The Aging Equestrian: Man vs. knee, part 3

Can a bionic knee get Jon Bicho back in the saddle? He shares his experience of going under the knife.Top photo: Riding a friend’s horse and doing some cross country schooling at Full Gallop Farm in Aiken. Photo credit: ABicho Images.

If you missed it the first time around, check out part 1 here and part 2 here.

From Jon:

Sometime during the chemical induced sleep that I was placed in, saws, chisels, drills, a staple gun, cutting devices and a few other items that were designed by members of the Spanish Inquisition were used. A badly abused and worn out knee was removed, several screws from a prior surgery were removed and a brand new knee was installed. I know these things because I watched several versions of this operation on YouTube. I warn those of you that have weak stomachs, do not watch the video! You will faint or toss your cookies. It is brutal!

Knee pictures screws

Photo: MaddRabbit Images

Andie took a before picture of my legs. I have always been a bit bow legged.  I this get from my father. As one can see I have a slight bow in my left leg. My right leg is severely bowed. This is caused by severe wear of the knee joint. You can see this in the picture of my legs.

Night Before Surgery

My knees the night before surgery. Photo: ABicho Images

1 month post surgery

My knees one month after surgery. Photo: ABicho Images

I find myself in a private room with Andie and a nurse. My leg I cannot feel. In fact I cannot feel anything.  I can sort of remember people coming in and out, checking on me and not much more. Sometime during the night the epidural wore off. Some of the women who are readers may be familiar with this type of pain control from having children. The building pain made aware of my leg. It felt strange and tight. I also noticed that for the first time in years, I could not feel any grinding coming from the knee. Moments after these keen observations my right hand had an involuntary spasm and pressed the nurse call button. I needed something for the pain. Something really strong. I have just been welcomed into the most pain filled two weeks of my life. For those of you who say “Just take some happy pills and chill!” I reply, I cannot take narcotics. Welcome to my hell.

Over the next three and a half days I spend my time working with the Physical Therapy people and learn to get around. They flex my leg, run me through exercises and work with me on skills that I will need once I get home. Most of these things are everyday acts or skills that most of us pay little attention to.  Climbing stairs, getting in and out of bed, using the bathroom, getting in and out of the shower and sitting and rising from a chair. Most you are thinking, what is the big deal?? I do this everyday. Try doing these things using a walker or just a cane and one good leg. These tasks are harder than they appear to be.

Time to head home. Our house was never built for a person that has little use of one leg. In 1756 when our house was built, this type of medicine was not even thought of. I believe bleeding patients using leeches and placing maggots on wounds was cutting edge. But this also means I have to be a master of stairs to do anything I need to do in the house.  Since Andie works, and I cannot drive, I must be able to do the things I need to do alone. Since this is not my first entry into the knee surgery rodeo, I am very well prepared. This is only my 6th knee surgery on the same knee.

Andie has another idea that will make the next few days easier.  Milo is our Jack Russell. True to his breed he is a very busy, always curious, must be everywhere dog. He also manages to be underfoot at the most inconvenient moments. To avoid tripping me up, he is boarded at our vet’s until I am comfortable on my feet. I protest this move, but Andie is right (I have learned in 22 years she is right a lot. I have evolved!). Once I have adapted he comes home and provides me with lots of Jack Russell love.

Milo Car Ride

Photo: MaddRabbit Images

The physical therapists that visit me at home measure my progress in degrees of extension and flexion. I measure my progress in days till I get the staples that close the incision removed. All 28 of them. These are the items that I believe must have been invented by some master constructor of torture devices. I hate them. The pain of having the staples removed was ecstasy. I also measure progress in the number of strange colors that my leg is turning. Green, yellow, purple, black and blue. A quiet reminder that this is not minor surgery.

What I did not realize over the years is that the wearing out of my knee meant that my right leg had become shorter than my left. It turned out to be about one inch shorter than my left. Post-surgery my legs are now the same length. This is means that my balance is off and my lower back also hates me now that my hips are level again.  Add this to teaching my body how to walk again with a knee that works as designed, muscles that have forgotten their intended job and I look like a robot learning to walk.

As time passes the pain of surgery fades. I begin to acknowledge the level of daily pain that I was in. The joint that had given me so much pain is pan free. I get sore from the PT work that I do, but that is temporary and minor. I feel that a great burden has been lifted from me.  Every day gets a little but easier. Every day gets me closer to climbing back in the saddle with my trusted partner and friend of almost 18 years, Cheer Cheer.

But first I must get through outpatient physical therapy. I have worked with Dan before. He will not be easy on me.

When will Jon get cleared to start riding? Stay tuned for “Part 4” tomorrow!


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