Living with an artificial knee

On November 30th, 2016, I experienced a full knee replacement surgery. The procedure itself was painless (albeit a bit funky noise wise – yeah, you’re awake while they saw away the old, chisel then hammer in the new), but post-op recovery was a different story. I’ll disclose that at the time of this surgery, I was 178cm tall and the scale said 113kg. 

A little over two years later, I can post a proper follow up.

Here’s some notes on the whole process:

  1. You get released from the hospital two days after the surgery and walk on your own with the help of a walker. My experience at the Anna Laberge Hospital was excellent: the nursing staff, auxiliaries and medical professionals were extremely professional and kind. The food was even decent – in as much as hospital food ever is – mind you, after 24 hours of fasting, tofu would have been as great as filet mignon, as far as I was concerned.
  2. The staples holding my leg skin and muscle closed were removed 10 days after the surgery. On the 11th day, I took my first shower. It felt amazing.
  3. First two weeks post op, you move around with the walker. Third week after,  I graduated to a cane. On the fifth week, bye bye cane, but you move with care – full stability and equilibrium can still be iffy.
  4. During the first five weeks, forget about proper sleep. You will probably be prescribed oxycodone (an opioid painkiller). Having read all the horror stories about dependency and addiction, I stopped taking them on week 4. Down side? The knee pain would wake me up every two hours or so. I did manage 3 hour to 4 hour stretches now and then, but that was usually fatigue kicking in.
  5. Getting around: the lack of mobility of my left leg after surgery made getting in and out of vehicles difficult and driving was out of the question for the first three weeks. I was fortunate to have friends and neighbours drive me to my frequent follow-ups and visits to the CLSC, physiotherapy and doctors. On week four, you are flex enough to get in the car and drive – as long as it’s an automatic). Being able to get somewhere by yourself is a great morale booster – and you can start doing normal tasks again.
  6. On week 6, the swelling and pain dropped significantly as the internal tissues healed. On week 7, the pain was almost all gone.
  7. Two weeks after the surgery, I began physiotherapy. My gains were slow for the first six weeks, but on the 7th, I made major progress with the internal healing and managed to hit the 120 degree flexibility target.
  8. On the 8th week, I managed six hour continous sleep stretches. I was mostly back to normal living routines, being able to perform all my daily activities. There was still improvements to come on full knee movement, but I was back to a better state.

While at physio, I noticed I was the youngest around in the group receiving treatment following a full knee replacement surgery. I also noticed lighter folks recovered faster.

Forward to 2020. The chronic pain I experienced before the surgery is, for most purposes, gone. I do still feel inflammation on occasions due to weather, but it’s not constant as it was before the surgery.

Flexing the left knee is not back to the same level as the right knee. And I still lack muscle strength to get back up using the legs only if I’m on my knees or sitting in a low position.  I use my arms to push myself up – using a chair’s arm or a desk top or some other fulcrum.  The nightmare is slipping on ice – I’ve had two bad falls in the two previous years, in both cases someone lent me an arm to get back up. 

Mind you, on stable ground, everything’s great – I can walk, do all my normal activities, and I can handle my motorcycle just fine (despite its heavy weight). 

Moral of the story: you have to be patient during rehab. And you can’t neglect your physio exercices, even at home. You’ll see fast progress once the muscles heal.