30 years ago I tore some cartilage and eventually had arthroscopy to smooth it out. 15 years ago I first noticed pain climbing stairs. X-rays revealed bone on bone contact where cartilage should intercede: “The only solution for this is knee replacement. We should do it soon.” I had a wise internist who thought otherwise. Back then a new knee wore out after 10 – 12 years, and second replacement surgeries came with high failure rates. “Put it off until it hurts too much.”
The decline in my hiking skills has become remarkable from when we first began full-time RV’ing. Back then I could handle any Easy trail and some of the Moderates. Last year any Easy with steps or an unpaved surface was just too much. Something told me to schedule that knee replacement in 2019.
We lived in Raleigh when cancer rang my bell. When it appears likely you’re in Stage IV with the Big C you want somebody really good working on you. That same internist referred me to Duke Hospital. They and Kat cured me, and I remain cancer-free. Limping is nothing like cancer, but if somebody’s going to amputate your leg and then sew it back on, you want somebody really good. On April 3 I got a new knee made of titanium and plastic at Duke.
In two days I was hobbling around in a walker and Duke discharged me. Surgery had gone well, but a day or two after discharge, I couldn’t eat because I felt too full. Laxatives were prescribed, to no avail. X-rays showed nothing. Nearly a week after discharge I was in the Emergency Room with dangerously low blood pressure. An hour later I was in Duke’s Gastroenterology ward and the docs were prepping me for surgery. “You have problems on multiple levels.” At some point before the knee work it seems I over-exerted myself and tore open a second hernia. After that the large and small intestines could interact, but they could not get along. Violence ensued and the little one suffered a tear.
When one undergoes general anesthesia, release forms must be signed absolving the hospital and staff of all responsibility for one’s death or impairment. The doctors told me this was a life-threatening situation, and I understood enough to call both our kids and tell them “If I don’t make it, Kat gets everything. You’ll get what’s left after she’s gone.” And yet I did not believe them; it just seemed that this was something they felt compelled to say before putting an old fat guy under.
They sounded serious, and I spoke telepathically with The Great Spirit. I asked him that my doctors be on top of their game, to give me courage, and to bring peace and acceptance to my family if things did not turn out well. They wheeled me to the OR, and after four hours somebody on the surgical team decided I had had all I could take. They taped me closed, got some sleep and came back the next day to finish the job. That trip took two more hours but they got the job done.
Recovery lasted from April 13 to May 17. I only remember the hallucinations that came from delirium. The worst was that somebody twisted my good foot so hard I awakened from a sound sleep with a yelp seeing somebody fat hurrying out of my room. The craziest involved changing from a Navy hospital to an Air Force infirmary, worrying they’d figure out I’m an Army guy. I couldn’t focus long enough to set a lineup on my fantasy baseball team. That’s a lost month. It’s gone.
And 50 pounds are gone ‘cause they wouldn’t let me eat. Kat took me home on May 17. She fed me grilled filet mignon, baked potato, and it was magnificent! On my birthday, May 19, she took me on a tour of Raleigh in late spring. It is a beautiful city and a lovely time of year. WCPE played a series of wonderful choral music and it struck me “I am alive!”
Kat is disappointed that I cannot relate a Near Death experience. I am disappointed that somebody actually did twist my foot: I couldn’t put weight on it for days and a huge bruise soon extended from the sole to well above the ankle. I was stunned to hear from my primary surgeon long afterwards that “Your surgery is so rare I couldn’t find age-stratified survival rates … but for all patients it’s around 20%.” Kat and I now look forward to gleefully spending our kids’ inheritance: we bought new hybrid bikes; we’re taking a train trip to D.C. in a couple of weeks; we will buy a new range and probably an AC for the Airstream, and we’re going to take a cruise to Alaska in September.
It feels good to write again. Life is good. Don’t you forget it.