We’re coming up on the first anniversary of my new knee. (TKR stands for Total Knee Replacement.¹) I had a lot of apprehension about having surgery. I knew all the reasons I didn’t need to be worried, all the reasons I both needed and wanted to have the surgery, but surgery is nervous-making. Always. No matter how routine a procedure it might be for the folks performing it.
Post-surgery, I checked in about 10 days out and about 3 months out, and the difference between those two intervals was major. The early part of recovery was HARD. No question, no sugar coating. There was a lot of pain, a lot of frustration, a lot of doubt as to whether I’d ever feel good again. And then my sister had to go back home. Our mom was having some surgery of her own, and Fox and I both knew it made sense for me to give up the comfort and ease of having her with me so that she could go take care of our mom. That was hard. It was hard because Fox had been a wonderful caretaker, but also hard because it had just been so nice to have her here, to have my sister just in the next room or hanging out in my room. The moment I closed the door behind her, I missed her horribly. And I was nervous about being ready to start taking care of myself. I was almost a month out from surgery, and definitely mobile, but I was still very shaky and unsure … But by July I was feeling good. There was still pain, still uncertainty when I walked. I was happy and frustrated at the same time: I knew I was healing, but July felt so far from April that I wanted to be more healed, more quickly. Of course, I had many months of healing to do, but I was impatient.
Over time, there was still pain and difficulty, but it was so very much less, and I could see that I was getting better. I used my cane longer than I needed to, and carried it for longer still, even when I wasn’t using it. On my birthday (September) I decided to start leaving the cane at home. And then …
Okay, not really.² But kind of really, too. At the end of October, I took the train down to DC for a conference. As we pulled out of the station in Wilmington, Delaware, I had a flash of distress so strong, it made me sit up like a shot. I realized I’d left home without my cane. I haven’t taken a trip without a cane in 20 years. Even if I haven’t been using the cane, there’s always the chance that I’ll fall or that my knee will just decide to go out, and I wouldn’t want to be far from home without the cane.
Not now. Not now! I settled back down because I realized that, of course I didn’t have my cane with me. Because I didn’t need my cane with me. For the first time in all these years, I didn’t need my cane with me. And I had another realization: “Oh,” I thought. ” This is what it feels like to not be disabled.” That was heavy. Crazy heavy.
And that was when I really turned a corner, when I realized that my recovery from surgery was going to have to do with more than healing from incisions and swelling and tingly nerves. My recovery is also about the changes in the way I see myself, in what I see as my possibilities and capabilities.
I’ve just had my first winter in 20 years during which I didn’t carry my cane as a just-in-case precaution (and we’ve been having a real winter this year, with plenty of snow and ice). I leave for a conference tomorrow, have another in early April, am hoping to head out to face the hills of Berkeley and San Francisco this summer. Yes, I still need to have my right knee swapped out, but I’m already feeling new, feeling able in ways I had forgotten how to feel. And we’re just getting started.
Over at Two Writing Teachers, you’ll find the rest of today’s slices.
¹ It’s called “Total,” because there’s also a Partial Knee Replacement surgery, but every time I say TKR , I think what a good thing it’s “Total,” and not “Half-Assed,” which would be undesirable and would surely make walking fairly difficult.
² Can I just say how interesting it is that searching for images of “freedom” pulls up lots of pics of people leaping and dancing on the beach. I’m not saying the image doesn’t work for me. I’m a Yemaya girl, so I’m there. I totally go for it. But I’d still like a little more choice. I’ve got fey young women leaping through the air, I’ve got the beach, I’ve got birds — flying birds are as popular as the leaping women. Surely there are other ways to show freedom?