My Personal Experience And The Knee Replacement Operation

This article is the result of a request by my physiotherapist to tell my readers how I felt and what I experienced at each step of the way from the start of the process up until the very day I write this article 7 months after the operation and well into the recovery phase. He felt the sharing of how I felt would help new patients realise that their symptoms and feelings were just like mine and all was going as it should.

How I felt before the operation

In the weeks just before the operation, the following symptoms or feelings were all occurring constantly:

1. a pain or ache was always present often around the knee cap;

2. the knee, calf and ankle remained swollen;

3. the sciatic nerve was uncomfortable;

4. getting in and out of the car was difficult;

5. walking up and down stairs was becoming difficult;

6. At night, at about 8.30 pm., I would suffer restless legs for at least 30 minutes.

7. Often my feet seemed to be hot.

8. My feet/legs would feel uncomfortable in bed and keep me awake. So, to sleep at night, I found I needed to wear socks even in the summer.

9. Sometimes, I could only sleep on those nights if I sat in a reclining lounge chair.

10. My big toe on my right foot often felt uncomfortable or ached. It, too, kept me awake.

What was my leg like before the operation?

1. I was bandy because I was unable to extend my right knee/leg fully.

2. My leg was swollen.

3. Sitting for any length of time created stiffness in the leg.

4. In bed, I could only get comfortable enough to sleep if I lay on my right side.

What I and my leg looked like after the operation

When I awoke in recovery after the operation, I was attached to all sorts of wires and tubes. My right leg was padded and enclosed in a pressure bandage. It was obviously swollen. My left leg, too, had a pressure bandage. My right leg was raised.

How I felt after the operation:

I felt

1. Itchy;

2. Strung up(with tubes and wires);

3. Lethargic;

4. Nauseous;

5. Groggy and half awake.

How I felt on leaving the hospital

I felt confident I was on the road to a quick recovery. My specialist was extremely pleased with my progress. My balance was good. The wound was healing well.

The pain had subsided dramatically. It seemed my pain level was lower than is the case for some other patients.

What could I do when I left hospital?

I could walk with only one crutch. I was able to walk up stairs easily but I had to put both feet on each step when walking down the stairs. Walking down required more effort and care than walking up. It was hard to get the knee to bend going down the stairs.

I could shower without any great difficult except for washing my right foot. It required me to bend over to wash it as I could not bend the leg up enough to reach it.

In the toilet, rising from the pedestal after doing a motion required me to push down on the pedestal with both hands to rise up to my feet.

Getting in and out of bed caused no real problem. Turning over in bed was. I needed to be careful of my right leg in bed when sleeping on my side. The weight of my left leg often made the right leg uncomfortable. Conversely, even the right leg on the left leg created the same feeling. (I have mild sleep apnoea so I am unable to sleep on my back.)

Dressing was a problem. I found it difficult to put on my briefs, shorts and slacks. Putting my socks and shoes were difficult. I had to use a shoe horn to get my right shoe on. To do all of these things I often sat on the bed or a chair.

Sitting in a lounge chair was difficult because it was difficult to stand up. So I sat in a stout plastic chair to watch television. That chair could also have been used in the shower if my balance was poor.

What is it like now?

At the time of writing, it is seven months after the operation. I believe I’m now close to the best my knee and leg will get. I walk well as far as the physiotherapist is concerned. I am able to walk 18 holes of golf without pain. I’m tired at the end of golf as I normally was. The knee is still slightly swollen. This may always be the case according to my specialist.

Sometimes after a lot of physical exercise the ankle will feel swollen. But it doesn’t look swollen. This often occurs at night and the feeling becomes apparent in the shower.

I walk up and down steps and slopes normally without any pain or problems. Climbing ladders creates no problems.

Occasionally, I’ll get a little pain in the knee, middle of the thigh and calf. The kneecap clicks less and less. Kneeling in church provides no pain. Although I still have some trouble getting up from sitting on the ground or kneeling on the ground working in the garden.

The knee causes me no sleeping problems. The exercise programme I have to continue provides no problems. I am able to use a road bike but I keep the seat up high so that I extend my leg fully to avoid any ache from extended bending.

Dressing is becoming easier as time goes by. I no longer use a shoe horn and I can almost put my right shoe on in the same way as my left shoe.

With showering, I’m still bending down to wash the right foot but with much less effort. The bending of the knee is improving all the time.

I am able to run with, dodge and chase my grandchildren without any hassles.

Driving the car was no problem. Initially, just getting in and out of the car as a passenger was a problem. Driving, at first, was awkward. I was only able to drive for 30 minutes at a time before I became so uncomfortable that it became difficult to concentrate. That improves. Now, driving provides no problems.

The problems that I had with my sciatic nerve, my big toe, my restless legs and with my sleeping have all improved dramatically since the operation.

My only hassle is that the knee and leg stiffen up quickly when sitting for any length of time. I continue to take paracetamol each day as directed by my specialist and GP.

Was the whole thing worthwhile?

In a word, “Yes”. I think I’m lucky because of the advice I was given to prepare the knee that led to my quicker recovery. I’m happy I persevered with the exercise programme and the bike riding to prepare for the operation.

Final comments:

• It is important to understand that your recovery will be different to others depending on your age, your life style and the severity of the damage to your knee.

• It is a major operation. So you need to realise it takes time to recover from a major operation.

• When you know you need the operation, prepare physically. “Ride the bike”.