Bionic Barb; the Inside Story

I hope you haven’t been worrying about me… but I’ve had some part of me fixed so I can keep up the pace of ‘making’! As you may know I have been considering total knee replacement for a while. So I decided to bite the bullet & here I am; Bionic Barb – the Inside Story to my knee replacement.

This is the story in my own words it is not meant to be any kind of medical advice (everyone can have a different experience). I do really like to hear what people have to say about theirs’.

My Poor Knees!

I have had problems with my knees for many years. My mothers knees sounded like ‘snap-crackle-pop’ when she would go up stairs. There are other things to try but there’s no cure soooo it was time!

Before the Surgery Day!

When you teach in a college or you run around after a 2 1/2 year-old your knees NEED to be good. It is a challenge to have anything medical done during Covid. So the pre-op which was usually a visit to the hospital now comprises of a phone call or two and going into the hospital for bloodwork and x-rays. And that doesn’t even count the waiting from sheer numbers and also OR rooms being shut down.

One of the reasons I was so very very nervous about this procedure is because I have a sensitivity to a certain anesthesia. I am missing the enzyme that would break that down, and discovered that through family history. So I decided to have the epidural to numb the pain since it freezes my lower half however I didn’t quite relish the idea of hearing the sound of a bone saw!

The day of surgery:

I am told to arrive quite early but no one can accompany me inside the hospital. There was no way I was not going to take my cell phone as it was my only connection outside. So many of these surgeries are considered same-day surgery; which means you’re going home at the end of the day unless something really troublesome happens.

There’s the typical getting ready for surgery, the gown the IV, some blood pressure even an ECG. I must say though; there always seems to be new technology and advancements; the gowns are now engineered with all kinds of openings and it allows warm air to be pumped through the gown that you can adjust how warm or cool you would like it. Of course it’s made by 3M and it’s called Bair hug. My surgery was scheduled for 10:30 AM and they were quite a few people getting prepped for some same-day surgeries

The anaesthesiologist or the anesthetist (I never know what the difference is) came and explained about the epidural/spinal block. I’ve had epidurals before for my children and also for the repair of my meniscus. It’s not really fun to have somebody putting a needle in your spine but I wouldn’t say it’s painful. The ‘guy’ seemed a little frustrated and then asked to have a longer needle brought over – yikes…. Then all of a sudden you feel that weird feeling of warmth in your legs and they pretty well gone numb right away.

Off to surgery…

Off I go down the hall and into the operating room the porter(?) makes a joke asking me if I can hop over onto the other bed, of course I can’t because I’m half frozen but he thought that was funny. Once they do their thing to slide you from one bed to another everyone starts getting busy with their role of the surgery and before you know it I look up and I see my toes quite high up in the air as they are getting my leg ready for the surgery. They put a little mask over my mouth and nose that has some air going through it that smells a little bit like a solvent and they set up the monitors for blood pressure and oxygen and no one says anything in particular to me…

I look up at the clock and it says 10:30 AM

Then all of a sudden I look at the room and ask how come I am in another room?

In Recovery:

Once I looked at the nurse and she says yes; it’s all over and you are in the recovery room. I can’t believe how quickly I woke up and felt normal. I look at the clock and it’s 11:30am! (only one hour) Of course my toes and my legs were still completely frozen

Now comes the waiting game of having the epidural wear off. It usually takes 4 to 6 hours to wear off. They were trying to fit a lot of surgeries in so I ended up going back to the Day surgery ward even before I was completely un-numb.

I felt pretty good, next time I will be bringing a book since there’s a lot of waiting and looking around. You hear a lot of things through those curtains and often you become very grateful for your own situation. I was able to sit up move my legs and get dressed at about 6:00pm. The physiotherapist comes to make sure that you can walk with the walker a few steps at least and also navigate the small set of stairs with a cane. This is their assurance that you can hopefully manage when you get home. Your medication‘s are faxed to your pharmacist so you can pick them up on the way home.

The Pain:

During the surgery they put extra nerve blocks into the knee so it feels pretty good when you get home. That first night when they start to wear off it’s very painful; I compared it to being worse than childbirth. It takes a while to get used to the regiment of pills that they prescribe. Some are for longer time frames & some are for short which they call breakout meds. I had a list of seven drugs to take; some for pain, some for inflammation, some to counteract the side effects of the pain medication.

I had made it up a flight of stairs to sleep in my own bed. However every hour at night I woke in pain. No position seemed to give relief.

When you get home:

It is really important to take the medication at the right times. Most of the medication’s are for 12 hours so the morning is a good start of a new round, and things started to feel better. Thank goodness for raised toilet seats and walkers.

They will give you a handbook so make sure you follow everything. Yay! Get everything they say!

Do your Exercises!

You are given a list of exercises to do that are mostly while you were laying on your back or sitting in a chair. It is also recommended to elevate your knee 12 inches above your heart and apply cold in the form of ice or even better yet; a cryotherapy machine. I bought a machine rather than the expense of renting it for two weeks.

It fills with ice and will provides great cooling for an entire day. You strap it on wherever you want my back and the ice water circulates through the pad it’s wonderful.

As each day went by I got better and found I was less dependent on the walker. I then started switching to using only a cane. about one week after surgery. Exercises three times a day and elevating/icing afterward makes for a pretty relaxing day.

Can you manage alone?

I had someone to help me for the first five days but after that I was fine on my own. I figured out that I could use a rope hoist system to raise the toilet seat from the main floor to the second floor and back. Going up and down the stairs with a cane is not a great. Carrying things is even worse so plan to use an aid.

Being able to walk as far as I desire and not always have to be limited is my goal. Arthritis runs in my family so it was inevitable. I am a bit on the young side to get knee replacements but I would rather have them now then when I’m sitting in the rocking chair.

Today I am 10 days from the surgery and walk around my kitchen without a cane or a walker. I am very cautious if I go outside however to make sure I take at least the cane. Make sure you have some really loose loungewear as that leg will be quite large from the bandage and swelling. I also did put a bit of effort into pre-making some meals to put in the freezer. 

Its’ time to start physiotherapy. In about a week to build up the full range of motion and work out the scar tissue. With knee replacements it’s not so much about surgery as it is about the knee to function. Physiotherapy helps that.

The amount of support has been so heart warming; food dropped off and beautiful flowers! I see them and I get itching to start eco printing so very soon!!!

So, yes I am still kicking!!! in a different form and will have new projects soon! Maybe this will give some of you that courage! I miss you all!

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  1. Your 10 day progress is amazing – congratulations. My husband had TKR 7 weeks ago, to better understand what he is going through and how I could help him ……. I joined a faceboook group for TKR support. Your recovery progress is one of the best I have read. It is a long haul to “normal” good luck to you.

  2. Great memoir, but I must admit I already thought you must be bionic, with all the super-human energy and the projects! Thank you for sharing – it will make others feel better about the procedure when it’s their turn.

  3. Hi Barb! So happy to hear you’re on the mend and everything went well! Glad to hear the anesthetic medication didn’t give you a problem .You are correct it’s all about the physiotherapy!! I am still exercising three times a day, it’s been a year since my surgery ( they say I need to do it for the rest of my life) due to having 27 lymph nodes removed from breast surgery. I also have arthritis and moving is for sure the one thing I need to do all the time or I freeze up and have more pain. I will cut down some more branches for you from my ” special tree” and give them to Bianca soon. Take care of yourself, be kind to yourself and soon you will be ready to start creating more beautiful projects!! Happy early Thanks Giving!! Linda

  4. Good for you Barb. You’re making excellent progress. I also used my “covid Vacation” to negotiate the essential/non-essential surgeries, as did my husband. I had a hip replacement, knee replacement and my husband had both knees replaced since August 2020. We spaced them so one of us could drive (groceries, church and Dr Appointments) between surgeries. I’ve just had a spinal fusion and laminectomy 5 weeks ago. Barb, the knee was the most difficult rehab and the most painful. The goal is to get back to hiking, art fairs, and live outdoor music festivals by next summer. I’m a “young 72” and advise all to have the surgeries you need while your bone density is still good. Best of luck to you going forward.

  5. So glad your operation went well – I had hip replacement surgery 5 years ago aged 54 and it changed my life. The key is definitely moving around as soon as you can. Unfortunately my knee is now causing me problems so it was really useful to read of your experience.

  6. You are amazing! Glad you wrote about this, my son is going to need that surgery and is very nervous about it, it’s good to read your live account of it!
    Happy healing to you!

  7. Hi Barb,

    Thanks for sharing your “medical memoir” (Love that, Kathy D!) I have found it therapeutic to just write down intense experiences even if they are for personal consumption only. Glad to hear you are recovering well. It may seem like it takes longer to recover than you expect, but your body has to do it at it’s own pace. Love that you share your artistic and crafting skills with all of us. Looking forward to more from you when you feel up to it. Take care of yourself during this recovery period.

  8. Oh, I’m so glad to hear it went well! Reading this was “familiar,” shall I say, as I had both knees replaced and can affirm all that you say. You are right…you must get that therapy in so that you will have complete movement available to you in the future. Personally I was shocked that no one really explained the impact and addiction possibility of all the drugs until I asked my family doctor. I kept a very careful chart, just like you. Otherwise you forget! Wow! Congratulations and speed forward, energetic sistah!

    1. For a short second I had thought – ‘I don’t need those’…OUCH!!! I really did!!!They know their profession. I’m not needing the ‘break though’ one every 4 hours now.

  9. Barb,
    Hope you are recovering well.
    I’ve had both knees done and there are things that can help with recovery.
    Do “pre-hab”. Meet with your PT before your surgery to get a list of exercises that you will be doing post-surgery. Do them pre and post surgery.
    Use frozen 8oz water bottles in the ice machine and rotate them out for re-freezing.
    Get a basket, a cup holder and flashlight for your walker. Bike lights work well.
    Put a flashlight on your cane for getting up at night.
    Have a sense of humor.

    Best wishes,
    K S Writt

    1. Good ideas! I have pretty well retired the walker except outside the shower if I need something to grab. For the first shower 4 days later I had just taken the walker into the shower. I keep standing as I feel more secure than trying to get up and down. I have a ‘bag’ system so that I have what I need when I travel up or down. Backpacks are best. Yes, the bottles in the ice machine are great! Yup, I try to laugh off things…