Saturday, August 25, 2007
Recovering from ACL surgery
It's a good time to think back about what the recovery from ACL reconstruction and meniscus repair was like.
I don't remember going into the operation on March 27, 2007, because the anesthesiologist got me good and loopy so he could put in a nerve block on my leg. When I woke up, my left knee was tightly wrapped, and I had a long but light black brace in the photo above (this was much bigger than the titanium brace I'm getting later today to use in martial arts classes). My leg was extremely sore, and basically useless (not only from the operation but also from the nerve block). My wife, despite her lack of inclination towards the nursing profession, took me home and took a couple of days off from work and took great care of me. My daughter was so much help whenever she was home from high school.
I wasn't supposed to put any weight on the leg; I had to have the brace on whenever I got up (which basically was to go to the bathroom, you have a lot of fluids in your body after surgery and you need to go a lot!); and I started putting my leg in a knee-bending, continuous-motion machine (CPM), which you can also see in the photo beside me, on the couch. Initially, it was painful to bend my knee even 15 degrees. I was supposed to use the machine several hours each day. There was also a cold-water bag wrapped around my knee, with a device to use gravity to fill it with or drain it of ice-cold water.
My leg really hurt. And then, after about a day, the nerve block wore off.
I have never felt so much sustained pain in my life. I was taking Vicodin at the highest rate allowed, and it felt like it was doing NOTHING. To steal a metaphor from Antoine de St. Exupery, I felt like I was trying to put out a forest fire with a glass of water. I couldn't even read, I couldn't focus.
At my first physical therapy session, I think two days after the surgery, I was in agony. My physical therapists, whom I came to adore for their skill and encouragement, told me, "you did really well today, you didn't pass out and you didn't throw up." When they first took off the wrapping from my knee, I was horrified--it looked so swollen, it should have belonged to an alien.
I hated the side effects of Vicodin--I got totally, how to put this, plugged up. Prune juice helped.
I would take off the knee brace for the CPM, or for physical therapy they had me do at home between sessions. Then I'd have to strap it on again in a hurry--very difficult if you can't bend your leg--and grab the crutches when it was time to pee. My wife got me a pickle jar to put by the bed for emergencies.
Friends dropped by to help me out when my wife had to go back to work--I am so grateful for that. Some were neighbors, some were from the Unitarian Universalist congregation I belong to. My friends Priscilla and her daughter Natalie picked me up from physical therapy one day.
Gradually I was able to cut back on the Vicodin, and then switch to extra-strength Tylenol--my doctor didn't want me taking anti-inflammatories like Advil or naproxen, he thought the inflammation was part of the healing process. I kept increasing the degree of bending in the CPM. I began to see a little definition in my thigh muscle, which had become a total blob. On the other hand, I began to see my left leg start to atrophy.
I started doing push-ups and crunches--I couldn't lock my feet under anything to do a sit-up because of the pressure that put on my knee--so I was able to keep my ability to do 50 push-ups in a single set. One great day, sitting on a bike-like machine at physical therapy, I was able to make my leg go around in a complete circle. Soon I was doing the stationary bike, and then a Stairmaster-type device at therapy.
The most pain at physical therapy came when the terapists would push on my ankle to make my leg bend more. I swear, once I had to stop myself from grabbing the therapist's hear and yanking it, she hurt me so much. But it was working--I could bend my leg more and more.
I took two weeks off from work--including one week of disability pay--and then worked from home, via computer, for the following three weeks. When I started my hour-and-a-half commute again, I initially wore the leg brace, in large part to let the other New York commuters know they really shouldn't shove or bump me.
I'm glad I got my ACL reconstructed. I don't want to go through with it ever again.