“How come you want to remember it?”
“Why celebrate the anniversary of your surgery?”
“Forget about it, don’t make it a big deal.”
These are some of the things I have heard people tell me since my total knee replacement four years ago. Taking a moment to look at the bigger picture, I can see where there are subtle truths that embody these questions and statement.
They were right in some ways. How come I want to remember such a dark time? Why would I want to celebrate being bedridden on a hospital bed and learning to walk again? Why keep talking about it and making the event more powerful than it should be? I understand the perspective and I am sure many of us, myself included, have uttered similar words at some point to someone we care about from a good place within to help that person move forward.
But the other truth is that everyone processes seemingly traumatic events differently. For me, I’m a naturally sentimental person. I am not the type of person that typically forgets, but I do use what I have been through to bounce back up, persevere, and help others along the way.
I decided to write a sequel to my original blog post I wrote a few years ago, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of a Total Knee Replacement, on the fourth anniversary of my surgery today.
The good, the bad, and the ugly parts of our lives can evolve. They help us to see things differently over time. Here is what I have learned these past four years:
You can still celebrate during dark times.
TKR (total knee replacement) surgery helped me realize that I can overcome anything. I remember that my surgery was originally scheduled for June 22 that year but as the professional procrastinator that I am, I postponed it by a week. That week happened to fall on when the 4th of July would be occurring in the United States. So to put it into perspective, I watched fireworks from my hospital bedroom window and had a mini celebration with loved ones. The nights in the hospital leading up to that day were probably the hardest ones of my life and bringing some normalcy into my recovery helped tremendously. You can cry but then it’s up to you to decide if you will smile and laugh. I chose the latter. Now every time this holiday rolls back around, I remember that night. It is sort of symbolic for me because that the night sky resembled my darkest hour, but the lights from the fireworks brightened up my world and gave me some hope that better days are to come- and they did and will continue to.
You will and can forget about it.
When I say forget about it, I mean that the impact of the surgery will not be as strong over time. As you physically heal, your emotional healing follows. This is how I knew I had come full circle. A couple of summers ago, I went to the Beyoncé and Jay-z concert in my city. There were several times whether at the airport or any other event, that I hated needing to tell a security officer about my replacement before approaching the metal detector. I found it awkward mainly because I didn’t want the attention on me. But over time I started to not care anymore and went about it like any normal routine.
As we approached the detector to enter the stadium, I quietly reminded myself to give the security guards a heads up. I was a little nervous but funny enough I was having a good time laughing in line with friends that I forget and walked right through. The alarm went off in front of thousands of people. I quickly made a mad dash to the security guard and let him know about my TKR, only to have him say, “Oh! We got a knee replacement!” If it was an earlier year into my recovery I would be mortified, but to my surprise, I wasn’t.
Accepting help is OK and needed.
If you think to live with rheumatoid arthritis strips you of your independence, surgery does that and then some. With TKR the dependence on others was out of my control. We all need someone or people in our lives that we can rely on. It doesn’t make you weak, less than, or a loser. I became more confident expressing my needs to hospital staff and doctors, and not downplaying what I was feeling. There were some days I needed to be alone, and I voiced that. There were other days where I needed a shoulder to lean on and I voiced that too. This experience led me to have an even stronger voice when it came to my health needs and in all other areas of my life in general.
I am not going to sugarcoat surgery. Regardless of what it can help with, it sucks. There is nothing fun about it. It’s painful, traumatic, and down-right depressing. For never breaking a bone or spraining something growing up, a total knee replacement was a big deal for me. But before this, I had the trauma of a diagnosis and everything that came with it too to deal with. I went 0 to 100 when it came to my health.
The Four Aggravators; scar tissue, inflammation from a pre-existing condition, pre-surgery state of the knee, and lack of motion in certain parts are the bad parts of a TKR I have dealt with the past four years.
These have been the most aggravating of my journey, hence the phrase “aggravators.”
Rest assured though these aggravators have improved over time- slowly. My knee was different the first year out of surgery, then how it is now. (Read my original article to get the 411 on these aggravators).
THE NOT SO UGLY
My favorite thing in the world before joint damage and surgery was to wear shorts and skirts. As visible signs appeared and I started to limp, I tried to cover it up as best as I could. I turned into someone I didn’t recognize. Someone whose fun spirit got stripped away from illness.
I felt the physical damage and deformities I already acquired were ugly and that a TKR was going to not only be the icing on the cake but the cherry on top. I know this is not true and the outlook I had on my situation was anything but positive during those years.
The physical healing started to happen way before the emotional for me, and it’s been that way for many others I have talked to. We can become so consumed with getting physically better that we neglect the one area that will also help us get there too; our mental and emotional well-being.
For a while, I would look at my legs and get sad that my knee would never again look like my other one. Eventually, my knee and leg started to feel like they were part of my body. I noticed this a couple of years ago and nowadays I can go about my day not feeling like I have a foreign piece in my body.
The truth is that RA is ugly and when it rears its ugly head in the form of surgeries needed or other challenges, it can make one feel that way. The saying you need to, “feel it to heal it,” is real. My knee scar and any other signs of disease were not ugly, my thoughts towards myself and the situation were. We can become hard on ourselves when we don’t see the results we want or when healing doesn’t occur on our perceived timeline of when we think it should happen. All these expectations turn our outlook towards the negative. We can only do the best we can at the time and keep trying, remembering to surrender the rest.
One thing that was a catalyst towards my healing was connecting with others on social media who had been in my shoes. They showed off their scar proudly. It was then that something clicked. I thought about the days I couldn’t walk two steps, the pain, all the doctor and physical therapy appointments, and everything else I endured, and how I should be damn proud of myself too.
As cliché as it sounds, that was inspiring to me. I wondered if I could ever get there that first year out of surgery. I am here to tell you four years later, that I did and you can do. The mind is a powerful tool in our healing journeys. You will learn to love yourself in a new way. The parts you thought were ugly or damaged, turn out to be the most beautiful parts of you.
View the discussions on the original post below:
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of a Total Knee Replacement (Rising Above rheumatoid arthritis)
Total Knee Replacement | The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Arthritis National Research Foundation)
Total Knee Replacement: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Yahoo Lifestyle)