Usually the Doctor will leave it to the patient to determine when they are ready for knee replacement. In my case, my Surgeon said: “It’s time.” I had had 3 arthroscopic surgeries on my knees and thought knee replacement surgery would be similar to those. They were really painful. The surgeon told me it would be rough but I wasn’t worried. How much worse could it be than the scopings? The Surgeon said I would be in the hospital for 5 days, which made me gasp, but I still couldn’t relate to what was about to happen to me. I had to have both my knees replaced. Some people do both knees at the same time. I don’t know how they walk and heal at the same time. The thinking is that if they have only one knee replaced, they’ll never return for the second. I had my surgeries 1 year apart.
I went into the hospital and after filling out all the paperwork, they gave me some anesteshia to help me relax. I was out when they rolled me into surgery. After surgery, when I awoke in recovery, I was totally unprepared for the pain. It gave new meaning to: “How bad is the pain on a scale from 1-10.” All the pain I’d ever had in my life, including two C-sections, one with a really nasty staph infection, two D&Cs , three scopings and uncounted migraines were between a two and three on that 1-10 scale. It was absolutely the most horrible pain I’d ever had. I laid there for a solid 24 hours pushing on that morphine drip every couple of seconds thinking it would bring some relief, but it didn’t feel like any relief was getting through. I think I was literally in shock.
They rolled up a towel and put it under my achilles tendon to keep my leg straight. That was unpleasant because I had to lay like that for a couple of days. They put special hose on my legs to keep the the blood circulating so I wouldn’t get blood clots and gave me shots in my stomach every day for the same reason. At some point, the Surgeon gave me some Demerol. I don’t remember much of what went on when I was under the influence of that drug.
For 8 hours a day they put my leg in a contraption that bent my knee and leg up and down so the flexability would return. That didn’t hurt at all. I jus laid there and let the machine do it’s job. They separated the time into 2 sets of 4 hours each. They sent two therapists into my room to stand on either side of me to hold me up so I wouldn’t fall. They tried to get me to walk to the door of my room, but that was impossibly painful. They had to put me back in bed. I guess I eventually walked a little, when I was taking the Demerol. The Surgeon said I did more than I realized. I don’t remember.
Getting home was a fiasco. It took all day for the hospital check-out. Getting out of the hospital wheelchair into the car was really difficult. We had to stop by the pharmacy to get my pain prescriptions filled. By that time I had no pain medication in my system and I was in agony. Getting into the house once I got home was even more challenging. My husband brought the office chair out to the car to transfer me from the car to the house. The chair had casters on it so it rolled. He rolled me up to the front step of the door. No one had shown me the proper way to go up the steps and I almost fell trying but my husband got the chair under my butt as I was going down, just in time. At last, I was finally in the bed in the guest room. That’s where I spent the next 6 weeks. In bed.
There was a therapist who came to the house to teach me exercises. She encouraged me to get dressed and sit in my recliner but all I wanted to do was lay in bed in my pajamas. I wanted to be as comfortable as possible. I didn’t want to get up and get dressed. I asked her why I should do that and she said: “To get back into your regular routine.” I hadn’t had a job in 30 years so I had no regular routine to get back into so I didn’t see the point. I stayed in my pajamas, in bed.
When I left the hospital, they sent me home with a walker, a high-rise toilet, a cane and that contraption to keep my leg flexible I continued to lay in that machine for 8 hours a day, 2 sets for 4 hours. The goal was to get me to a certain degree of flexability. When I atttained that goal, someone came by the house and picked up the machine. I also rode my stationary bike everyday for as long as I could. At first I started out at just a few minutes and eventually worked my way up to 35 minutes. It took me a while to get up to full rotations, but when I finally did, it felt good. Someone recommended that I buy a stationary bike before my surgery so I could get one that fit me well. If you’re going to get a stationary bike, I suggest you do the same.
The pain was still very intense after several weeks. I didn’t have good pain management. I told my Surgeon that the Demerol gave me a headache but I failed to ask him to give me something else that was strong. I continued taking my 10 mg. of Norco (hydro-cordone). I should have asked for something stronger. The Demerol didn’t work for me. After months, I was able to walk without the walker. I never did get the hang of the cane.
The second surgery went much better than the first because of the pain management. The Surgeon told me: ” We’re going to do things differently this time,” and he put me on Dilauded, a much stronger pain medication than morphine. Also, I had two epidurals which numbed my leg completely for at least a day so when I came out of recovery, I had no pain at all. I still wasn’t able to walk because I couldn’t feel my leg, but eventually, when I was able to feel my leg, I was able to walk a little and sit in the recliner for an hour each day. The stronger pain medication helped tremendously. The two surgeries were like night and day. Everything else was the same as the first surgery.
Some people suffer tremendously after knee replacement, like I did. My legs still hurt when it rains and I take pain medication when the pain is too much for me. All in all, I’m glad I had the replacements because when I have good days, it’s great, even though it took each leg 2 years to heal. Some people do well right from the start and take only months to recover. I knew one man who returned to work after 6 weeks. I would conclude by saying that pain management is key. Some people are more sensitive to pain than others. Be sure to discuss a good pain management plan with your Surgeon before the surgery. Also, be sure to get your pain medication before your surgery so it will be ready to go home with you when you are. No last minute stopping by the pharmacy on your way home from the hospital. This is vital. I would recommend you put off the surgery for as long as you can. No need to rush into it before you absolutely have to. Once you and your Surgeon have a good plan, you will feel more in control of your situation and the knee replacement will be easier than if you simply wing it.