Knee replacement - Take 2

By Dr. Batya L. Ludman, Psy.D., FT · Published January 21, 2022

'May you begin this day and every day with a smile on your face, warm thoughts in your mind, happiness in your soul and a heart filled with loving-kindness for all'

Every Friday for the past three years, since I had my first knee replacement surgery, without exception, a dear friend has sent me a Shabbat Shalom greeting like the one above, often accompanied by a beautiful picture.

She somehow has managed to always find the time to do this, even when her dad was sick and dying and her husband unwell, and throughout corona when the exercise class we both had previously attended was canceled.

Recently, I suddenly realized that I did not even know her last name, and sadly in my address book her last name was listed simply as "Pilates!"

We met in this small class about three years ago. I confess that whenever I got there first, I stole the thickest exercise mat, which I think would have been her first choice, but in spite of that she remained warm and friendly.

Well, Mrs. Pilates came by last week for a hug and to surprise me with a "little something small." I had not seen her since Corona began and her idea of something small was dinner!

Masked, we allowed ourselves three good, long hugs. Although we don't know each other well, she's such a positive person and a true healer. Warm, sensitive and caring, she was just what the doctor ordered. When I am in pain and feeling sorry for myself, thinking of her brings an immediate smile to my face. We all need others to lean on! I am so lucky to have many wonderful, caring friends.

Thankfully, I only have two knees. Some of my readers may remember that three years ago I had my first knee replacement. Because my recovery was not speedy, even though I ultimately finished that first marathon, I did sign up for this next knee marathon, after putting off the inevitable as long as I could.

I have joint hypermobility syndrome. As a child I could do "the splits" incredibly well and was the best by far at summer camp at "can you do this?" when people showed off their "double-jointed" prowess. My weak ligaments and joints have meant that I have had no shortage of orthopedic problems in my life.

A knee replacement is not a small operation. It's one of the most painful surgeries, and you definitely need to have your head in the right place. While the surgeon does the surgery and your physiotherapist teaches you the exercises and motivates you, at the end of the day, you're the person who must do the hard work, multiple times a day for many a week. You must make yourself a priority – and that is not always easy.

I knew that in my situation I had to be able to dedicate a minimum of three months to my healing process if I wanted the surgery to be successful. With family and patient commitments, and waiting until it was the right time, I needed to then make the time for the surgery and not delay things any longer, especially with COVID looming in the background. I'm not sure there ever is a perfect time, especially when you know the path that lies ahead, but my knee was becoming less stable and more painful, and my body announced to me that now was the time, so I had better prepare as best as I could, physically and psychologically.

Our attitude largely determines how we do in life, and I needed to perfect for myself what I work on with my clients – self-care and compassion, putting myself first.

It is so hard to do what is right for us and take care of ourselves when we have so many other responsibilities and people whom we feel we should or need to be there for and look after.

I think that men in general do this better than women. As women, we are not used to putting ourselves first, even when it is to our detriment or when doing so could actually help the very people we love. How many women have said "when will it ever be about me?" when their partners have been suffering with a "man cold"?

It's not easy; and making many a mistake along the way, I am learning as I go.

This time again, I went back to work too soon, possibly overdid it with my exercises, and developed sciatica. That helped teach me that even though I love to walk, right now moderation has to be my best friend. While I had taken three steps forward, I was not at all happy when I took two steps backward.

Pain does not make it easy to stay motivated, but I thought of Mrs. Pilates and her enduring friendship. Working to help take care of ourselves is a work in progress, and it helps when we reward ourselves along the way in any way that we can; and her friendship, among many others, is an inspiration that helps motivate me. I have been lucky to have so many people help me out in so many ways in the past several weeks. Not everyone is so lucky, and that is a huge reminder as I heal.

Before starting this column, I reread my past column on knee surgery ("The marathon of life"). If you are scheduled for any medical procedure or are the caregiver or a close friend, I encourage you to read it in full.

A wonderful teacher of mine says "it's not about having everything, but feeling as if you have everything." With that in mind, here are just some of the many things addressed in my December 21, 2018 Jerusalem Post column that bear repeating.

  • Choose good caregivers. They're essential to your recovery, so make sure that you treat them well. They, too, need care, as looking after us, even for a short time, is physically and emotionally exhausting.

  • Initially, you may be unable to do things and will feel dependent on others, but your goal is to become independent as quickly as possible.

  • Visitors can be good for your spirit. You can't imagine, though, how exhausting it can be to carry on a conversation or sit in one place for 20 minutes in the first weeks after you are home. Ask people to call ahead to see if you are up for the visit. Limit visits and keep them short. You need time to rest, exercise and heal. By nighttime you may be quite uncomfortable and have a hard time getting out of your own way.

  • Don't let anyone visit if they or their family are unwell. Getting sick now is not what you need. My visitors all wore masks. COVID and its many variants are very much with us.

  • Take people up on their offers to help, shop, bring you whatever you need, or walk with you. You'll need it.

  • You'll experience acts of kindness from people you might expect but also from those who will surprise you and whom you barely know. Angels may drop in with home-cooked meals, healthy food, cookies, chocolate, lotions and potions, a story, or a hug, just to help a bit and make you feel better. Appreciate how amazing that is.

  • Initially after surgery, you may find yourself quite boring – repeating your story to anyone who asks, but as you heal you'll be happy to get outside of yourself and actually listen to others. That's real progress! Focus on noticing all that others are doing to help you heal. It's so easy to take it for granted.

  • Recovery is a slow process that takes more time than you think it will or you may be prepared for. It's easy and natural to get frustrated and make unreasonable demands on yourself and others. Don't let the stories and trajectory of others upset you. Everyone is individual in their response to pain, and healing. By being aware of the many factors involved in your healing, you'll be well on your way to better health.

My goal in running this marathon again was to cross the finish line, not to come in first place. Anyone who completes their own personal challenge is indeed a winner. Good luck.

A version of this article suitable for printing is available here.