KneeHab: Sex for knee patients? It’s a thing, and other post-op thoughts
Editor’s note: This column is part of an eight-week series about ACL, MCL and other knee injuries. See the Summit Daily sports section for the next installment, and head online to SummitDaily.com for past articles.
Life got so much better when I unbuckled the top strap on my knee brace. So, so much better.
It was Day Two after my left ACL repair when I had the revelation. At about 3 p.m. that day, the surgery center drugs had finally worn off and I could feel every last hole the surgeon put in my leg: four around the kneecap, one on my outer thigh and one long, mean-looking slice above my quadriceps tendon. It looked even meaner laced together with pitch-black sutures, like some kind of baseball from hell.
I knew the pain was coming that afternoon. I’d been there before — I broke my tib-fib in 2014 and spent two months in a walking boot after the doc slid a 5-inch rod into my lower leg — but you tend to forget the little details of post-op recovery and pain, even if they’re by far the only things on your mind at the time. Friends and fellow ACLers had warned me that Day Two and Day Three are the worst, pain-wise, but after leaving the surgery center high as a giddy kite on morphine and fading anesthesia, I didn’t think twice about it.
“This is way better than last time,” I thought on the loopy drive from Edwards back home to Breckenridge. My knee was fat and stiff beneath beige bandages and a dove-white compression sock, but was it killing me? Not at all, even with a big, bulky knee brace circling my leg from ankle to groin.
Then 3 p.m. on Day Two rolled around, and like black magic that brace turned into some kind of $600 co-insured iron maiden. No matter how much I adjusted the straps, the one right above my knee rubbed against the upper sutures on my quad tendon and the lone incision on my upper thigh. Imagine squeezing your leg in the jaws of a monstrous vice grip until fiery needles and dull, deep pain shoot from your heel to hip. That’s about how the top strap felt.
So as I sat on the couch, wishing for and cursing at the painkillers on the kitchen table some 15 feet away, I unbuckled the top strap in frustration. Suddenly, the vice grip loosened and I felt wonderful, angels-on-high-style relief ebb through my entire leg. Dude, I even felt relief on the top of my foot and between my shoulder blades. Shoulder blades! The body really is an amazing machine.
For the remainder of Day Two and into Day Three, I honest-to-god relished the moments I could sit down and unbuckle that top strap. The bane of my existence had become my saving grace.
It’s funny how recovery does that to you — your worst enemy becomes your best friend, and vice versa — and the knee brace wasn’t the only thing to feel my schizophrenic post-op wrath. I cursed like a sailor getting ready for my first shower — I have to wear something called a “cast condom” to keep the sutures dry until they’re removed — but as soon as I stepped under the hot stream, life was good. So, so good. It’s been the same with stairs, car doors, the fridge and my bed, plus a few living, breathing dogs and loved ones: Frustration surfaces first until it’s soon replaced with relief and gratitude.
By the end of Day Three my leg felt infinitely better than 3 p.m. the day before, and by now, roughly a week after the procedure, it’s tempting to shuffle around the house without crutches.
But I won’t. Truth is, I can’t: I’ve been told time and time again that my repaired menisci need at least six weeks with no weight, and so I’ll do what it takes. Any sort of sports injury and surgery comes with at least several weeks of physical therapy, and even though a brace strap was on par with the seventh circle of hell just a few days ago, I’ve got plenty of pain waiting for me at the PT clinic.
First up: reactivating my chicken leg. Within days (or even hours) of the procedure, my leg muscles started to atrophy in response to surgical trauma. Now, I can barely lift my left leg when it’s straight, which is part of why I curse at inanimate objects like my bed. But I’ll keep huffing and puffing and struggling to lift an inch, then 2 inches, then finally as high as my good leg. After that, it’s onto the next circle of hell when I start walking again.
That’s the way of life with ACL rehab, I suppose, or any kind of surgery rehab: One kind of pain gives way to another until, one day, you’re (hopefully) back to normal. The trick is to keep my mind clear and focused on what’s happening now, in the first few days of Week Two, when the strap no longer hurts but my IT band screams bloody murder during leg lifts. In the first few days of Week Three, I’m sure it’ll be something else entirely.
Bring it on, knee.
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