It’s now about four days since my knee surgery was completed, and things have gone incredibly smoothly so far. I came home on Tuesday night, about 24 hours after the surgery. The hospital offered to let me stay another night, but I was eager to get home to be with my family, and the use of crutches came back to me very quickly. I’ve been mostly horizontal since then, hooked up to a cold therapy machine that circulates ice water through a sleeve that was placed around the knee at the end of the surgery. Wish we’d had that twenty years ago! Much easier and more consistent than the ice packs, and one gets used to the cycling of the pump — one minute on, one minute off — quickly enough. I’ll probably try to use it less starting this weekend.
I’m hoping that the pain has been peaking the last day or so. We’ll call it “manageable” thus far. None of this, of course, would be manageable without my wife, who has been a trouper thus far and will have to be even more of one once her school term begins in a couple of weeks.
All things considered, I feel like an extraordinarily lucky fellow.
I’ve spent an ordinate time around hospitals so far this century. Our experience with the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Columbia-Presbyterian hospital following the premature birth of our eldest child in 2000 was almost uniformly positive. But our experiences with hospitals during my mother’s struggles with pancreatic cancer and kidney failure from 2005 to 2006 were far less positive and led me to dread the thought of going in myself, in ways that never occurred to me twenty years ago.
But the experience at St. Vincent’s Manhattan was just about as smooth as could be. I arrived at the admitting office around noon, waited briefly, was sent to surgical reception, filled out some forms and received our number (18), which my wife was asked to carry with her during the afternoon, and then all of a sudden they were ready for me. I saw Dr. Feldman in his scrubs, who used a marker on my right knee to identify it as the one to work on and had me sign a release for the “osteotomy.”
“And all the other stuff,” I replied as I signed.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “You’re the seventh today. We scheduled you last because yours is the most complicated.”
And then the anesthesiologist, Dr. Donald Matthews, came by to talk about options. Incredibly friendly and reassuring guy. I had two options, both of which were equally easy for him to administer. He said I could do general anesthesia. The upside is: you’re asleep, and then you wake up and it’s done. The downside: possible nausea, mental disorientation afterward. Or I could have an epidural combined with something to make me pretty out of it, if still awake. The upside: not as invasive as general. The downside: well, that awake part, plus it will take a while for the feeling to come back into my legs, and in men the last thing to come back is often the ability to urinate, so I’d probably have to use a …
Enough. I made my choice. General. He thought it was probably the right choice. Given that the operation lasted four-and-a-half rather than three hours, I’m pretty certain it was. Dr. Matthews told my wife and me to expect that it would last longer than three hours, and he was right. And he assured her that there wasn’t really any point in her hanging around the waiting room. He took her cell number (“I’m sure we have it, but I’ll take it just in case.”) just in case she needed to come back earlier for some reason.
Last things I remember: Dr. Matthews asking me about my previous surgery and telling me that in coming to Dr. Feldman, I was coming to the right guy; my saying that I happened to be a New York Rangers fan since 1973, which I took to be a nice convergence given Dr. F’s association with the team; Dr. Matthews wondering which operating room Mark Messier had been in. Then, while on the table, Dr. Matthews asking what I taught and then asking for a book recommendation (I believe I suggested Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union); then, Dr. Feldman asking where my previous surgery had been done and by whom, and Dr. Matthews asking, “Ever heard of him, Andy …” and —
Then someone was nudging me, saying I was done, and I could see a clock — it said something like 6 o’clock — and I was being told that I had done very well. And I remember thinking, “I didn’t do anything. I hope Dr. F did very well!” I was in the recovery room and (as in the past) I felt no nausea after the anesthesia but (unlike the past) I also didn’t feel cold or in incredible pain.
Sometime later, after some truly incredible intravenous painkillers, I saw an intern and told him that everything seemed fine, except that my right foot had been oddly numb below the ankle since the recovery room. He said he’d check with his boss, a resident who had assisted with the surgery, and soon came back saying that it was probably a result of the fact that there had been a tourniquette around my leg for a longer than average time. The resident told me the next day that it had been on for two hours, so the numbness was to be expected but would fade. He also told me that Dr. Feldman had ended up doing just what he’d described to me (as detailed in my previous post) and that the osteotomy resulted in a 10-degree correction. The extra time was spent taking out the old graft and old hardware.
I decided not to be concerned about the numbness, since the foot wasn’t looking blue or anything. And indeed the numbness has been steadily receding from the toes down, though it’s still present around the heel.
So far so good.