It’s been exactly two months since I had my right knee replaced, which is part of managing my hip-dysplasia. As you can see from the six photos, the wound is now nicely healed and my knee is much less swollen – and so, less painful. I’ve kept a diary every day of my recovery and I thought it would be helpful to share the firsts along the way to this point. It’s been a nice way for me to reflect on my progress, not just how far I have still to go. The goal is to get back to walking without poles or other walking aids, and so get back out to happily rambling in the countryside or standing on stage to sing.
I was actually out of bed and up on my feet late afternoon on the day of my surgery and was able to bend to 30 degrees. Once the restrictive bandages came off on day two, I was able to take my first walk using a walking frame and sit in a chair to eat dinner with my leg elevated. By day three I took my first steps with crutches and on day four had successfully used them to get up and down a short flight of stairs for the first time. This meant I could go home. The first two days at home however were incredibly hard – our Victorian stairs were more challenging and I missed the structured days of hospital.
After a couple of days at home my partner and I were in more of a rhythm using the continuous passive motion machine (CPM) I’d hired, walking up and down the ground floor of the house on crutches, doing three lots of exercises each day, and between that sitting with my leg elevated with a bag of peas on my knee. This second week was incredibly difficult due to the constant pain and sleep interruption – most nights no more than 2-3 hours in 30 minute bursts. 10 days after my surgery I had the staples out, which made my leg feel less stiff, and by the weekend I took my first steps outside in the garden, and my first cup of tea outside accompanied by birdsong. Freedom!
The third week saw three incredible firsts. My first hydrotherapy session and the sheer joy of getting into water and really feeling my knee move with ease. This was followed by my first night of sleep. And at the end of the week, my first trip outside to get a cup of coffee in a local outdoor café. All of these improved my confidence because they felt like normal “Jill” things to do.
By week four I was able to get my knee to 70 degrees on the CPM, although less without it. I started to do normal things around the house a little more – make my own cup of tea albeit I needed help to carry it to a seat; fill up the bird feeder in the garden; do some very light cleaning. We could handle our first visitor to our routine and so my sister came to stay. It was so lovely for me to spend time with her, and for my partner to get a bit of time off from helping me get up, dress, wash, eat etc. That weekend I was finally able to have my first shower rather than flannel wash, and to go out for lunch at a local pub. Whilst sitting still was hard (they had a table which allowed me to elevate my leg) and I needed to use an old dressing-gown belt to lift my foot into the car, that first social activity was a huge step.
Finally, this week, I said goodbye to the surgical stockings and my legs started to feel a bit like my own again! I was able to stand to make dinner for the first time and progressed to walking up and down the road on my crutches, not just in the garden. I saw the consultant one month after my surgery and whilst I was progressing well, my knee flexion (bending) was stuck at 70 degrees. Unless I can get past 90 degrees by two months, I will need a manipulation under anaesthetic. Which I don’t want.
Perhaps the threat of more surgery spurred me on and by the end of this week I had the CPM at 80 degrees for the first time and 78 degrees without. By now I am way more confident on my crutches, using them alternatively in a more natural walking pattern and so my average steps per day jumped from an average 3,000 the previous week to 7,000+ including a walk to the River and back. In this week I had my first day showering and dressing with no assistance, regaining some important independence.
Six weeks prior to surgery I’d had to stop taking HRT, so I was overjoyed to restart at this point and have my first evening watching the TV without half-hourly hot flushes! I also made my first independent visit to the local co-op and call into my cat’s vet to pick up some medication for her. Two friends came to visit and I saw a couple more on zoom – all of which has been so welcome, to break up the day and have different conversations, with people I love.
Finally, at the end of this week, I passed the 90 degrees bend mark, albeit passively on the CPM. I walked to the local pool to restart my membership and had a lovely hot chocolate in their café – my first drink out without someone accompanying me. My average steps per day exceeded 10,000 for the first time, which is back to my pre-op levels. And at the end of the week, albeit with a fair amount of pain and effort, my quads locked my kneecap enough to lift my leg straight off the bed. I also saw the podiatrist for the first time, who added more raise under my left heel as a temporary measure until I get measured for a full orthotics adjustment.
The big first in this week was getting into the local swimming pool, and properly swimming. I’m normally in the pool a minimum of three times per week so my whole body has really missed this exercise. My back and shoulders – which have been working overtime on crutches – were very grateful! I was able to walk all the way along the riverside and had my first walk up and down a slope (tortoise pace downhill which requires most knee stability). The reward was a cup of coffee in the local arts centre. For the first time I got the CPM machine to a 100 degrees bend, and we officially measured a 94 degrees bend in both hydro and physio. I successfully managed to demonstrate this to the surgeon today, which means no surgical manipulation – hurrah!
Orthopaedic surgery is not for the faint-hearted and this has definitely been the most challenging I’ve had. There’s still, of course, a long way to go before I’m walking without aids and able to live my life fully once more. There are also some important firsts still to go; driving and public transport being the next steps for independence before I could restart social activities like choir or meeting friends away from home.
But I have come a long way over the last two months. Huge thanks to my partner for his support day in day out. And to all of you for following and cheering me on!
Jill Pringle was born with bilateral hip-dysplasia and has had various surgeries including open reductions, leg lengthening, and hip and knee replacements. She blogs and walks to raise money for Steps Charity.