UH OH! Am I becoming numb to this process? Honestly. I can’t tell if being almost completely emotionally unattached to having my 4th knee surgery is a good thing or a bad thing. I mean, I would hate to make this a habit, although it feels like I already have. But, both my surgeon and I agree that this one is my last one….. ;)
“Emotionally unattached” doesn't mean I don’t care, or that I’m not scared as **BEEP**. More so that it feels like a business transaction at this point. With no refresher course needed, I sped through all the pre-op requirements. I organized my finances and prepped the checks for the hospital (health care providers are financial rapists. Sorry. Had to say it.). I picked up my meds, cleaned the house, did the laundry, made a to-do list of everything I wouldn't be able to accomplish during the next few weeks of bed rest and did my best to cross off as much as I could. Which was almost everything. I do my best work under pressure. It’s both a friend and a foe of mine. I also made a point to spend a lot of time with friends and to stay out of my home in anticipation of the unavoidable cabin fever I could foresee. My dear friend, Shayna, is the lady of the month. She’s a champion cook in my eyes, and I think several people from our Friendsgiving dinner would more than agree. She’s also a natural nurturer who went above and beyond to make this experience way less miserable for me. She %100 succeeded. The day before my surgery Shayna went to the grocery store and prepped over a weeks worth of food for me. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks: everything I could need. That same week I received a ton of hearty meals and some yummy treats from my friends in Minnesota, Tara and Tonia Christle. To make it even better, and as a HUGE surprise, my sister, Cara, set up a food delivery calendar (foodtidings.com- it’s genius). She contacted a load of my friends from all over the country and they signed up to send me meals for my 2nd and 3rd week of recovery! I felt incredibly supported, maybe even spoiled, and I didn’t go hungry! I also felt challenged to receive gracefully: something I haven’t been so good at in the past. So, “THANK YOU!” to my beautiful, selfless family and friends who are making that lesson easier for me. With everything in my life strategically placed as best I could, and my army of people behind me, I felt ready to sign off on the deal: A mandatory double ligament refreshment with a side of my second bone graft? Sure! If I must.
Let’s do this…
I walked into the Surgery Center at 8:15am, January 20th. I had just spent the car ride crying tears of joy while watching videos that some of my closest friends sent me wishing me luck on my big day. I felt loved and looked haggard. I wasn’t nervous really, just thirsty as a MoFo and staarrrvinnggg. It felt pretty unbearable for me due to food being my second love, only trumped by dancing. I had been denied anything to eat or drink since midnight the night before (the usual pre-op protocol). Although, if I’m being REALLY honest: I cheated. A couple times. I got so thirsty I start gargling water and spitting it out through the night. Double confession: I also sometimes do the “Chew-And-Spit” with chocolate chip cookies when I’m trying to eat healthy, but realize mid-bite that I have no self control when it comes to baked good… I’m a classy girl…
-Sexy, backless hospital robe: Rocking it.
-Posted up on a sensationally confusing metal stretcher, topped with a cozy heated blanket: On it.
-Now for an appearance from my 6 year old self: I DESPISE NEEDLES.
It’s funny what you fear. I’ve been around the block of excruciating times, both physically and psychologically, in my young life and some of the sharpest things have become dull to me. Yet, I've never gotten used to the sight and feeling of a harmless needle penetrating my skin. I sat there, wincing and whining, like an infant while I was prodded and poked. I was even dramatic enough to continue it with my head turned away from the IV long after the poking was over. Shayna, who was by my side, was nice enough to not point out that I was, no doubt, (over)reacting to the ghost of a needle that was no longer there….She made fun of me later in a less vulnerable time, as good friends do.
One of the only things I love about having surgery is that once the needle is in the lights go out. I fell asleep feeling broken and extremely loopy. I woke up feeling hopeful and still extremely loopy.
Despite the effect of the drugs, the first thing on my mind as I opened my eyes to the fluorescent lights and nurses bustling around me was the outcome of my surgery. I wanted to know what my fate was. I wanted to hear that every underlying fear that I had of being unsalvageable was just that. FEAR: False Information Appearing Real. I turned to Shayna and slurred, “How’d it go?”. “It went perfectly! Everything was perfect! Your doctor couldn’t be happier!” Her words struck me with electricity and made me want to jump, scream, and cry at the same time. You see, in my life I’ve been programmed to feel like the worst is coming. That even in the good times, I still shouldn’t feel THAT happy because happiness is always followed by detriment. I’ve created a lot of unnecessary worry and stress in my life that way. I’ve seen myself squash joyful moments with those negative expectations and the “It’s-too-good-to-be-true”’s. I’ve lived a “life is happening to me” type of life as opposed to a “I create my own life” type of life, and that has manifested these experiences into tragedies instead of learning opportunities. I’ve missed lots of lessons that way. One of my battles over the last three months was silencing the part of me that wanted to prepare myself for the worst case scenario. And instead, to focus on energizing my TRUST in what was happening. It’s a daily battle. So when the news came back to me that my surgery had been successful I felt the warmth of joy rush through every joint in my body and instead of dismissing it, I laid in it. And I continued to lay for 3 weeks of bed rest…
Then suddenly, the calm I felt before the storm, had passed. For the first couple weeks after surgery I was back to the baby steps. I needed help with EVERYTHING. Which, regardless of that being expected, hadn't become any less frustrating for me. The only movement I'd been cleared to do is a crap-ton of bed ridden PT exercises every hour, all day long. GGRRRR! They’re simple, boring, tedious, and painful. Having dedicated myself to being the poster-child patient of the year, I set alarms for everything: PT, CPM, icing, meds, naps, food, repeat. The frustration, pain, fatigue, and the slow ticking of the clock fed the sadness, helplessness, and FOMO. My emotions were rapid. The highs were really high, and the lows were oh-so-low. The rush of heightened daily emotions that boomeranged at me throughout the first few weeks, created a scenario that felt a lot like the first time I hopped on a mechanical bull (not my most attractive moment). Up and down, round and round, over and over, and violent. Me, engaging every muscle in my core to not get dominated and thrown off in 2.2 seconds. Which I accomplished, only to be thrown off at 8.2 seconds…..and that fleeting moment felt like at least 6 minutes to me. A lot like this phase of recovery. Where you feel like it’s been at least 3 days, but it’s really only been like….20 minutes. EEEKKK!
I was exhausted from the healing and even more exhausted from the aggression of my emotions. I slept A LOT. I cried whenever I wanted to, for no reason at all sometimes, A LOT. When I felt left out, or like I couldn’t bare the pain, or like I was about to burst and soak everyone in my life with an “I’m a victim” shower, I practiced an immense amount of self-compassion. And I think, because of that, I always ended up back at JOY even if it took a day or two of fears and tears.
Self-compassion isn’t easy. It’s really, really difficult. I noticed my undeniable need to forgive myself when I saw myself getting just as embarrassed by my joy as I am by my fears. Feeling happiness by enjoying my time in bed, being loved on by my friends, and being so grateful for a 3rd chance to repair my most valuable tool, actually made me feel guilty. I repeat:
I FELT GUILTY FOR ENJOYING MY LIFE.
I felt so bad for feeling good in a time that seemed so......bad.
I can never and will never ignore the reality of this grueling recovery process. It sucks. It hurts. Sometimes it feels like it may never end. There are days, and a lot of them, where I feel so bad I just want to be able to slip away Sleeping Beauty style and ask someone to wake me up when the swelling in my heart goes down. One day in particular my friend, Julie, asked me how I was feeling. “The pain in my body is nothing compared to the pain in my chest. Yesterday I took a narcotic to ease my heart ache. It didn’t work”, I said. We laughed that off for days. But it was true…. I did try it. It doesn’t work.
I think ‘riding the bull’ helps us to find a release in control over how things are "supposed" to be, and how we think we’re "supposed" to feel. Things get rough, really rough sometimes. I used to think, “how am I supposed to feel happy and grateful when terrible things keep happening to me?”. I’d hear people say, “It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you respond to it.” I thought they were nuts because I just didn't get it. Now, I truly understand what it feels like to be genuinely content and grateful in a time of despair. To look around a blurry, chaotic reality and find focus on the blessings. And to appreciate my path simply because it's all mine. I’ve had bad days, absolutely! But over all, I’m happy. It’s taken me 3 new ACLs, 2 bone grafts, 1 new LCL, 1 new ALL, and losing half my medical meniscus to finally learn that while I’m going to encounter challenges that bring negative emotions, it doesn’t have to be so traumatic, and it doesn’t need to turn me into a negative person.
Maybe that comes with experience. Maybe it’s an awakening of sorts. Maybe it’s just me “growing up". Whatever it is, it feels right.
This surgery has been my smoothest yet. A lot of things were different than my last ACL replacements. Me: in general. My rockstar of a surgeon. The PRP (a procedure in which they take your own blood, separate the white and red cells, then flush your surgery site with a tornado of the whites promoting faster healing). Oh, and I had my first drain in my leg! It was full of blood and absolutely repulsive to look at, and to empty (I’m still gagging thinking about it). But, it saved my leg from swelling to the size of a football and from the kind of bruising I had in October (I looked like an offspring of Barney). It could also be the simple relief of knowing it's all over with that made this surgery feel better than my last 3. Again, whatever it is, it feels right.
While I’m not able to walk yet, I’m feeling really strong. I took myself off my pain meds about 4 days after surgery and have had very minimal amounts of pain since, except while exercising. That still sucks. I’m on a CPM machine for 6 hours every day and have a ROM (Range Of Motion) of 0-90 degrees within my first 2 weeks (if you’ve never heard of CPM- look it up- it’s radical for healing). I’m gradually starting to put more and more weight on my leg, and have an appointment with my surgeon tomorrow. I'm hoping to walk out crutchless! I’m excited to have a portion of my freedom back, but of course I’m not rushing. It’s not worth it. Healing, in every aspect, is my full time job right now. I wake up in the morning and focus on doing whatever’s best for me that day. If that means I shut out the world and bawl a river down my pillow case in a single leg fetal position, then that’s what I do. But if it means I lazily kick back and enjoy this time to myself (time I know I'll wish I have once I'm busy and on the road again), then I do that. I read a lot, color, write, watch TV shows I would otherwise consider the guiltiest of pleasures (like this season of The Bachelor…. Hellooooooo Ben Higgins!). I meditate and listen to my own thoughts. They're so informative, shocking at times. I call friends, I take lots of naps, I explore things I’ve always loved but never ‘had the time’ to learn about. I do whatever I want. And through that, I’m learning exactly what I want.
The road I’m on is still long, and I’m guessing it’ll be winding and probably pretty bumpy. But, I think if I can remind myself of what it feels like to be in this headspace of hopefulness and joy, if I can somehow wander back here when I get lost and discouraged, then I won’t just survive it, I’ll thrive because of it.
I started dancing in my dreams again last night. It felt so real, it gave me life. I woke up at 3am sweating and smiling. I couldn’t fall back to sleep. I haven’t felt that keep-you-up-at-night excitement for my life so strongly since I was a kid, sitting at the top of the stairs, shaking because I’m preeeettttyyyyy sure I just heard Santa Clause slip down my chimney. I feel positive he’s bringing me exactly what I want and everything I never knew I needed.