I got the comfortable “cart” before the hi-tech “horse”!

November 30, 2010

I finally downloaded the photos from my camera yesterday.  As I was looking through them I realized that I probably should have started the posts about my surgery with … well, my surgery!

Warning:  Photos of the incisions on my knees follow. So, if you are squeamish about seeing that sort of thing, you should stop here … have a nice day … and come back tomorrow for a less graphic post.

My bi-lateral knee surgery was done at a new, very state-of-the-art hospital.  All of the rooms are private.  But I don’t know if they are all as private as mine. Mine was on a short hall off of the main hall, so it was very cocoon-like.  I never heard any sounds of activity outside my room.  So for the three days I was there, post surgery, many people entered my room, all with a goal to do something to me, tell me something to do or ask me something.  For those three days I was the center of my own little universe.  I had to make very few decisions.  I just had to lay there.  It was exactly what I needed for those three days, but if I had felt better, it would have been pretty boring.

The computer in the left hand corner was used by everyone who cared for me to log everything they did.  Every time I was given a pill, the nurse asked me my whole name and date of birth, and then the pill, dose and time were logged into the computer.

One of those many machines surrounding me was monitoring my breathing and it told us all loud and clear whenever I would doze off that I wasn’t getting enough air, so the nurse would come in and make me do deep breathing, and cough.  Luckily, that went away pretty quickly, because it really got old when it would happen every time I would just begin to doze off for a little cat nap.

Do you see the tube with blood in it hanging above me?  There were drains in the sides of both of my knees and the blood that was drained was collected in reservoirs hanging on the foot of the bed.  When there were about five (some measurement — pints I guess) of blood in the two reservoirs, they gave me a transfusion and put that blood back into me!  No one said that I was anemic and really needed a transfusion.  So the impression I got is that that return of some of the blood lost, is routine.  I thought that was a very clever idea.  They were draining the blood to keep down the swelling of my knees, and then returning it to me.  But after that transfusion, they continued to do the drain.  So the next day I asked a male nurse, who was looking at the reservoirs, if they were full again, and would they be returning the blood again.  He held one up and showed me that the blood now looked different and he said that was because the cells after this long (about a day, I think) are dead and no longer good, so can no longer be returned.

They definitely don’t let you lay around for long.  The next day after the surgery, the exercising began.

(I warned you!)  This machine was sort of a mechanical trough that my leg laid in.  As you can see, the foot is strapped in, and the device has been adjusted so that the bending part is right at my knee.

Then they turn it on, and it slowly bends the knee.

I know it seems like this should hurt, but the machine does it so gradually that it really didn’t.  (Of course, it also helped that I was on alot of pain medication!)

And then it would return the leg to the starting position.  And begin all over again!

Beginning the day after surgery, they would put each of my legs in this machine for a couple hours, twice a day.  It was a nice way to exercise.  I didn’t have to do anything.  In fact, it was so gentle, that I could fall asleep while it was doing its job!

But, of course, they weren’t satisfied with just passive exercise for my young knees for long, so that is when Barb came into my life.  She was my physical therapist.

Barb would help me from the bed into this very comfortable recliner (the stuff laying all over it are parts of the ice machine that was applied to my knees regularly) .  And then, because it was not only a recliner but also a wheelchair, Barb would push me in it down the hall to a therapy room where there would be about a half dozen other patients all doing exercises (most of which could be done while sitting in the chair).  For these therapy sessions, you had to have a “coach” whose main responsibility was to keep count for you of the repetitions of each exercise, and to offer encouragement.  Hubby had planned on being my coach, but when DD surprised us by showing up the day after my surgery, she gladly took on that task.  And let me just say that Gunny may have been our child who was a Marine, but DD has some real “drill sergeant” mentality.  But she also tempered that with her trademark humor, so she would have the whole room full of therapists, patients and their coaches laughing.

Besides the recliner/wheelchair, another thing I had never seen before was the sofa that was in the room.

Okay, some explanation is required here.  First of all, yes, this picture is very blurry, but remember it was taken by a woman who had just had major surgery and was on lots of medication, so let’s cut her some slack, okay?  Also, even though blurry, it’s obvious that I had a really big suitcase full of lots of clothes, considering I was only going to be there three days.  So I kept reminding people (when I would see them looking at my overflowing suitcase) that I had packed all that stuff because I was going directly to a rehab center for a week or two.  It all did actually start out neatly folded but as I would ask Hubby, or DD or one of the staff to get something for me out of it, it got just a little disorganized along the way.  But, hey, I’m not complaining, since I certainly couldn’t look through it myself.  I was just glad for the help.

Anyway, I assume the sofa is part of the decor so that if a family member wanted to stay all night they would have a place to sleep.  I think that is a really great idea.  Many years ago when my father was really sick and one of us would stay with him all the time, I can remember sitting in his hospital room sometimes in just a straight-back chair, WISHING there was somewhere I could lie down for just a little while.

Finally the day arrived when I would be moving to the rehab center, and I got to take one of my first steps back to “normal”.

This is Kate my very favorite nurse.  Don’t get me wrong … there were lots of nice nurses.  But the reason Kate was my very favorite was because very early on the morning that I was to leave, I asked her when I would be able to take a shower, and her answer was “How about now?”.  Music to my ears.  So, that’s the reason Kate will always hold a special place in my heart.  Nothing says normal more than an honest-to-goodness shower and hair washing.

In my next post I’ll tell you a little about the “culture shock” of moving from this cocoon environment to the totally different environment at the rehab center.  Both served their purpose perfectly, but their purposes were just very different.

“So, who’s the guy with the ketchup in his pocket?”

November 27, 2010

The last post I did was the re-telling of a funny story that Dave, the concierge at the rehab center where I resided for ten days, had told me.  But some of the attention that post brought wasn’t about the story itself as much as about the fact that Dave’s job was as a concierge.  And my friend Katharine at Wise Dogs, left a very funny comment about that:

Katharine says:

A concierge? Your rehab center has a CONCIERGE???

Sandy, if you post something about a pool guy, I’m making a reservation for the day that I have a joint replaced!

Sandra says:

Yes, Katharine, they had a concierge, but it wasn’t because they were fancy smancy — it was because they were realllly all about patient care and comfort. I think of it comparing favorably to a stay in a favorite aunt’s guest room.

p.s. I didn’t see a pool guy (or a pool), but maybe he was just off that week.

My response to Katharine says it all.  This was NOT a hoity toity place.  It was a clean, comfortable older facility that stressed patient service and care above all else … hence the presence of a concierge.

concierge |kô n ˈsyer zh; känsēˈer zh|, noun: an employee whose job it is to assist guests

But while the concierge at a hotel might do cool stuff for you like recommend good restaurants near-by or arrange for theater tickets for you, Dave’s job was much more down to earth.  My favorite part of his job was that he came around in the afternoon with a cart of coffee, tea, cider and cocoa.  And when he would stop in to see if any of those sounded good to you, he would always have a few words of conversation too.  A wonderful combination to look forward to when you are confined to a bed most of the day.

He would also help deliver meal trays, get you water and/or ice for your ever-present water mug, etc.  Anything he was able to do to help the medical staff attend to the patients’ comfort, he did.

One evening my friend, Linda, was visiting (she visited many times, and I will never be able to repay her for those visits that were just to cheer my day … and sometimes she even brought me a malt to make SURE I was cheered!).  Anyway, Linda was there when my dinner tray arrived, and the entree was a hamburger accompanied by potato wedges.  As I started to assemble my sandwich, Dave appeared in the door with a bottle of ketchup in his shirt pocket, and wearing his always welcome smile.  He asked if my meal was all right, and then asked if I would like some ketchup for my hamburger and potato wedges.  I said, yes, I would like some … so he withdrew the ketchup bottle from his pocket, put a healthy squirt on my plate … and asked if that was enough.  When I assured him it was, he “re-holstered” his ketchup bottle and went on his way down the hall dispensing ketchup and good cheer.

Linda loved the picture of Dave dispensing ketchup “as needed” (certainly a more cost effective way than putting those squirts in little cups that might or might not be used and possibly having some of it wasted.  I admire that they were being wise in little ways like that.)  So from then on Linda thought of Dave as “the guy with the ketchup bottle in his pocket”.

So, yes Dave’s title was concierge and he fit that title because his job was to “assist guests” in any way he could.  And, God bless him, that he didn’t have any preconceived notion of what was and wasn’t “his job” — he was willing to do anything that was needed, including being the purveyor of ketchup on burger night!

Don’t forget the dryer sheets!

November 24, 2010

One of the great people I met at the rehab center where I resided for 10 days was Dave, the Concierge.  He was a retired guy who was just there to help in any way he could, like help deliver meals, get a patient some ice for their ever-present water bottle — just anything to help and cheer the patients up.  And, believe me he did a good job.  Especially when in the afternoon he would bring around a cart with coffee, hot tea, hot cider and cocoa for anyone interested.

Obviously, someone in Dave’s job needed to be a people person, as he was.  So he and I would sometimes chat for a few minutes (I’m pretty sure that was part of his job too — a few minutes of just pleasant chatting is such a nice break for any patient).

I forget how the conversation came around to static cling, but it did and it inspired him to tell me a story about an incident his wife, Lynn, had experienced.  Afterwards, one of the nurses told me she had worked with Dave’s wife, and she was as charming and funny as he was — so I’m sure she didn’t mind her story being told.

So, this was the story.

Dave and Lynn were going out to dinner with friends.  They parked the car and began walking toward the restaurant.  The other couple were walking behind them.  All of a sudden, one of the other couple said, “Uh, Lynn.  Is there a problem?”

Dave and Lynn turned around to see what problem there could possibly be, and followed their friends’ eyes to something on the sidewalk.  Laying there was a pair of underpants!  Lynn had on a skirt that she had just washed that afternoon and apparently it had had a little static cling, so a pair of underpants had been stuck to the underside of her skirt.  But as she walked from the car to the restaurant something suddenly made the static cling loosen (maybe sudden exposure to cold air?)  and the pair of underwear fell to the ground.

Of course, Dave said they all laughed about the incident, and he and Lynn still enjoy telling the story.  But it is a good reminder to all of us, “If you don’t want something similar to happen to you, never forget the dryer sheets!”

Anticipation: A wonderful feeling that may be in danger of extinction

November 23, 2010

It was the early 70’s and we were a young married couple with two small children.  A few years earlier we had bought an old house and were gradually, as our money allowed, fixing it up.

A year before, we had torn up the old carpet in the living and dining rooms when Hubby began to enclose the front porch and then tear down the front wall to make that area into an entry way.  It was major construction done on an as-time-allows and as-the-money-became-available basis, so for the last year we had been living on plywood sub-flooring and with the whole downstairs a “construction zone”.

On Sunday mornings when it was time to get ready for church, we would wait until the last possible minute, and then take little Gunny and DD upstairs to bathe and dress them.  Then we would carry them downstairs and out to the car, never allowing their clean little selves to have an opportunity to get dirty in the construction zone.  I will have to post a picture sometime of the kids in front of the Christmas tree that year.  It’s hard to decide if the picture is pathetic or funny.   It’s of the two of them with Hubby’s police dog sitting in front of one of those white flocked trees … on sub-flooring.

So when Hubby finished renovating that area we were more than ready to put down new carpet, but couldn’t afford it yet.  We began to save for that big purchase.  I can remember the yearning for carpet to cover that ugly sub-flooring, coupled with the delicious anticipation of how wonderful the newly renovated rooms were going to look  when we could finally afford to carpet them. We  had lived on the sub-flooring for a total of about 18 months, when we finally saved enough money for the carpet.

I cannot even begin to describe how excited we were when the day finally arrived when our avacado green plush carpet was to be installed.  It was a Saturday so Hubby was home too.  When the installers arrived, we took the kids and went next door to sit on our neighbor’s’ front porch to stay out of the way until the installers were done.  Finally, the installers left and we could go home to see our big purchase.

It was wonderful!  The new carpet smell gave the whole house a feeling of “new”.  It was sooo soft to walk on compared to the hard plywood.  And it made the house so quiet.  As you can imagine, during the time the carpet was up, the house had sounded hollow and every little sound had echoed.  And remember, this was the 70’s, so the dark, rich avacado color was the ultimate “in” color.  Perfect.

Later in the day I remember our neighbors Lon and Lois coming over to see it, and the four of us sitting in the living room (of course, all of the furniture had been moved out for the installation, so the room was temporarily empty) sitting on the floor with our backs against the wall just luxuriating in the softness and beauty of our new carpet.

There have been many other instances in my life when I have experienced great anticipation of an event, and then enjoyed it so much when it finally happened.  But this one instance always stands out in my mind when I think of anticipation.

I wonder if this all sounds terribly old-fashioned to someone young who is reading it.  It doesn’t seem like anyone wants to wait for anything any more.  I imagine that anyone who wants something really badly these days is a rarity if they save until they can afford that special something.  More often I would guess it just gets put on a credit card.

While the possessing of something new and wonderful will always be a wonderful feeling, I think that if you don’t have to wait for that thing, you have missed an important part of the fun … the anticipation.

I fear that anticipation is in danger of extinction in this day of instant gratification.  What a loss.

But come to think of it, maybe this is one good thing that might come out of the hard economic times we are experiencing now.  Maybe people will actually have to wait for a few things, and may realize in the process that anticipation is a wonderful part of the package too.

A Sweet Surprise

November 20, 2010

Forty-one years ago today:

I had given birth to a beautiful baby girl in the early morning hours.  And now I was too hyped up (and on drugs) to sleep.  Our new baby girl had been a wonderful surprise (back when the sex of the baby was always a surprise) because Hubby and I already had two year old Gunny, so it was exciting to now have a daughter too.  Hubby had gone home to call our parents and then get some sleep.

I didn’t expect to get to tell anyone the news first-hand, but I couldn’t resist calling my mother-in-law to see what she thought, because I knew she was hoping for a girl, since their only two grandchildren so far were little boys, Gunny and his cousin Tim.

Little did I know that Hubby hadn’t been able to reach his parents and had gone to bed for a little much-needed sleep without having told them the good news.

So I called my mother-in-law about 8 a.m.:

Me:  Hi.  How are you?

MIL:  Fine!  How are you doing?

Me:  Oh, I’m fine.  I was just wondering what you thought about having a granddaughter.

MIL:  Ohhh, I think that would be wonderful.  Do you think that’s what you’re going to have?

(Yippee!  I suddenly realized that she didn’t know the news — there was someone I was going to get to tell first!)

Me:  Well, I don’t have to wonder any more — I had a little baby girl this morning!

MIL started yelling, “Art, Art, come here quick!  Sandy had their baby and it’s a girl!!”  Then to me on the phone, still yelling, “That is such wonderful news!  What did you name her?”

Me:  We named her Jennifer Elaine.

There was a moment of silence as MIL absorbed that piece of news.  Hubby and I hadn’t told anyone the names we were considering.  But Hubby’s youngest sister, a late-life baby like me and much adored by the whole family, was 12 year old Elaine, and she was almost more excited than her mom about the prospect of maybe having a little girl in the family. So we knew she would be thrilled to have the baby named after her.

MIL:  (in a suddenly soft, emotional voice) A little girl … named Jennifer Elaine.  That is wonderful.

I’ve always remembered that early morning call I made, because it was so nice to get to be the one to tell my sweet mother-in-law that she now had a granddaughter … and, even better, one named after her much adored youngest child.

So, DD came into this world as a wonderful, early morning surprise to her Grandma H., with whom she went on to have a very special relationship.

Happy Birthday, Daughter Divine.  You have blessed all our lives in so many ways.  We couldn’t have asked for a better daughter.  We love you even more with each passing year.

Love, Mom

Prayer + Preparation = Success

November 16, 2010

I hope I’m not speaking prematurely.  After all, I am still in the rehab center, and I guess something still could go wrong.  But unless something unexpected happens soon, this whole experience of having bi-lateral knee replacement has been an unquestionable success.  And I believe the reason for that success is two-fold — prayer and preparation.

Any of you who have read here very long know that I believe in the power of prayer.  So I truly believe that the prayers that many friends and family have prayed for me have been answered in spades.

And the other component that I believe was a key component to my success was preparation.

As soon as the word got around that I was going to have both my knees replaced, I got a call from a friend from our church, Paula.  She had gone through knee replacement herself about a year ago, so she had some valuable advice based on her own experience, “Do the pre-surgery exercises!”

The doctor’s office had given me a large booklet full of information about what bases to cover with my insurance company, what to expect during and after the surgery, and how to prepare for the surgery.

In that how to prepare section, there were about eight exercises recommended for you to do twice a day for six weeks before your surgery.  I like to think that I would have been smart enough to do those exercises even without Paula’s advice, but she was so adamant about what a difference they would make in how things went, that it was her voice that I heard urging me on, every time I did them.

And now I’m reaping the rewards of doing those exercises.  I have not encountered any other patient in therapy sessions, either at the hospital or here at the rehab center, who is better able to do the therapy than me.  And I believe the main component of my ability to do what is asked of you in therapy, is that I had started strengthening key muscles six weeks before the surgery.

So, bottom line is, I am thankful.  Thankful for all the prayers that were said for my success, and thankful for that excellent advice Paula gave me.  I truly believe those were the most important two components of my success.

I’m looking forward to going home Thursday afternoon.  They’ve been great to me here, but there’s nothing better than sleeping in your own bed.  One more step toward “normal”.

Like Warm Plum Pudding?

November 15, 2010

Who knew?  If you warm it first in the microwave, a glass of that dreaded juice I was given as a kid to regulate my digestive tract has a very pleasant flavor of warm plums!

But if you forget to order it in the morning … so just tell them to deliver it with your lunch … planning to ask that it be warmed in the microwave mid-afternoon … but then decide “Why go to all that bother?” and just chug it down at room temperature … it will once again taste exactly like that icky stuff Mama gave me when I was little … prune juice.

Just one of the little insights I’ve developed during this very interesting journey.

May you have a great day, and may all your prune juice be warmed!

A Hospital Survival Kit

November 10, 2010

On Monday evening, two days before my surgery I went to my monthly book club meeting and they surprised me with a “survival kit” for my upcoming hospital stay.  What a wonderful gift!

So, I would like to pass on that idea to any of you who may have a friend preparing to have a hospital stay.  And, since I’m actually having the experience right now, I’ve made some adjustments to the list that I think might make it even better.

I would include:

. a package of Wet Ones that are great for a quick sponge bath

. a good Lip Balm (they gave me Carmex and it is great)

. a good Body Lotion because the hospital air is so drying, although avoid something with a strong fragrance that might aggravate nausea.

. a Mirror with some way to stand itself up, so that the patient can see just how bad they look whenever they like! (and see if their hair is standing straight up on top of their head even though no one bothers to mention it)

. cute Slipper Socks. They are handier than slippers because you can leave them on when you’re in bed if you like, and they can be washed.

. a pretty Spiral Notebook that the patient can use to keep notes all in one place about things to ask, remember, etc.

. a Book of Games to be a diversion for any “loose end” moments between therapy and meals!

. a Retractable Ball Point Pen, so that there’s no need to keep up with a cap

. an Automatic Pencil, so that no sharpener is required

. an Extra Eraser in case the one on the pencil is used up

. a Good Book.  The club gave me two — a Nora Roberts and a Janet Evanovich.  They will be enjoyed not just while I’m in here, but during my recuperation at home.

. a small Battery-Powered Light, preferably one that can stand alone or clip onto something.  Especially right after surgery, it isn’t always easy for a patient to reach light controls, so if you make this small enough, it can just stay on the bedside table, in easy reach.

. and finally, a couple of Energy Bars.  I certainly haven’t gone hungry during this time, but it is always nice to have a little something around that can be eaten without any preparation or mess.

That’s it.  My idea of a perfect gift for a friend going into the hospital.

Thank you, book club friends!

I’ll be back — I just don’t know when!

November 2, 2010

Tomorrow at 7:30 am I’ll be having bilateral knee replacement, i.e., both of my knees replaced.  I am pretty sure I’m ready and I know it’s time to get this over with.

I’ll be in the hospital 3 or 4 days, and then I’ll move to a rehab facility where I will stay at least a week or two.

I don’t plan to have my computer at the hospital with me, so I won’t be doing any posts for at least that long.  Then I’ll see how it goes once I get to rehab.

I’m not really nervous, but the saying comes to mind, “Ignorance is bliss”.  The only times I have previously stayed overnight in a hospital were when our children were born.  So I have no idea what I’m getting into.  But I do know that I’m glad I’m doing both knees at the same time so that I don’t go through this now, knowing that I’ll have to do it all over again sometime in the future for the other knee.

So, I’ll be taking notes, even when I don’t have my computer.  And hopefully I’ll have some interesting stories to tell you when I return.

May God be with each of you and bless you until we meet again.