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My ‘knees-érables’ in recovery: Who knew?

The author's Fitbit

For Christmas this past year, my darling husband gave me a fancy-schmantzy Fitbit! Little did I know how much the little noodge of a wrist thingy would figure in my recovery from knee replacement surgery.

But then, who knew that when they said recovery from knee replacement surgery would take a full year, that what they really meant was I’d have to learn to breathe again? But wait … I’m getting ahead of myself.

Having my right knee replaced last August was one of the best things I could possibly have done. It took a mere three months, really, for the knee itself to get full range of motion back to normal, and even better than it was before the surgery, and now, when I walk, I forget that knee ever had the many bone spurs that used to cause such pain, such crippling.

No, the knee, per se, accommodated itself to my body in the predicted time, and due to my rigorous physical therapy regimen, I even got the use of the knee back sooner than later.

It’s the rest of my body that has taken so long to recover and I am still very much in that process. Not that it’s a bad process. In fact, I’m enjoying the victories I’m achieving weekly. But I will say that this part of recovery was unexpected. I thought my body was in good shape, certainly good enough to welcome my new knee fully and with enthusiasm.

What I didn’t take into consideration was all the time my body had spent compensating, in fact, overcompensating, for where the defective knee took it to work at all. Because I still had to walk on it, the bad right knee forced my entire body into several years of accommodation that, by necessity, forced most of the rest of my body to work less efficiently, and, in its particular way, get bent out of shape. Subtly bent, but over the years, definitely bent out of shape.

Add to that the months I took off from walking any real distances (O.K., let’s be honest: the months I allowed myself to be coddled and treated like a princess) and my body gladly took its cue to relax so totally, I soon wasn’t able go more than a block or two without breathing heavily. This surprised me. Why? Because, as a singer, my breath has always been plentiful and strong. But soon, after being a lazy bum for six months, (funny how those months flew by, but it always does when you’re being waited on hand and foot), I realized my knee was perfectly fine. It was the rest of me that had to catch up.

First, concerned about my breath and its connection to the heart, I went for cardiology tests to make sure nothing was wrong in that department. I was soon reassured by my doctor that my arteries were, and are, to quote him, “beautiful.” It made me feel oddly glamorous to be complimented in such a way: I have beautiful arteries! Good to know.

So now, I have started really getting out of my far too comfortable easy chair in the den, and I am walking. That’s where my new Fitbit enters the picture. The goal is walk at least 10, 000 steps a day, and by carefully parsing my neighborhood into several walkable chunks, I have managed to get up to about 6,000 or so. It’s stunning that it is taking me this long to get my breath back, but I can feel more and more efficiency developing in that area of retraining. Each time I go a few more blocks, I feel like I’ve conquered Mt. Everest. When I pick up an 8- or 10-pound bag of groceries at my local market, I pretend it’s my weight training, and practice breathing even more consciously as I trudge the blocks homeward. Sometimes I arrive home and feel like an oil puddle on the floor, I’m so out of breath and tired. But each time it gets easier and easier, and though still not great, I can feel my endurance returning slowly but surely.

And that’s the part of this recovery that has surprised me — how long and carefully I must work to get myself back to where I was before the surgery. But now, my new goal is to walk the entire San Francisco Botanical Garden in one go, and I’ve begun that lovely process already. The gardens are a new discovery, and I am glad for this treasure that has remained hidden from me all this time I have lived here. I can’t believe it took me this long to discover the Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park. And by the way, if you’re a San Francisco resident, entrance is free.

And about the little miracle that is the Fitbit: It gently buzzes me every hour to remind me to get up and walk, in case I have become too enthralled by sitting at my desk writing or watching the horrible news on MSNBC. It buzzes gently and says (across its little screen), “Feed me” or “Only 167 more steps to complete in the next 10 minutes.” Then when I complete my 250 steps for that hour, it buzzes me again and congratulates me!

It’s like having a tiny personal trainer on my wrist.

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