the beeping of my heart monitor. I heard them talking about the tattoo on the back of my neck. One loved it, while the other one thought tattoos were tacky. I remember thinking “Wake up and fight her!” What can I say: even drugged I want to defend my body ink.
I tried to open my eyes but can’t, and the heart monitor started beeping quickly; too quickly. I heard their voices: “It’s OK, just try to sleep sweetie!” OK, I thought. But soon I heard a new voice – my doctor’s. I panicked – I should be awake for this! This is probably important stuff! I tried to open my eyes but couldn’t. Again, the monitor beeps sped up, and I got anxious.
I later learned that my body was still under the effects of general anesthesia at that point, while my brain had woken up before my body could move. Fan-tastic! But, as my husband and father told me, the anesthesiologist simply knocked me back out for 3 hours to keep me from trying too hard to wake up (thus elevating my heart rate), and my loving husband and father decided to pass that time at the McDonald’s across the street. That’s love.
When I finally came out of it, I remember worrying that I’d be nauseous. You see, I’m equipped with quite possibly the most sensitive inner ear of any human ever. I can’t even check my Facebook in a moving car without needing a barf bag and a Dramamine. Thankfully, I was pretty OK as long as my head stayed stable.
When the nurses sat me up, I slowly came to and found I was in a big dark recovery room with a TV in front of me. The doctor came back in to show me a sheet filled with pictures of the inside of my knee as he explained what they meant. I was in and out: “80% torn”, “meniscus was fine”, “lots of little tears”, “patella graft”… “smurf hotel”? The one thing I was certain of was that the pictures looked like bloody sushi, and my gag reflex was alive and kicking.
The nurses jumped to action before the inevitable happened (bless them) by shoving an alcohol pad under my nose. What the pan-fried hell? They explained that the alcohol cuts the nausea and I was baffled. How? Was it a placebo? Science? Black magic?? All I know was that it WORKED. So I stole a handful of them and clutched them like Willy Wonka’s Golden Tickets.
They called my dad and husband in to help me – slowly – get dressed, into the wheelchair, and stretched out across the backseat of my husband’s Saturn Ion. Once I was home, hubby propped me up on the couch. The ultimate indignity came when he handed me a cowbell leftover from the race I tore my ACL in. “Ring it if you need me!” he said happily. Sure. I’ll jangle a cowbell that was last used to cheer me across the finish line of the race that put me in this position. Somewhere Alanis Morissette sensed a disturbance in the ironic force.
So we strapped me into my CPM (continuous passive motion) machine and cranked it up to 30 degrees flexion per the doctor’s orders. At this point I was feeling pretty damn awesome! I had a full ACL construction 6 hours earlier and I was already bending at 30 degrees? Who’s a rockstar?
Well, not me. Because after a few more hours, the anesthesia started to wear off and PURE FIRE shot through my body. I had to sleep on the couch for the first 48 hours because I couldn’t lift my leg into bed, but sleep became a mocking, distant memory. Two hours into my first night, I woke with shooting pains that ran from my left butt-cheek and down to the bottom of my foot – my leg was tired of being held at that angle for the past 12 hours, and the nerves were revolting as they woke up.
So I cried. Good lord, did I cry. I cried like a baby, that night, and the next day, and the day after that. It was true anguish. I still remember sobbing after a making it to the bathroom on my own the first day I was home alone, three days after surgery. What a production!
I had to disconnect my leg from the ice machine, unstrap from the CPM, manually move my dead leg off the side of the bed, maneuver into the crutches, and inch the 15 feet to the bathroom. Every movement meant searing pain. Bending at the waist forced a wave of pressure down my leg, while standing flooded my knee with fluid, making it feel like my kneecap would pop off. When I finally made it back to the bed, I couldn’t even muster the energy to lift my leg back into the CPM machine in bed.
Instead, I sat at the edge of the bed and sobbed fat, hot tears, openly and loudly, for almost a full 15 minutes. I rested my hands against the wall opposite me and let my head hang down – I never wanted to run again if it meant I might damage my ACL and have to go through this again. I could find no comfortable position in this world, and I never would, ever again.
But I did. Time and Oxy became my two best friends – each day I felt tiny, almost imperceptible improvements, but they added up. Plus the wild, vivid dreams I had on the Oxy kept me entertained too! No lie, I spent a whole night on the Hogwarts Express trying to find my trunk while my friends Ron and Harry chased me with a big orange cat. It was truly sublime.
As I got more sleep each night, I felt better. I worked up to 110 degrees flexion in 7 days, and physical therapy was around the corner. The point is, it did get better. Even though I had those dark moments where I felt like it would never heal, it did. I learned the true meaning of things like determination, stubbornness, and hard work – and physical therapy taught me even more.
Stay tuned for my next post on rehab and recovery!
In the meantime, do you have a surgery story of your own? Share in the comments!