It’s been quite the year for surgeries — again. In November, I had full knee replacement on my right knee. In December, I had multiple procedures on the left foot and ankle. And finally, to cap the year off, I had a soft tissue mass removed from my left pointer finger on the second to last day of December. It’s no coincidence that all this happened back to back to back— I planned the finger surgery to coincide with already being off of work with the foot and ankle, and I planned all three surgeries to be done before the end of the year for insurance purposes. It was admittedly a lot to take on and recover from.
Incorporating in all the surgeries around life, the holidays, and ensuring sufficient recovery from one before the next one came around was challenging. BUT, the flip side is that the challenge provided ample opportunity for creative problem solving and implementing clever coping strategies — and that’s what I want to share here. Regardless of what your issues and obstacles are — and we all have them — I hope some of my strategies for managing multiple challenges at once will be helpful to you.
Take it One Surgery at a Time….
Although it was a lot, I knew exactly what I was in for. Knee replacement was the most difficult, and it was also the first. I had 5.5 weeks after that surgery to make sure I was strong enough to be on crutches on that leg for surgery #2. I worked diligently and with intense focus to rehab from the knee for those 5.5 weeks. Then, when #2 came around, I had to put my knee on the back burner for a bit to get through the foot/ankle. Past experience with this type of surgery (this was my 7th and 8th on foot/ankle) has taught me that the first full day after the operation is always the very worst. With the surgery on 12/22, this meant 12/23 would be hell, and then I’d experience slow but steady improvement after that. It was tough to get through 12/23. Maximum amounts of pain meds don’t even touch the pain on day 2 of foot surgery when the nerve block has worn off. BUT, since I had been here before, I just gritted my teeth and got through it. I was even able to travel on Christmas Eve for our family Christmas celebration with my foot elevated in the back seat of a car. Then I had a week before surgery #3. This one was psychologically the most difficult, as the idea of full
anesthesia for a simple finger mass excision (!) blew my mind. But all I had to do was fast (again!) and show up, and the rest was pretty easy. Just finger elevation, to add in with foot and ankle elevation, for two days post-op, and now just being careful with that finger and I am pretty much back in the game.
Go Slowly and Mindfully Through the Process of Healing.
I can’t emphasize enough how much being mindful has helped in the recovery of all three surgeries. From the get go, I’ve paid close attention to how I move, get up from a chair, carry food and drink while on crutches, use my left hand, how and where I sit, where I put my crutches to do things, how I take a shower, and so many other daily tasks. When I move quickly or carelessly, crutches fall, I lose my balance, drop things, bang my finger, get water all over the bathroom…you get the gist. The complexities associated with all three surgeries have caused me to slow down considerably and do things ever so deliberately. The Mindfulness training has really paid off here.
Ask for and Accept Help.
Simply put, I could not have done all of this without help. My very good friend Michael shepherded me to and from all three surgeries, and graciously offered to let me stay at his house in Bellingham for ten days each following the knee and foot/ankle surgeries. I am not sure I could have managed alone in Sudden Valley after either of these two surgeries. Having someone help out with cooking, dishes, every day tasks, transportation to and from appointments, getting groceries, and just being there was indispensable. For the record, I have done many surgeries mostly alone — including back and neck fusions, and other foot/ankle/knee surgeries, and it was a huge bonus to have help this time around. And while Michael was the primary helper, both my kids and their partners also helped out a lot during the holidays, as did other friends and family. In short, part of what made this whole experience workable for me was that I had and accepted help. Thank you SO MUCH to all who helped out!
Pay Attention to Small Improvements
This was tough at first. I somehow assumed (incorrectly) that my knee would be magically all healed up by the time I had surgery #2. This simply wasn’t the case. Total knee replacement takes awhile. To use that leg for 100% stability less than six weeks post-op was kind of an ordeal, and actually seemed to set me back some. I had as much trouble with my knee as with the foot and ankle after the initial intense phase of the second surgery, and I felt defeated and discouraged at times. I was still trying to do physical therapy (PT) for the knee, but now everything was much more difficult. The foot/ankle improvement was obvious as pain lessoned, but the knee was more subtle. I kept up with whatever PT and exercises I could, and slowly but surely, I started to notice further improvement with my knee. I celebrated each small victory — getting up from a chair without having to boost myself, lowering down to the toilet without assistance, full straightening of the leg while lying in bed. Paying attention to these small things helped me to keep the perspective that improvement was taking place in all areas, not just with the most recent and obvious surgery.
Continue to Adapt to Changes Day by Day.
Each day I can do more. I am back home again now in Sudden Valley, living alone. It was hard at first, not having help with every day things. But I kept at it, and now I can do so much! I am driving, and I can go to the mall and crutch or knee-scooter around. I can go to the gym and work out with upper body weights. I can do my floor exercises and I can even kneel on a pad with my right knee to do so. I can shower in my small shower, do laundry, clean the cat box, and cook and clean for myself. I am out of a cast and into a post-surgical boot, and can bear 25% of my body weight as I crutch. I just had my final post-op for my knee yesterday, and have been cleared to not return until a year from surgery (!). I am back to writing again as my finger is mostly healed up. Each day I take on more, and, as I meet, greet, and complete the new challenges, I feel happy and victorious.
Do What You Can and Don’t Focus on What You Can’t Do.
Since it’s been snowy and icy, I haven’t attempted crutching on outside paths like I usually do. I did walk and even hike post-knee before foot and ankle surgery, but not much outside since surgery #2. I miss the outdoors terribly, but I don’t want to risk slipping and falling or just plain freezing trying to crutch outside until it warms up and things melt. Instead, as mentioned, I have been going to the mall and the gym. It’s not the same as being outside, but for now, it will have to do. And at least it’s something. Each time I complete a mall crutch/scooter or gym workout, I really do feel good — both physically and mentally. I know I need movement to sustain me, and I will take it when and where I can get it.
Take Advantage of Time Off To Do More of the Things You Love To Do.
With all the sitting, I’ve spent a lot of extra hours doing sedentary activities that I really enjoy. I am taking a memoir-writing class, and have been working diligently on that. I just finished a long-standing series of blog posts on my solo John Muir Trail trip last summer. I have read and listened to many books, and have written many pages in my journal. I have also watched lots of romantic comedies. Sometimes I even sit and do nothing! All this sitting is hard on me physically, and I do have to break it up with movement or my back complains horribly. But I have accepted my fate of more down time and I am making the best of it.
Pick up a New Hobby!
I didn’t really expect this one, but a couple of clients right before foot surgery talked about knitting as a sedentary hobby. I asked for and received from my son and his girlfriend for Christmas yarn and needles to learn to knit. On January 2, only three days after the finger surgery and the day before they left to return to school in Atlanta, my son and his girlfriend came over for lunch and a knitting lesson. In about an hour, Lauren gave me a quick and dirty lesson, which was much complicated by the facts that my left pointer finger was useless, I have never knitted before, and she had never taught anyone to knit. BUT, we muddled through it, and I had beautiful purple yarn to work with and two
successful rows of stitches to add to when they left. And that has become my almost nightly ritual now…watching a movie on Netflix, and knitting. I am not perfect for sure, I’ve dropped more than one stitch, but I am creating something (I think it’s a scarf!), I have a new past-time for the evenings, and it feeds my desire for creativity. It is a fabulously mindless mindful activity!
So all in all, what I want to convey is that it is possible to get through adversity intact and with a smile on your face. It just takes patience and the ability and desire to work around obstacles one at a time. I hope I don’t ever have another round of three back to back to back surgeries, but I know if I do, I can do it again. And I also know I have and will continue to use these strategies to make the most of my remaining time off of work.
I will be back in the office on 2/3/17. I look forward to seeing you then!