Operation: Terra Firma

It was my day of reckoning. A seven hour round trip to Coventry to see my surgeon for his verdict on whether the transplanted cartilage had been successful or not.

The clinic was running over an hour behind, and the fracture clinic waiting room was fit to burst. We nursed coffees in the atrium lobby, and waited. And waited. Our 6am start slowly caught up with us. The tannoy system called out ticket numbers, and patients stood up in turn as if they were collecting Argos orders. A lady nearby coughed so hard that she surely dislodged a rib. Just as we were about to politely move away from her hacking fit, my name (or near enough) was called.

In the cubicle, we made small talk as we waited for the curtain to be drawn. The consultants on the other side discussed other patients – an ACL reconstruction here, a knee replacement there. Just as I heard my name, the curtain was pulled to one side with a dramatic flourish.

The surgeon, Mr Spalding, smiled over his half-moon spectacles. All the questions I had prepared in advance escaped me. He immediately confiscated my trusted leg brace, then began testing the stability of my knee. My reaction was very British – I pursed my lips and tried not to complain as he prodded my scars and stretched out my knee. After all, I was grateful for his work and didn’t want to moan about my symptoms.

‘Talk to me, then – where does it hurt?’ he asked.

‘Well, down both sides, especially when my leg tries to fully extend…’ I look up at him, before continuing, ‘And this side hurts when my foot twists.’

The palms of my hands began to dampen as he pulled my knee around. I was fitted for a new robo-cop style brace which would arrive in the post, and be worn religiously for the next three months. ‘I can lift it to a controlled 80 degree bend, but beyond that it feels like something is going to snap. But, you know, otherwise it’s great!’

He studies my knee for a few moments longer before delivering the news. The transplanted cartilage seemed stable, and the procedure has largely been a success. Before I have time to celebrate, he follows up with a swift second blow.

My muscles had suffered severe atrophy over the past five weeks, so I urgently needed to strengthen my quads and especially my left buttock, which had sadly sailed south. My calf was so tight my leg was a good three inches shorter than the other.

The surgeon assured me that I could now learn to walk again. My face must have betrayed my scepticism – I’d been following the rehabilitation guide as gospel, and that clearly stated that no weight should be applied before 6 weeks. He smiled, before attempting a different tack.

‘We’ll need you to take it easy – you don’t want any knocks as your knee is still fragile. You will need to work on building up your muscles before you get back to work. I’ll pass you on to the physio now so we can get your confidence up.’

The physio called David entered, and having spent the last year working with him, I knew I was in for a rough ride. He asked me to rock between my feet, gently easing my weight off the crutches. When I eventually allowed more weight on my left leg, a sharp hot pain poured down my shin. I pouted and pointed my grumpy face towards him, as if to say ‘See?!’ He laughed, chiding my laziness for letting my leg turn to jelly. We watched my leg wobble.

His banter at my expense was a welcome distraction as it beat crying. The next exercise, one that involved him grabbing my bottom and repeatedly telling me to tense it, was something I don’t think my Mum will forget in a hurry. He said it was good to see me smiling. I told him it was a grimace. He shrugged.

David was tasked with straightening me out, a difficult job that he seemed to relish. My walking gait, even on crutches, was unusual – I forgot how to lift my foot once it had been planted, and opted for raising my hip and swinging it back round to the floor. It wasn’t pretty, and I had to waddle up and down the corridor until it looked natural. It didn’t feel natural. I was dragging my foot like a zombie. It hurt like hell. Fat tears lolloped down my cheeks, taking my mascara with it. I couldn’t read my body, or instinctively know when I’d done a ‘good’ step. My technique needed considerable work.

Pulling my trousers hastily back on, I thanked the team for their help. I shook the surgeon’s hand, realising too late that it was a bit slick. I wiped them on my clothes before picking up my crutches again – safety first.

You can watch a video of me taking some steps on my Facebook page here, as I’m too stingy to upgrade my blog.

Here’s a picture of our garden. Now that I can amble slowly down there, I can see things close up rather than relying on the binoculars.

Flowers

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