From Super-Woman to Insufferable Wimp
By NANCY PATRICK
Honestly, no one ever labeled me a super-woman, and I hope I have not become an insufferable wimp. I do confess that hyperbole appeals to me; my husband Mike calls it exaggeration and a tendency to see life’s situations as all or nothing thinking.
As a school girl, I demanded of myself that I make all A’s on my report cards. Anything lower meant I had brought shame on myself. Two incidents from my childhood illustrate my unreasonable expectations. When my mom picked me up from school one day during third grade, she found me sitting alone on the playground, crying as I looked at my report card. The card contained a B, ruining any happiness I might have had over all the A’s.
In high school, I set the goal of all A’s for my career there. As it turned out, I made a B for one six weeks’ grading period—in P.E. of all things. This class was a regular gym class, not an athletic or team class. We exercised, learned rules for some sports, and did whatever our teacher/coach told us to do. I can assure you I did everything the class required because I loved the clear expectations of rules.
Now, fifty-two years after I graduated from Abilene High, I still remember the pain of seeing that B on my otherwise perfect record. I identified with Hester Prynne in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. She had to wear an “A” to expose her sin of adultery; however, I wore a “B” to show my imperfection.
I’ve shared this background to give context to a completely new experience in my life. I categorize myself as a go-getter, the do-gooder, the Energizer Bunny, the domestic goddess, and the can-do person. Three weeks ago, I lost all those titles. I should have known it would happen, but I guess I had not fully understood what complete knee replacement surgery does to the human body.
For over five years, I have suffered with serious knee issues, much as many seniors do. I went through many steroid injections, wore all kinds of braces, alternated heat and ice treatments, and swore to manage my knee issues without replacement surgery.
Unfortunately, my knees became so painful and unpredictable that I couldn’t trust myself to walk without a cane. My knees would sometimes buckle under me without any warning. I knew I had to make a choice—change my active lifestyle to a sedentary one or endure the surgery.
I know many people who have had this surgery, so I faced my situation with some knowledge of replacement surgery. I also knew rehab would be necessary and painful. Of course, as a self-driven person, I decided to do both knees at the same time to get it over with. My surgeon even agreed that my general health and fitness made me a good candidate for the double procedure.
Yes, I had it done. Yes, I am “glad” I did it. Was I prepared for anything that immediately followed? Absolutely not! Prior to surgery, I had watched a partial video of knee replacement but had to quit before its completion. I could not believe the utter brutality of this surgery. It looked like a construction project rather than surgery. The surgeons used saws, hammers, screws, and cement. The legs look like the victims of a jack-hammer assault.
My goal focused on getting my life back. When I came out of surgery and woke up, I discovered a bruised and battered body that I didn’t recognize. My legs—purple from my ankles to my groin, both front and back—looked and felt like painful, throbbing slabs of useless flesh.
My brain seemed to have entered shock faze rather than thinking mode. What had happened to me? I couldn’t move; even the thought of moving nauseated me. When my nurses came in to check on me, they told me I needed to stand up and use my walker to go to the bathroom.
I wish someone had taken a photo of my face at that moment because total disbelief and confusion filled my mind. The nurses put a gait belt around my waist and told me to stand up. Since compliance is my middle name, I had to give it a try.
Never in my life have I felt such physical pain in my body. I had no muscle control in my legs. My incisions, approximately 10 inches long, beginning above the knees and ending below the knees, were held together by thirty shiny staples. Everything inside that area had been cut, sawed, cleaned out, screwed, and cemented to contain brand new foreign items that comprise my new knees.
I won’t go any further with my three weeks of progress since then because I know most of my generation have had or will have the procedure done at some point. I want to focus on the ongoing, daily lessons my husband teaches me at home.
Some people, not fortunate enough to have a spouse or family member available to care for them, hire professional help. When I realized just how dependent I would be for several weeks, I suggested to my husband that we hire help.
“Of course not,” Mike said. He is perfectly capable of taking care of me. After fifty-two years of marriage and independence, I found accepting this kind of personal care especially difficult.
I have a walker, a bedside potty, and a shower chair. I grow a little stronger each day, but face myriad chores I cannot do alone. Even when I can do something, my energy flags quickly, so Mike serves as my second set of hands.
He does everything from taking care of my personal hygienic needs to laundry, cooking to cleaning, and medicine distribution. I often think of the proverb “Pride comes before a fall.” I have never resented helping others with the kinds of needs I currently have, but I also had never expected to be the recipient of such care.
I have thought many times of the difference between a brand-new marriage and an old, established one. Fifty-two years ago, Mike and I pledged to love and honor each other, to be faithful and committed in sickness and health, and to work through poverty or riches. When we made that commitment, we had no idea what that would entail.
As I sat on my shower chair the other night with plastic trash bags wrapped around my wounded legs, waiting for Mike to adjust the shower for me, I looked at him and asked, “What if you had had a preview of this fifty-two years ago?” I knew his answer before he gave it.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing