Sleep is a great natural healer and I intended to get a lot of it. As soon as I got home from Spire Bushey Hospital I sank into my once fashionably low pine bed. I woke up a few hours later and discovered I could not get out of it. I flopped back on the pillows to consider my options. These were limited as I had automatically locked the front door on the inside. I could call the emergency services and giggled at the thought of a burly fireman crawling across the roof and crashing through the attic window just to pull me to my feet. But maybe not as my last encounter with the fire brigade – when I accidentally set fire to my neighbour’s fence – had not ended well.
While I was day dreaming I did a set of my exercises after which I felt stronger and ready for one more attempt to stand up. I pushed down hard on the bed. The pain in my legs was intense but brief and then I was upright. It was a small triumph but it cheered me up and I shuffled into the kitchen to make a cup of tea using just one crutch so I could carry the tea into the sitting room. I had already arranged the furniture to accommodate a large padded footstool in front of the sofa to rest my legs on and I knew, from several test runs, that this was a good place for a siesta. For the next few days I was in dormouse mode and slept most of the time just waking up long enough to drink some tea, eat some food and either do some exercises or go for one of the two twenty minute walks that Mr Skinner, my surgeon, had recommended I do every day.
Suddenly it was time for my Outpatient physiotherapy appointment and my first bus ride. I was looking forward to claiming my right of passage and the ousting of lazy youngsters from the disabled seats. In fact it was me who told to move by an elderly couple who claimed I was sitting in ‘their’ seat. I smiled sweetly and said of course, just give me time to get up on my crutches. I was glad of the opportunity to get out of this very unsuitable seat with hardly any leg room without losing face. I would not be using it again.
At my stop the doors swung open and I was gazing at a yawning chasm between me and the high kerb. No, the driver could not lower the bus and clearly he was not prepared to edge a bit closer to the pavement. Every eye was on me as I planted both crutches on the road as far away from me as possible and then gingerly stepped down between them. I yelped in anticipation of the pain I expected to experience but in fact there was very little. The painkiller I had taken before leaving home in anticipation of some vigorous physiotherapy was working. I hoped I had made the bus driver feel guilty.
Herbert Trabanino, my physiotherapist at Spire Bushey, was aware of my determination to go walking in the Dolomites two months’ hence and devised a programme to ensure I could cope with the ups and downs of hiking in the mountains. Armed with a new set of exercises I converted the dining area of my kitchen into a mini-gym. Initially I sat on the table to lift weights strapped to my legs. As the number and variety of exercises increased I added extra equipment. The backs of my bar stools provided support while I stepped up and down onto a sturdy tool box – its first useful purpose since a relative had re-cycled it as a Christmas present.
Any time I was tempted to skip some exercises or miss out a walk I imagined I was in my favourite resort, Madonna di Campiglio, watching the sun rising over the snow encrusted peaks, my favourite time of day. I had worked there so often that pictures of the place sprang easily to mind. I also re-lived other memories of my travels as a holiday rep as I had set myself a task for this period of inactivity which was to sort out all my photographs. I remembered my eyes filling with tears as I stepped through the Sun Gate above Machu Picchu and gazed at the magnificent structures below, bathed in sunlight. It had been worth the four day hike to get there. My eyes had filled with tears on another occasion but not with joy – sheer desperation. Returning from India via Istanbul I had been informed that one of my group was not booked on the short flight to London. I had to stand down and let him take my place but I was not doing so without a fight. Tears flooded into my eyes. It worked and we all got on the flight.
I spent many happy hours reminiscing making sure I did not to stay in the same position for too long so I regularly stretched my legs or got up and walked around the flat. The only way I could see out of the window was to sit on my exercise bike and it was not long before I began trying to work the pedals. I put the saddle up high and started by back peddling but within the first week at home I was able to do full revolutions, very slowly. This gave me an enormous sense of achievement and spurred me on to greater things such as shopping and changing my duvet cover, a task that always defeats me.
Shopping on crutches was an interesting experience which I incorporated into my daily walks. These were getting longer every day. When I reached my local supermarket I stuck my crutches into a trolley while I shopped. I was limited regarding the number of items I could buy as they all had to fit in my rucksack and often had to make a second visit the same day. But I had plenty of time and I enjoyed devising different routes there and back. As I got stronger I began my walks carrying a crutch in each hand (having been assured by Herbert that I could walk short distances without them) and then started using them when necessary. Although my knees felt very tight when I first started walking they soon loosened up and I could enjoy being out in the fresh air.
After two weeks my siestas were getting shorter and my nights were getting longer. I had discovered that tightening and then relaxing my thigh muscles when I experienced discomfort was more effective than getting up to make a cup of tea and take a painkiller. I still took a painkiller before doing a full set of my exercises or having physiotherapy but I had stopped taking them at night and felt better for it. Every night I sat on the bed and, one knee at a time, I looped a towel round my ankle and pulled gently bending my knee as far as it would go. I held that position for one minute. It did hurt but it was worth it to improve the flexion in my knees. Once the staples had been removed I rubbed cream into the scars before doing this which helped.
Some tasks required some lateral thinking. When my lipstick jumped out of my hand and rolled under the bed I thought it was destined to stay there for several weeks. I could not abandon it without at least trying to retrieve it. I flopped down face first onto the bed and then wriggled round like a grounded seal to the right place before bending over the edge to fish it out. After that incident I began practising kneeling on soft cushions.
As soon as felt able to drive a long distance I went to my retreat on the Dorset coast and took daily walks by the sea using the Nordic walking poles recommended by Herbert. They worked a treat and this walking technique allowed me to get up some speed - enough to pass other walkers who hitherto had left me in their wake. I had a regular route that took me along the sea front before climbing up several flights of steps (properly) to the cliff top. This often involved an obstacle course of small children hurtling down to the beach with buckets and spades flailing around them and anxious parents screaming at them to stop and wait. I was the only one who obeyed this instruction. Every day I pedalled for twenty minutes on the exercise bike I had installed before I had surgery and I set up my mini-gym the constituents of which had to be carried up two flights of stairs one at a time. It was all good exercise.
Two months went by very quickly as rehabilitation is a full time job and only left time for occasional outings with friends. But all the effort was worth it when Mr Skinner pronounced me fit to lead the walking holiday that I had put in my diary as soon as I had decided to have both knees replaced. I had no doubt in my mind that I was capable of taking this trip especially as I would be leading from the back in my role as the back marker. A local walking guide would be at the front. Full of enthusiasm I crammed my Nordic walking poles into a holdall that was two inches shorter than they were and set off for the airport.
Click on the following link to read A Tale of Two Knees - part one
Click on the following link to read A Tale of Two Knees - part three