Keep it Elevated
By Dominic Wightman
Four weeks ago today I went into hospital for a spot of leg carpentry. An osteotomy. My right knee was suffering after twenty years without an anterior cruciate ligament following a rugby injury. I needed my weight line balance redirected onto a separate part of my knee, where arthritis was less. This would see me through to my fifties, the surgeon opined, after which I’d be old enough to have a knee replacement. So, an overnight bag was packed and off I went.
There is something special about surgery under a general anaesthetic. You know there’s a risk of death. You prepare yourself mentally in the weeks and days before surgery. I made sure a will was in place for my wife and children. I left details of passwords in clever places. I even left a note in which I described my desire to be buried not cremated alongside a short passage describing a preference for my eulogy and choice of funeral hymns.
I’m no stranger to death. Having survived Japanese Encephalitis and Sarcoidosis, I know the Grim Reaper rather well. Trust me, he’s the sort of fellow you’d really rather not meet. Think Ed Miliband at a cocktail party.
When the anaesthetist plunged his needle into my flesh this time I was well-prepared.
Waking up five hours later paralysed from the waist down I was less prepared for. I slowly regained consciousness in a large, white room with tubes up my nose, wires monitoring every function and a gorgeous nurse hovering over me. As I stirred she gave me a deep look straight into the eyes, and I heard her slowly say, “You may not feel anything from the waist down.” I somehow managed to mumble in reply, “I’m married, my wife would not allow it anyway.” She laughed. I was back.
As that aspect of the anaesthetic began to wear off in the late evening, I was relieved inch by inch as feeling returned gradually down my legs to my toes.
It was late into the first night in hospital that I began to feel my poor, carved-up knee. I was once stabbed in a Bangkok side alley and the sensation was not dissimilar. A repeating emission of agony which was all encompassing like tooth ache but twenty times worse. The plate and seven pins stuck in my leg were really hurting. I don’t mind pain normally but this bloody hurt. The sweet taste of morphine helped somewhat. I found focusing my mind on other matters to be the best course of action – a pain distraction. I imagined a beach in Venezuela with its sand as white as sugar and its waters as blue as my son’s eyes. The mind can overcome pain. Intermittent sleep helped.
I left hospital a day later. The two day stay seemed like a fortnight. I could leave only after passing the “stair test” when the chief physio has to see the patient climb several stairs using crutches, even if you own a bungalow (I do not). I enjoyed hopping up and down the stairs and passed first time especially because the physio – a retired sergeant major bullying type with few redeeming qualities – was teasing me with a series of awful one liners like “you don’t have a leg to stand on” and “have a nice trip”. So, after a while, and since gas tends to rather build up in hospitals, I farted very loudly. He was disgusted. “Why did you do that?” he asked. “I was bored listening to the other asshole round here,” I replied.
So, four weeks have passed. Four weeks of lying on my back with my knee in the air. I have watched more films and box sets in the last month than in my whole life. Last week I started to get a tad stir crazy. Then a trip to the hospital yesterday made me more positive as healing, according to the scans, seemed to be going very well.
Then this morning I walked back and forth across my bedroom using just one walking stick. It felt great. I am perhaps two to three weeks away from walking normally with what already feels like a new pin.
I will run again this summer. I have promised my daughter I will beat her over one hundred metres. I am an optimist. She is a very slow runner.
Maybe I shall report back on the pages of this new and wonderful blog.
If I am allowed back, of course.
Meanwhile I must return to bed. Up with the healing right leg.
Die dulci fruere.