Leading up to and during the days after my first knee replacement, August 2014, I kept the above photo in front of me. I suppose you could call this a long-overdue report of what I learned during that experience. You can read a pre-op reflection HERE about how God shows up for earthly things like total knee replacement surgeries.
In a very brief follow-up post three weeks later, I told my readers God did show up, that I learned a lot about myself, and would share it in a future post. Now nine years later, I guess it’s as good a time as any to post the essay I wrote in a writing class later that fall.
I’m thinking about it again because I have another total knee replacement at the end of February.
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(Keep in mind, I wrote this in October 2014)
My friends in my therapy group, tell me I’m brave, courageous, strong. I cannot see it. I’m full of fear. I cry a lot these days. How can I be brave? I’ve lost all my siblings, including my mom and lost my dad a couple months ago.
Grieving has been my work – new and long-stored-away grief. Now I am having a knee replacement – billed as the second-most painful joint replacement surgery.
I am terrified.
“What are you afraid of?” my friends ask. My fears circle around pain and being a “bad patient.” Mostly, I’m afraid of the pain. No one denies it’s a painful rehab. My friend tells me she cried one day during physical therapy after her knee replacement.
“Your full-time job will be rehab for the first two weeks,” my surgeon emphasizes, further informing me “on the pain scale of 0-10, the exercises will push your pain level to 12-plus. Narcotics won’t take that away.“ These exercises must be done every two hours except for sleeping. I know this is important for a good outcome. I’m a nurse. A nurse always does her research.
To make matters worse, narcotics make me nauseous. I know this about myself. Even though standard post-op advice is “Take your pain pills” to do the rehab, what about me?
Linked to the fear of pain, is the fear of being a “bad patient.” I know the kind – babies, whiners, always on their call button, complaining about everything. I know how nurses roll their eyes as they leave the room of a “big baby.”
I’ve done my own share of eye-rolling in my day. I’m sorry for that now.
After I spill all my fear out into the room, with a twinkle in his eye, one of them says, “Actually, I hope you give them a little hell.”
I am happy to report I lose my cool one night. My anesthesia brain doesn’t make the connection the two pain pills they keep bringing me are exceeding the limit of three doses before I’ll be throwing up everything or nothing. It does and I do.
I ask Galen to stay with me over night. Good grief. I am sixty-five years old. I feel like I am going to jump out of my skin. I tell the nurse so in the middle of the night. She condescendingly pats my arm, suggesting I focus on something else – one of the dumbest things to tell someone who is anxious, and throwing up.
Did I say stupid things like that as a nurse? It’s possible. I’m sorry about that too.
The anti-nausea medicine she gives me soon sends me off into dream land. When I wake up, I am still mad at her because she could have told me it will not only help the nausea, but I’ll drop right off to sleep.
Two days post-op, I go home and decide to stop taking the narcotics. (Another example of anesthesia brain – not a good decision without consultation.) Two days later, I am in tears, after a couple of days with only two extra-strength Tylenol every six-hours. I’m doing my every-two-hour excercises. Galen is with me, timing them for me.
“You are brave,” he says.
“No, I’m not.
“Yes, you are. You are doing the exercises like you’re supposed to, and you were so afraid you wouldn’t. Look at you.“
“But I’m crying.”
“Brave is facing the fear and pain and doing it anyhow. No one said you can’t cry.”
How could I have forgotten? I know this. It’s possible I told it to others, yet I can’t apply it to myself.
How often we extend grace to others, yet not to ourselves.
I forget I know how to do hard things.
• I almost don’t make it in nursing school because of my then-undiagnosed ADHD. I figure out how to compensate on my own.
• I birth three full-term babies without anesthesia and nurse them when it isn’t the popular thing to do.
• I survive the loss of all three of my siblings, my mom and now my dad. I enter counseling, diving deep into the grief, learning healthy ways to live with the pain of loss.
• In the late 1980’s I am part of a start-up Direct Sales company and persevere while others leave in the early years. I stay and build a solid top-level team. As a result, our family can now afford to do things we have had no hope of doing. We travel places we can only dream of. I still can’t believe I thought Hawaii was over-rated. It’s not. The afternoon showers and the rainbows they create are beyond description. Go if you can.
I AM brave. I AM courageous. I AM strong
I learn I do not need to be alone in my fear. Sharing it with safe people who will listen and not jump to quick easy answers helps defuse the fear. In the scripture verse above, as God said to Joshua, “God, your God, is with you every step you take,” says the same to me. I’m still scared about this upcoming surgery the end of this month, but I am not terrified this time.
I also learn letting people help me is good, even though I hate to accept help, much less ask for it. I agree to my friends bringing me some meals, but decline when my church friends offer. I was wrong. The second week my “chief cook and bottle washer” has a problem with his own knee that takes him out of commission for a few days. I could have asked for a few more meals. Of course, I didn’t.
And all that problem with the pain pills? The follow-up call from the hospital comes later that afternoon. In tears, I tell the nurse about the pain, the narcotics, and my fear I am going to fail. She makes me promise to hang up and call my surgeon’s office. We work out a change in the dosage of the narcotics. It isn’t all or none. It’s good to ask for help!
I work hard over the next weeks. My surgeon is happy with my progress and the outcome of surgery. So am I.
In time, Galen and I start taking our daily walks again.
The ability to walk without the pain is worth it.
Learning I am brave, courageous and strong — a bonus.
And now Dear Readers, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has learned something about fear – or the joy of accepting help from others. I’d love to hear about it. If you are reading here on the blog, simply leave a message below or click the “contact me” on the tab above.