“I have a wedding in three weeks, what do you think?” I asked the in-hospital physical therapist the day after my double knee replacement. The day that I couldn’t get up without nauseated grimacing. The day I couldn’t lift a toe, let alone a knee, up onto even the lowest of the low stairs in the hallway.
“Perhaps a bit ambitious, but we’ll see,” she smiled encouragingly. “Every day you’ll see a little more improvement.”
“I’m going,” I said, returning her smile, with a bit of “watch me.” After all, I had proclaimed in my pre-surgery blog that I’d be dancing with my walker at Kristen and Mike’s wedding. And, I’m not one to make empty promises.
Two days later, I was sent off to Kessler Rehab for a week, where they had me not only climbing stairs but stepping in and out of bathtubs, cars and kitchens. One day, I overheard Jackie, an occupational therapist, say she was going to a wedding on the 19th. And, because of the serendipitousness of my eavesdropping, and subsequent barrier-less barging in, I learned she was Kristen’s maid of honor.
Now, NOTHING could stop me from getting to that wedding.
As anyone who has ever been in rehab of any kind will concur, rehab is easy. You’re safe. You’re monitored. You’re living in an altered reality. The real work comes when you go home.
On the eleventh day following my surgery, I was released into the loving arms of my spouse and youngest son. I was petrified. Even though we had practiced in rehab, I had serious doubts that I’d be able to bend my legs enough to swing them into the car (it proved easier than before the surgery), navigate the front porch stairs (piece of cake) or venture up the stairs to my recovery room (did it).
My ever-loving spouse is as private a person as I am public. Unlike me, he does things out of the goodness of his heart, not for affirmation from the world. He rarely reads my blogs because it’s hard enough for him to have to live through my open-to-all adventures, let alone relive them as I recount them, action-for-action, word-for-word. I try to leave him out of my stories, penning him in as a minor character only when necessary. After all, why waste words of praise that will only fall on blind eyes?
However, I’d be remiss not to give him a shout out for his courage, concern and unconditional love in his recent undertaking of coach and caregiver. A role I’d never in a million years willingly take on. And certainly not with a post-op patient like me.
I thought I had it good in rehab. But, it was nothing compared to the royal treatment I received at home.
He took me for walks. He took me for rides in the car. He made me beautiful salads. He doled out pills. He supplied me with endless ice cubes. He pulled those ridiculous compression stockings over my swollen feet in the morning and strapped me into my hideous immobilizing braces at night. And the one time I started whining because I had forgotten my kindle downstairs, he snapped.
“No breakdowns! I’ll get your kindle.”
“But, you just came upstairs,” I sniffled, frustrated at not being able to take care of my own needs.
“I don’t mind,” he said. And he truly didn’t.
But still, I wasn’t going to take advantage. So, every day, I pushed myself a little further and became more and more independent. Before long, the spouse went back to work. Left to my own devices, I found my old self peeking through; picking unidentifiable floating objects out of the dog’s water bowl, braving the stairs multiple times a day, de-crumbing the kitchen counters, driving to physical therapy, bringing in the mail, kicking the walker to the curb, doing laundry and preparing meals.
So, when the wedding day rolled around, three weeks to the day after my surgery, I was revved and ready.
“We won’t stay late,” the spouse said, always eager to leave a social engagement right when I start hitting my stride.
“Agreed,” I said.
After all, it was hot as blazes out there. And though I did get special dispensation to ditch the thick, white compression stockings for the day, I still had to wear long, black pants to hide the long, ugly scars that still had remnants of tape and steri-strips dangling from the wounds. I knew I wouldn’t get my much-needed afternoon nap. And, it was a long mass followed by a two-and-a-half hour break before a long reception, far enough away to dabble in Friday night shore traffic. I knew I’d be exhausted half way through my first scallop wrapped in bacon and truly didn’t believe I’d make it to the cutting of the cake.
Somewhere between First Corinthians and the Holy Gospel, Jackie, the fun-loving therapist and maid of honor, pivoted from her perch at the tail of the bride’s long white veil, and caught my eye, giving me a thumbs up.
I knew, in that moment, with God as my witness in that cavernous Catholic church, that I was going to exceed my recovery goal.
The reception was perfect. Love and laughter filled the room with heart-felt speeches, family from near and far, and friends who had been through it all with the groom; stealing bases, stealing cars and stealing beers. And everyone in that room knew that Mike had just landed the steal of his career, catching not only a beautiful bride, but a perfect partner for life.
And so, when the music began to blare and the bridal party began slip sliding their way across the dance floor, I knew I was going to do it.
I looked at my spouse. He looked at me.
“You sure?” he said.
I nodded and hobbled to center stage. I don’t remember exactly what songs were playing, but I’m thinking Sweet Caroline, High Hopes or Twist and Shout is what got me out there. I’m not a dancer in the best of shape, let alone with two brand-new knees. But, there was something in the air that made me kick up my cane, find the bride and dance with her on her wedding day.
Another week has passed and I’m doing laps around the neighborhood, carrying my cane merely to ward off rogue pit bulls and small children on scooters. I just finished making sausage and peppers and husking corn on the cob. I vacuumed up dog hair this morning, pulled daughter hair from the bathroom drain, lugged laundry up and down the stairs and wiped watermelon juice from the refrigerator shelves.
I’m not sleeping well (if at all) at night because of my dang immobilizers (two more weeks!) but I’m getting some really good power naps in my recliner. I ice my knees four times a day, do about 100 heel slides a day and take a plethora of pills ranging from iron to Celebrex. I go to physical therapy three times a week where Brittany cheers me on, buckling my knees back until my eyes bug out and then announces, “You’re at 130 degrees!” making the struggle worth the pain. But, I swore off Tylenol last week and just keep bending and stretching and waiting for the day that I wake up and finally say, “I’m SO glad I got my knees replaced!”
In the meantime, I’ll just keep my sights on my recovery goals, modest as they may be. Sleeping when I can. Dancing when I can. And, always remembering that it takes a village. In the meantime, mark my words. I’ll be back to raising Cain, without my cane, long before the world is ready.