Dazed and Confused (TKR Tales — 4 )

Not really, but this is a post about drugs, so I couldn’t resist.

So I had knee surgery.  Having knee surgery requires the taking of lots and lots of pain medication.  First there’s the epidural anesthesia.  Then there’s the general knock-out drug that keeps you out during the surgery. (It wouldn’t do to have you making conversation with the doctors and nurses, asking for the play by play with clever commentary.) Then there’s the nerve-killer drug that blocks all sensation in your leg for 24 hours.  Then there’s the morphine drip for right after you wake up.  And finally there are the ongoing pain meds to get you through your first weeks post-op.

It’s a lot of drugs.

The idea of the epidural scared me.  I was surprised by how much it scared me.  I think I still had horror story memories of people being paralyzed by epidurals gone wrong.  Maybe those were all stories from scary TV shows and movies, though, because when I tried to find anything like that online, I came up with 1 in every half million epidurals … which is still scary, but not as dire as I’d feared. At first I thought I’d ask for an option other than the epidural, but there weren’t any good ones. The surgery is, of course, below the waist, so general anesthesia would be more drug than you’d need, and that’s always something to avoid. So I agreed to the epidural.

My surgeon talked to me about the nerve killer, warned me that I wouldn’t be able to feel or move my leg when I woke up. He said he’d learned the importance of giving the warning so that folks didn’t wake up thinking they’d been paralyzed during the procedure. Good call.

Morphine I’m familiar with. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist the fabulousness of thatline, either.) I’ve had two abdominal surgeries, and a morphine pump was the immediate-post-op drug of choice both times. So I knew how the pump worked, knew what to expect.

After the drip, I was transitioned to Oxycodone. It’s a tiny pill, but it mostly did the job. When my physical therapists came calling, even the Oxycodone couldn’t help me. Other than those moments, it was good stuff.  And in truth, without it, I can’t imagine what the pain of PT would have been like, so the drug totally did its job.   Before I went home, I was set up with a supply to get me through my first couple of weeks. (Not just the pain meds but the anti-inflammatory meds and the muscle relaxants to prevent cramps and … I don’t know, some other medication that I can’t remember.  Good thing I had Fox here to manage all my medications.)

Generally speaking, I under-medicate.  I don’t take headache medicine until the headache’s so bad I can hardly see.  That sort of nonsense.  Fox on the other hand, is much more on the side of every doctor I’ve ever had.  My doctors insist that I should take a new dose before the old one has worn off.  With Fox in charge of my care for the first three weeks after surgery, it was guaranteed that I would be offered a new pain pill on perfect schedule.  My doctor, however, built in room for my stubborn non-drug-taking behavior.  My maximum at-one-time dose was 15mg, but my pills were 5mg so that I could choose just how much to take each time.  If I had no other reason for loving my doctor, my 5-5-5 dose would have done it.  There were a few times when I needed to go for all three at once, but they were few.  For bad pain and before trying to sleep at night, I took two.  The rest of the time, I was a single-pill girl.*

When I told people I was taking Oxycodone, most were a bit horrified, telling me to be careful, telling me how dangerous the drug is, telling me that I shouldn’t get too comfortable with it.  Some even took to asking me each time we spoke how many pills I’d taken that day.

I know that Oxycodone is very addictive, but maybe that’s more true for people who are in less pain than I was … though I don’t know why those people would have been prescribed such a strong drug.  Oxycodone is very addictive, but that was really never a thing I thought about.  Taking the drug was never pleasurable, was only about dulling the crazy pain I was in.  Maybe if it had knocked out the pain and made me feel giddy and giggly, I’d have had something to worry about, but that didn’t happen.  It brought the pain down to a manageable level, never made it go away entirely.  But that was enough.  It was enough to get me through physical therapy, enough to get me through six hours a day of the Continuous Passive Motion machine, enough to let me get a little sleep at night.

And I get that none of that sounds like much.  And maybe it’s not much.  But it was exactly what I needed.


Check out Two Writing Teachers for all of today’s slices!

SOL image 2014

* Or maybe I’m mis-remembering. Maybe I was taking three pills all along and was so drugged, I only imagine the restraint I describe here.  If so, I trust my sister to set the record straight.  Fox, if I’ve just told a huge lie about my medication, please feel free to tell everyone what a dope fiend I am and how I was popping Oxycodone like candy.


6 thoughts on “Dazed and Confused (TKR Tales — 4 )

  1. I, too, am so glad that you’re on the other side of this experience. I’m also heartened that the individuality of pain perception, and then managing it, has finally become important to healthcare providers. So much better than the not so far behind days of “one size fits all.”

    I love your gentle sense of humor in this piece. I’m sure that good humor’s helped you through it all.


    1. Thanks, Re! Good humor is definitely a serious help. There are some levels of pain that it can’t beat back, but mostly it’s a lifesaver.

      The “one size fits all” approach to pain management still comes into play with all of this … something I’ve been trying to shape into another “TKR Tale.”


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