Friday, June 9, 2017

I'm struggling ... and I blame Mike Fisher

At this point in my surgery "career," I feel like I can identify and describe all of the emotional stages of post op recovery. I'm pretty sure these specific stages are not published anywhere, nor is there scientific evidence to support them - so don't quote me in your next rehabilitation paper.  However, I have predictably experienced these stages after each and every one of my 9 knee surgeries. In addition, I have witnessed others experiencing similar emotions after surgery. Let's call this a subjective qualitative post: "The stages of post op recovery."

The first stage is survival. As soon as you gain consciousness in the recovery room, your goal is to just stay alive. Your body has been through severe trauma and you are relying on your medical team to give you the most effective cocktail of drugs to prevent you from experiencing agonizing pain. It's a difficult phase; however, your brain shuts down all thought processes and goes straight into flight or fight mode. You don't worry that you just flashed everyone your lady parts. You don't give a damn that you just peed the bed. It doesn't bother you one bit that you just told the Physiotherapist to F$%# off. You are strictly in survival mode. It's primal, it's dirty, and it can be horrendous.

Survival mode lasts anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Once your body has recovered from the shock of being cut open, your brain switches back on, the endorphins start pumping, and you start to reflect. "Wow, I got through that. I did it!" Enter the "Elation" phase of recovery. In the elation phase, you are so fricken happy you survived that you feel like hoisting your surgery trophy (they really should present you with a victory token) in the air and shouting, "I did it!!!" The drugs are still free flowing and you excitedly post an update on social media bragging about your survival. You begin texting everyone you know, exaggerating events to add to dramatic effect and your feelings of achievement, "Doing great. I almost died, but I made it!"

For me, the Elation stage of recovery was prolonged due to the travel back to Canada. My Mom, Ev, and I were all concerned about the trip from Philly to Saskatoon. It was evident that my knee was not bending enough to fit behind the seat in the plane, and so we had to be creative with my seating and positioning during both flights. I was quite concerned that I wouldn't be able to fit on the plane and would be stuck in Philly forever. It wasn't particularly comfortable, there were a few tears - but we made it. Once I settled in on my Mom's couch at Candle Lake, elation kicked into high gear. "I did it! I'm a survivor! I am awesome! I can do anything!" I happily sipped my Timmy's steeped tea, enjoyed my view of the lake, and prepared to settle in for 6 more weeks of recovery.

Predictably, the elation stage of recovery soon deflated into the stage I like to call, "When reality punches you in the gut." For me, this occurred in the middle of particularly frustrating episode of Dr. Phil. "OMG. I am stuck in this brace that locks my leg straight out in front of me for 6 more weeks. OMG. I am on crutches with no weight bearing for 6 more weeks. OMG. I still can't bathe myself nor can I put on my own underwear." Ugh. The "when reality punches you in the gut" phase hits, it literally feels like...well, like someone has punched you in the gut. It's difficult to catch your breath and panic ensues, usually followed by a severe case of self pity. Although this phase of recovery only lasted a few days for me this time, it was significant. My Physiotherapist with Penn Med explained my recovery protocol prior to leaving Philly. As he outlined the dates at which I should be achieving specific goals (i.e. 90 degree knee flexion at 3 weeks), I nodded, confidently thinking, "pfff, 90 degrees. No problem. I'm not a rookie. I'll probably bend to 110 degrees just to show them." When Penn Med physio questioned, "Does this all make sense?" I responded, "This ain't my first rodeo." Yep. I actually said that, like a cocky little shit who thought she was above Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation and meniscus transplant surgery. No biggie. Reality punched me in the gut when I met with my Physio in Canada and realized that at 3 weeks post surgery, my knee was stubbornly stuck at 35 degrees flexion. My Physio calmly and kindly explained that we needed to step up the exercise to ensure that my knee didn't get too far behind the expectations. All I heard was, "You are failing physio. You are a failure." I don't fail (well...there was that one time that I dropped out of that weather class in University. Who knew weather could be so complex? And to be fair, I did drop out before I could fail) Anyway, I went home and forced my knee into 36 degree flexion, crying in pain and feeling incredibly sorry for myself the entire time.

Luckily, phase 4 of recovery was right on the horizon. I call this phase the "F#$% YOU!" stage of recovery. This phase is defined by irrational anger. Instead of focusing on the fact that my knee is not bending, I am stuck in a straight legged brace for 5 more weeks, and am still struggling to put on my own underwear, I have decided to focus my anger on random people and events. Cue Mike Fisher, captain of the Nashville Predators. As we watched Nashville smash Pittsburgh in game 4, I suddenly became enraged with Mike Fisher.

"How did Mike Fisher get a trade to Nashville?" I questioned Ev as we watched the game, "So he was able to just request which team he wanted a trade to? Just because he was with Carrie Underwood they agreed to trade him to Nashville? And now his life is just perfect. Un#$%#ing believable."

I heard the angry words spit out of my angry little mouth and realized that what I was saying was absolutely ridiculous; however, I couldn't stop. I slammed Mike Fisher throughout the entire game. Evan, wide-eyed, glanced at my Mom and Step-Dad and commented, "Ya! I hate Mike Fisher too!" Good answer. Oh my poor family (Ironically, I am actually cheering for Nashville. And Mike Fisher seems like a good dude).

Mike Fisher is mocking me, "Haha, Kirstie can't bend her knee!"

So here I am, sitting unhappily at the F&%# you phase of recovery. This is a tough phase, as your irrational anger can most definitely push visitors away. I consciously try to utter positive statements like, "It's coming along" and "It's getting there," when friends and family inquire about my recovery...but let's be honest, I am not going anywhere for a while. My Physiotherapist is now manually bending my knee (NOOO KELLY CLARKSON!) and the CPM (AKA Constant Pain Maker) has finally arrived from Winnipeg (the CPM is like gold in Western Canada!) I thought I could progress without it, but it's apparent that it is necessary for my recovery.

manual bending: like a very slow full body wax
I'm looking forward to the "Insolent toddler phase" of recovery, which, according to my calculations should arrive in approximately 3 weeks time. If you recall from my last major surgery experience, at 6 weeks post op I became defiant, refusing help from others, hoarding food, and asserting that I could do everything by myself. Click here for a real treat. Oh goody, can't wait for that one! haha. When I say "haha," I'm not actually laughing, by the way.

Ok, Friends. Thanks for listening. I will get through this. Eventually my knee will just have to bend. Right? Thanks for all the encouraging texts, emails, phone calls, and visits - the visits have had a miraculous effect on my mood. It's difficult to be angry when you are at Grandma's house, eating her incredible tarts and chatting with Baba while crunching on her fabulous pickles. My buddies are also super distractors from my icky mood. Last weekend they put sunglasses on my face and gently placed me in the boat like the guy in "Weekend at Bernie's." I think it was fun. Me and my unbendy knee feel loved!

Cheers to Mike Fisher. Go Preds!

Here's a pic of me on the boat! Wheeeee!

My friends took me to the beach. What a great day!

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