A Different Kind of Adventure

Riding in the passenger seat, I got the chance to really gaze out of the window as the car barreled north along 395. I always catch myself seeking out the peaks and valleys while driving anyway, but the 3+ hours of riding next to my Pop allowed me to seek out the grain of the landscape. That, and it helped calm my nerves as I headed to the surgery center in Carson.

Pop had rented a car in San Francisco, at considerably lower cost than B-town, but we had to drive to Reno to add me to the contract in person. My stomach rumbled as we pulled back out of the airport, since I hadn’t been allowed food or water after the previous midnight. Dropping me off at the front door, I urged Pop to head out and find himself some lunch, since all that was to be done was get me checked in for surgery. Once inside, I never got to sit still for long: my paperwork was reviewed, the numbers cross-checked, signatures written and pages filed. A nurse emerged to lead back to a curtained room and comfy recliner, where I changed into some sort of super-gown (which could hook into a machine in the wall for circulating warm air), my legs covered in a warm blanket. The nurse took all my vitals — I was surprisingly calm — then started searching for a spot in my arms for the IV, not an easy task considering how dehydrated I was.

Pop came in to sit and talk for a little while longer, and the anesthesiologist, Dr. Chang, dropped by with my surgeon, Dr. Edmunds, to discuss the procedure. She described putting me to sleep, but I kind of cut her off, strongly stating my desire to be awake during the surgery. Dr. Edmunds smiled, first at me, then at Dr. Chang, and we were in agreement that a spinal would be in order. I was whisked to the operating room in my recliner, where I stepped up onto the table. Dr. Chang had me bend forward to flex my spine, the first shot of lidocaine sending a burning sensation down the middle of my lower back. I never even felt the epidural needle go in, just a light pressure, then a warmth and tingling into my legs. All the while, I chatted with the nurses and Dr. Chang about living in Bishop, places to eat, things to do. Swinging my legs up onto the table, I began to notice a delayed response in their activity, my toes wiggling a bit more slowly, a thick feeling in my thighs. When I was asked to scoot up on the bed, my brain commanded my right leg to bend, and it responded by flailing into a bent position and almost crashing off to the side. My ass felt as heavy as lead as I tried to raise it and scoot into position. I laughed out loud at the sensation, then remembered back to the days in grad school when we were given wheelchairs to attempt to empathize with paralyzed patients. We were taught to relax and take our legs and trunk out of movements and transfers, but it never felt like this.

Dr. Edmunds entered the OR, and it was time to roll. Jokingly, he picked up my left leg, smacking my thigh, telling me to “keep it up there! Come on!! Hold it!” We were all laughing in a few minutes, as they carefully draped my leg, wrapping it tightly with an ace bandage to push all the blood out from below, a tourniquet around my thigh to slow the flow from above. I thought he was marking my knee with a pen when I felt a light, pricking sensation, only to realize that he was making the incisions and inserting the frame for guiding the tools into my knee. Once the camera was on, the lights in the OR went dark, and we all watched the screens for the show to begin.

As promised, Dr. Edmunds took me on a grand tour of my knee, starting by heading laterally, using the chomper tool to clear a path through the fat pads and synovium to get to the inner joint. My ACL and PCL looked thick and solid, a small amount of arthritis built up on the underside of my kneecap. A small area of scar tissue, and a few fissures, presented themselves along the lateral meniscus, the tibial plateau showing some early signs of wear. We swung over to the medial meniscus, anxious to discover the source of the artifact on the MRI and found…

Nothing. No tear. No fissures. No degeneration. The medial edge of the cartilage was wavy and flowing, but looked health and whole. Dr. Edmunds seem to search back and forth across the top and bottom surfaces, looking for weakness or fissures, but nothing appeared. However, when he reached underneath the cartilage, he could move the whole thing in grand fashion, and the tissue folded over itself in waves. His determination: a hypermobile meniscus was causing my problems, but since there wasn’t any tear or degeneration, nothing really could be done at this point. Treatment, down the road, would be removal of the cartilage, but that wasn’t happening that day, especially since it looked so healthy. A few fissures appeared on the articular cartilage on my femur, which he cleaned up, and he injected some anti-inflammatory medication onto a few hotspots on the joint capsule. But otherwise, all was well in my knee.

I almost cried from frustration. I had wanted there to be something wrong, something to be fixed. But I knew all there was left was to just lay low and stay off my leg. Dr. Edmunds seemed as frustrated as I was, especially in recovery where I had the chance to tell him about the Challenge from last year, my frustration at being out of shape this year, gaining the weight because of losing my ability to be as active or hit it as hard as last year. In between laughing with him and the nurses and keeping the air light around me in the recovery room, where others were not having as “easy” a time as I, I asked about heading back to the gym this week, to start riding the bike or working out. “Better to lay off for the week,” was his wise answer. I frowned a bit at that, but I knew he was right.

As soon as I was in a higher-level recovery room, the nurses brought Pop back and we hung out, twiddling thumbs and laughing with each other and the nurses while I waited for the spinal to wear off. My legs were warm and tingling again, but standing was, well, interesting, even with the crutches. Since the spinal knocks out your bladder, I was required to pee before leaving, lest I start retaining fluid in my bladder. Within two hours I was gingerly stepping across the recovery room with my crutches, the nurse watching warily from the desk as I headed for the bathroom. The bandage on my left knee kept me from bending very far, but I could put weight on it without issue. Frankly, at this point I was so damn hungry I was only thinking of getting out of there and finding a good restaurant for dinner! At last, I was able to perform as ordered, and they wheeled me out while Pop pulled the car up. After a good size dinner at the Olive Garden, we hit the road for home, pulling in around 11:30pm.

I tossed a bit that night, not from pain, but from the bandage restricting the movement in my knee. Strangely, there wasn’t any pain, just a sense that someone had been poking around in there. I used the crutches in the apartment, but quickly started to take steps without them. I kept the movement as smooth as I could, rolling over my left foot, bending the knee while I walked. But mostly, I just sat in bed and napped, read my book, and checked the computer. On Saturday, I unwrapped the bandage to find the two, tiny incisions, then just covered the stitches with band-aids. Already bored, I asked Pop about heading to the Whitney Portal for breakfast, and I tried driving. I hadn’t taken a single Vicodin or pain pill, just a little ibuprofen for other aches and pains. The stick-shift provided some nice, easy range of motion for my knee and leg, and I felt pretty darn normal. In fact, I am still waiting for the other shoe to drop in terms of pain. But I’m trying to be good and stay off my leg this week.

Now it’s all about the rehab, and finding a program on which I can stick. My bike is getting a tune-up, I’m re-upping my membership at the gym, I’ll look into swimming at Keoughs once I’m cleared by the doc. These fires in me have to get re-ignited somehow, and I have to make it happen. As cool as this adventure was, I’d really prefer not to have to do it again…


One Response to “A Different Kind of Adventure”

  1. Hey Laura

    Congrats on getting the knee surgery over with. Wish they found something but be thankful you have healthy cartilage. I go in for a meniscus repair in a couple weeks and can’t wait to get it over with so I can get out and play. I guess this is as good a time as any. It was annoying to be limping around all summer so let’s hope for quick recoveries. I know it’s hard but take it easy for a couple weeks. I’m going camping with my dog for my rehab. If I have to sit around it may as well be in a tent in the Sierra.


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