Left Total Knee Replacement: A Rough Road With Smooth Ending (So Far)

knee

LEFT: LTKR incision on Day 21  RIGHT: X-ray of new knee

It’s already been three weeks since I had my left knee replaced. I still have some swelling and a bit of pain, but have made considerable progress when looking back over those few weeks. For example, I can switch between walker and cane around my apartment (I use the walker when going out since I still feel a bit unsteady) and can now put on shoes without use of the special long-handled shoe horn I was given at the hospital. My foot on the surgical side is still swollen but not severely as the last couple of weeks.

Many who follow this blog are aware my recovery from right knee replacement in January went smoothly with no post-op complications, so I expected practically the same outcome when I checked into the hospital September 14 for my left knee. Two days on the surgical floor and then moved to rehab unit for a week. No big deal, right?

Wrong.

Arriving at the hospital and prepping for surgery went without any problems. I was taken into the operating room on schedule. I don’t remember anything else before waking up ill from the Dilaudid and feeling more exhausted than when my right knee was done. While I was also sick from Dilaudid after my January surgery, extreme tiredness was something new.

The exhaustion – accompanied by weakness and periods of being lightheaded and dizzy – resulted from me losing a large quantity of blood during surgery. I spent an extra day on the surgical floor for observation and physical therapy was delayed yet another 24 hours.

My post-op hemoglobin was 8.4 (normal levels range between 11.6 – 14.6 ) and bottomed out at 6.8 over the next several days. Hematocrit levels started at 25.5 post-op and fell to 19.7 (normal levels usually vary from 34.1 – 43.3), resulting in me receiving four units of blood transfusions and being prescribed ferrous oxide (fancy name for iron) pills. I was kept in the hospital until strong enough from physical/occupational therapy and my blood levels at or near normal ranges in order to assure my safety once I returned home. I’ve since recovered from the dizzy and lightheaded spells, but spending 15 days in the hospital seemed to be the longest of my life!

However, there were some good moments: One of the night nurses jokingly said I needed to have a setback because nobody wanted me to leave! (I replied I’d come too far and had no intentions of backsliding). A few occupational and physical therapists hugged me the day I was discharged from the hospital. I had none of the horrible bruising on my leg that I’d gotten in January; just some small spots of discoloration around the incision. The incision didn’t drain much and I found myself not needing many pain pills (ice or Aleve usually sufficed). Within a few days of returning home, I was able to stand up in the shower instead of using a stool, do small loads of laundry, and dust furniture.

Today the in-home physical therapist came and my knee bent at near 90 degrees. Not bad for three weeks post-op, eh? The steri-strips have long fallen off and the incision looks great aside from a few patches of dry skin (nothing a bit of Bio Oil won’t solve). The in-home occupational therapy service was closed out when it appeared clear that I’m able to do many things on my own and the apartment was safe and “up to standard” for my recovery.

My six-week follow up with the orthopedist is October 27. I’m working toward either using only the cane or no assist device at all by then, but won’t panic if I don’t reach either goal. Considering what I went through with the recent surgery, I prefer to take one day at a time.

Next year, however, I’m aiming to participate in a 5K walk, something I was never able to do with my damaged natural knees. With my new knees, the sky could be the limit. I almost feel 25 again!

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