Posts Categorised: 2019 Knee Saga
Mind and Body
Time enough has been spent sunk in a trough of despair. I walk out to my neglected, dusty SKODA and assess my ability to do an emergency stop. Done! When did I do an emergency stop last anyway?
I hobble down to the post-office and find that the world loves cripples. I’m pushed to the front of the queue.
My dear friend GGB has this eccentric idea that we have to read all 11 volumes of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. I’m way behind. Am I really interested in the minutiae of French society in the early 20th Century? No! However, we meet with a couple of other friends and have infrequent but entertaining evenings which are mostly about finding ways NOT to read too much Proust. So far, we have read Jane Austin’s Emma for comparative purposes, visited an exhibition about Proust and Medicine of the Belle Epoque, arranged for an erudite old friend to show us the film of The Dreyfus Affair, and explain the impact on Proust (who was half Jewish and wrote about it in Guermantes Way – Vol. 3) and read How Proust can Change your Life by Alain de Botton. (He hasn’t!)
Wake up those Taste buds:
I scoop us a kilo of ripe tomatoes, one green pepper, one cucumber, half an onion, garlic, sherry vinegar, plenty of virgin olive oil, some stale white bread, salt and pepper. WHIZZ (once in the magimix ) WHIZZ! (Again in the nutri-bullet) and Hay Presto I have the most delicious, creamy GAZPACHO. Serve in small glasses, ice cold.
I am inspired by my favourite film, Almodovar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Gazpacho features prominently with hilarious consequences when imbued by the Spanish Guardia Civil.
I buy myself a static bike; pay my plumber a fortune to assemble it and here I go trying to get my reluctant bionic knee to complete a rev. The secret is to put the seat very, very high and miles back. That way you hardly have to stretch your leg at all.
Down those terrible basement stairs, we descend once more. Tom never leaves my side for the next four days. Here’s a picture of him trying to put on those awful compression socks. They have a hole at the end of the foot which means that toes are constantly sticking out. Presumably this is a design purely to irritate the patient.
My children-carers are all wondering what will happen next week when Tom has left and the girls are back at work. After a nasty moment when a “home-help” was mooted I booked myself in to rehab in Reading.
Absolutely nothing I want to write about those five days.
Because I was still heavily involved in the opioids I became zombified.
Bit confused about opioid/opiate so I googled it.
“Pain-numbing medicine made from the opium poppy plant are called opiates. Man-made versions of these drugs are opioids, but that word often refers to all forms of opiates. Opioids and opiates work the same way. Opioids are narcotics, which tell your brain you are not in pain.”
Got that straight now?
The opioids (codeine in my case) take me on a journey into the darkest recesses of my mind. I don’t exactly hallucinate but I conjure up images of my surgeon wearing green welly boots and a grass skirt doing a tribal dance above my knee wielding a chain saw… Whooping!
They also blow you up, kill your appetite and reduce your mind to mush. I thought I would read the whole of the second vol of Proust during the recovery period. Some hope! Didn’t read a word for four weeks. Perhaps the thing I object most to these drugs is that after a few weeks they stop telling your brain you are not in pain and the expectation is that you double the dose and there we go into prescription addiction. I stopped taking them and the brain pain is getting better and the knee pain is getting worse.
Conversely, it is the physios’ job to ensure the brain registers as much pain as possible. The physiotherapists in rehab are brutes. Sometimes disguised as angels with pink smudges of lipstick across their mean lips. The favourite mantra is:
“If you don’t straighten your knee you will go back to hospital and have a MUA (Manipulation Under Anaesthetic) and that will be MUCH worse than doing a few painful exercises.”
“You have one hour with us and 23 hours with yourself. If you don’t straighten your knee it’s your fault.” Yes, they really do say that!
“Relax!” They shout! “Let gravity do its work.”
Today, I’m going to tell them that I respond better to praise. I could give them a script:
Well done Margie! Your knee is a little more flexible!
Well done Margie! I can just feel the effort you are putting in to this!
Well done Margie! You are amazing!
They could just change the name and use it for other people.
I’m five weeks in and haven’t got my life back. 13th November is my birthday and brings me to the six-month mark.
According to various tittle-tattlers I hear, I will be saying:
“So glad I had knee replacement surgery, I’ve got my life back.”
WATCH THIS SPACE……
Gina, Tom, Amy
Vicky (Personal Trainer)*
*Vicky Neal – 07944 543
Can’t recommend her enough if you want to get fit in the park or in your house.
**Emerson Rodriguez – email@example.com
Very firm and very kind. He knows exactly what he’s doing. Highly recommended!
Good bye Stepney! Gina came to take me home in an Uber. We had to wait three hours for the discharge papers, the drugs and the wheelchair.
Our taxi driver was having a full-on row on speaker with a colleague. He raced over the bumps with little regard for the doped-up passenger in the back. The car stank of fags.
We opted for the outside staircase to get down in to the flat at the bottom of my house which I normally rent. My son-in-law walked in front of me and I put my hands on his shoulder. He is a big guy and if necessary, would provide a soft landing. The descent was terrifying. Cat has chronic arthritis and has similar difficulty in getting downstairs.
After one night we became alarmed at my temperature “spiking”. My old mercury thermometer measured 101 farenheit and Amy’s modern contraption which you shove in your ear came out at 38. I never checked if they were the same.
So we rang NHS 111. They have a script and ask things like, “are you diabetic?” The conclusion was that we needed to talk to a doctor who would call us back. Doctor called us back and said temperature was an indication of infection and therefore we need to go to A & E. He would arrange an ambulance. The ambulance never came so we went to UCL Hospital in an Uber.
Ubers seem to feature heavily in my life at the moment. Normally, I never go near a taxi.
I was wheeled right through the waiting area and within a very short time was seeing one of Mr James Youngman’s orthopaedic team. Don’t know why I was so lucky.
Samples were taken from every orifice and within two hours I was on the 10th floor, by the window in an orthopaedic ward. Amy and Gina went home.
I spent two years at UCL doing a masters in Spanish and Latin American Studies and now I’m looking right down on the domed building. I finally graduated when I was 64 years old. Better late than never! I was tormented by footnotes and referencing and they came down on me like a ton of bricks if a single coma was wrongly inserted.
I once wrote:
“José Martí galloped across the battle field on a white horse”
“How do you know the horse was white?” asked my teacher.
“Because I read it!” Said I,
“Reference it!” He instructed!
Two days later after searching just about every document ever written about José Martí I had to tone it down to “Martí galloped across the battle field…” I never did find out where I had read it.
Modern Literary Theory was another compulsory nightmare. I struggled with Foucault, Barthes and Spivak and wrote a mediocre essay which pulled me right out of the running to get a distinction. However, I romped through the films and literature and produced some pretty solid work – and I should say so myself as no one else is going to say it! I wrote some weird essays including one about sex and the body in medieval Spain and actually went to the Wellcome Institute to see some of the instruments that were used for various bizarre and unmentionable practices.
All this was churning through my mind as poor 90-year-old Mary opposite me was battling with pain and uncontrollable diarrhoea. She had a smashed hip and was shamed and tearful as she had to ring the bell yet again to be cleaned up. The nurses were mostly, heart-stoppingly kind, but on some occasions really mean and left her wallowing in her own filth and ticked her off for ringing the bell too often. My heart broke for her. One cleaner refused to pick up her hairbands which she had dropped. So, I hobbled over and gave them to her and reported the bitch.
One thing I’m beginning to learn about the disappearance of resilience is that you can cry as much because you have dropped your pen down the side of your bed as you do with the screaming pain of a hip or knee replacement. It’s all the same. Humiliation, shame, fear and helplessness.
Once a day, the God of all Gods, Mr James Youngman would come and peer at me. My blood count wasn’t returning to 0-5 (actually it was sitting at 150) No idea what that meant but not good. He thought my knee might have gone a bit wonky because it was so bent but I think the spiking temperature abated. No question of discharge on day one. The bottom line was that my surgeon was on a road trip in Ireland and anyway information is not shared between the private sector and the NHS. Mr J Y and his team of doctors all looked so rich, healthy and fresh. Then, like a sub-culture all the different levels of nurses and carers and cleaners, working their butts off and probably not far off getting paid the minimum wage. It was like a microcosm of the world we live in.
On Tuesday morning Tom stepped off a plane from Boston and there he was by my bedside laden with smoothies and smoked salmon sandwiches and other delicacies. I had absolutely forbidden him to come and thank God he came.
Tom is my first born. First and largest born. He weighed 4.870 kilos or in old speak 10 pounds and 11 ounces. He was an only child until he was four and spookily psychic. He knew all sorts of things he couldn’t possibly know. He had an imaginary friend called Little Darling who usually sat with us at meals. I can’t even imagine how such a cheesy name came about!
His father and I were literally in awe of this amazing bundle of fun that we had produced. 44 years on and he lives in Boston with his wife Ariane and my three bi-lingual grandchildren who can switch from English to American without even noticing. I hoped Trump might have them scuttling home but no such luck!
I’m discharged on day two from UCL Hospital. We go through the same procedure of waiting for three hours for meds and papers. Tom looks at this chaos with astonishment. A woman works away trying to locate the drugs which have got stuck somewhere between the pharmacy, the ward and the windowless room in which we all wait. She is unfailingly polite and sympathetic. Tom says kindly to her, “this has to be the worst job in the world you are doing…” She tells him she only has to do it twice a week otherwise she would go mad.
The world outside (Stepney – that is) presumably continues unperturbed by me in screaming pain in the London Independent Hospital. As I spend plenty of day two throwing up into strange hat-shaped egg-carton receptacles this is what Charles Saumerez-Smith has to say about one of the cutting edge venues just down the road.
“In documenting the rapid gentrification of Stepney, a landmark was the opening of Dirty Burger on the Mile End Road. It occupies a grand Edwardian building next to the Trinity Almshouses run by Soho House. It is an instant 1950s saloon, complete with light industrial styling, where you can have flagons of Crate ale and superior, but not expensive, burgers.”
Day two my daughter Amy arrives with a little suitcase quite early in the morning having just got off a plane from Berlin where she was working. For any of my readers who have tricky teenagers, take note: Amy was the naughtiest, wildest, out of control, argumentative, crazy, hedonistic teenager. I nearly gave her to social services on many occasions. The only thing she never did was stop working. Her school grades were amazing and she reserved all her wildness for weekends and evenings.
On day two or three Roxy, her two year old, came in to my private room like a whirlwind, bombarded me with why this and what that: all the tubes, and weird things you find in hospital bedrooms were questioned and then she noted that actually her knee was far more ouchy than mine. She reminded me so much of Amy! Kit, aged 5, was less interested in the gory details but found the mechanism of the bed going up and down intriguing and suddenly my legs would be shot above my head and my head dangling over the edge of the bed. I loved that visit and for just a nano-second stopped feeling sorry for myself.
My resilience didn’t just decline, it disappeared. I sobbed every time I was asked to do anything, I remember the catheter going in, coming out, the physiotherapists coming in, torturing me, going out, coming back, wheeling me at great speed down the corridor to try walking up steps – and down steps, feeling travel sick, feeling nauseous, feeling dizzy, feeling dirty.
And a woman down the corridor yelling all night, “HELP ME YOU FUCKERS!” (just occurred to me that maybe it was ME. Don’t think so!)
Pre-Op, I said to Mr M:
I have three very supportive, loving children, but they are not to be my carers. I don’t want to go home until I can be completely independent.
Oh, we never send people home until they are independent! Said He!
Bollocks!! How do you make a cup of tea with a crutch in each hand?
I went home on Day Four. My daughters were running around me in circles.
Saumarez Smith, C. (2017) East London. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.
You might wonder why my next journey is taking you to Stepney. Yes, you heard correctly! Not Nicaragua, Mexico or even Cádiz but Stepney! Where the hell is Stepney? I hear you say.
Stepney is by far the oldest part of East London situated in Tower Hamlets. Over the centuries it has been grand, not so grand, slummy, destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed again and rebuilt.
Here’s a bit of compelling local history: In 1927 The North side of Mile End Road was bought up with a view to building Wickham’s Department Store which would be the Selfridges of the East End. There was just one fly in the ointment – a certain clock maker, Mr Spiegelhalter, refused to sell his property. Here is a picture of the completed building.
May 21st 2019 at 6 a.m. My Uber shoots past St Dunstan and All Saints Church (10th Century) and we glimpse the much-maligned Corbusier Housing Estates built by the London County Council in the ‘50s. I am deposited outside the London Independent Hospital (top pic.) – a building noteworthy for its un-noteworthy-ness. This is where I’m going to have knee replacement surgery!
Health insurance is a controversial topic in our family. Tom, my son, lives in America and pays thousands of dollars a year for his family’s health. Correction, his company pays the thousands of dollars. They never need to wait to see the right person. One daughter has it and doesn’t use it and the other daughter doesn’t have it and wishes she did. I have it.
The “procedure” is paid for by Aviva, except for any medication I take away with me and the crutches. Bizarre! It is a queue-jumping operation as I would have had to wait several more months to get the same operation on the NHS. The compelling and slightly scary argument from my anti-private-insurance friends is that I will get less good pre-and post op treatment and the same surgeon so what’s the point? There is always the private room issue. At this stage I had never been in an NHS ward so I didn’t have a view. Little did I know that all too soon the situation would change!
21st May is an auspicious date. I am one of 4 girls and the next sister up, Alix, died aged 21 in horrible circumstances and this is her birthday. She would be 75 today. Both my remaining sisters, Sarah and Vicky believe firmly in the after-life and here is the card that Vicky sent me.
My youngest daughter Gina has opted to spend day 1 with me. She is the owner of a three-legged rescue Labrador and a golden retriever. She is a dog-walker, does doggie day care, over-night stays, holidays and about 22 miles of dog walking a day. If you go to her tiny two up two down house in Hackney there are dogs sprawled all over the house but mostly on her bed. Her clients absolutely adore her and she is probably the best dog carer in East London. Today, all that is put aside to become a Mum-carer. She says she is very tired and the moment I go in to theatre she will get into my bed and have a much longed for snooze. Greatly to her disappointment they took me off IN the bed and she was left with nothing but a hostile chair and a slightly dusty floor.
A woman with a rasping Scandinavian voice and unpronounceable name turned out to be my anaesthetist. Somehow, she coerced me into having a spinal (I wanted a full anaesthetic followed by an epidural when I was asleep to feed in copious amounts of pain killers.) I had made a plan with Gina’s friend who is a NICE, non-raspy voiced anaesthetist. So much for Patient’s Choice. I was terrified of a needle being plunged into my back. I have to admit that after kicking up a considerable fuss about the insertion of the cannula (thing they put in your hand) I can’t even remember the spinal. Day 1 I was euphoric. Lots of lovely numbing stuff coursing through my body.
My winter jaunt was to Cádiz. I hired a tower. There were 116 steps from pavement to bed. Up through a building, past an angry man, out of a door onto a roof, down some steps, across the roof, up a ladder and there was my four floor tower. Suspended from the sky was my bedroom.
I didn´t have a heart attack, but I did wear out my knee.
Having no car seemed, and was, a good idea, but I walked every day for miles and miles. And the town outdoor gym was irresistible.
I hobbled home when my time was up.
“You realize you have been acting like Peter Pan” scolded my osteopath looking down his long nose.
I acquired a “knee man” called Mr M. Everyone I know of my age has, or knows of a knee man. Surgeons are so extraordinarily modest that they drop the doctor title and become just plain “Mr”. I have never actually met a surgeon who was not unashamedly arrogant. So, I can´t quite understand that convention. My Mr M takes the cake.
“How do I know you are a good knee man?” Ask I
Him: Puffing himself up
“How many knee men do you know who got a BAFTA for open knee surgery on Channel 5?” He leans across the desk and hands over the link he has scribbled down on a doctoral notepad.
So, I´ve got an actor doing my knee replacement surgery.