I had a bath this morning. I doubt I am any cleaner than the extensive soap and flannel body wash I had standing on one leg each day since I left hospital after my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) knee operation on Monday. But I feel completely different.
And how you feel is vital. When you have an injury, illness or something else that knocks you back – especially as a freelance, potentially alone for long periods – you need a strategy to cope.
On Tuesday, the surgeons explained that my (left) knee was worse than thought. My cartilage was so shot it was removed completely. And I had arthritis.
I have not checked the scale for arthritis but the docs made clear this was not moderate or mild or whatever the first stage might have been called. It was definitely a notch above that.
There is useful information on osteoarthritis from Arthritis Care (links opens new window). I now know a lot more about it and feel more comfortable, but all I was thinking of then was that I was getting old and infirm, fast.
On Wednesday, I was at home, alone for much of the day, on my bed, with an aching knee that hurt more when I did the exercises set by the physio. I got a bit down. I needed a strategy to cope.
Laugh and the world laughs with you, they say. I am even more extreme. You can make a joke of anything; nothing is sacred. I love the sick jokes when famous people die or there are national tragedies. I hate people who make jokes but don’t like jokes made about themselves.
So first I made jokes about the operation:
- The two screws in the knee, along with the plate and seven screws in my right leg, mean I am now worth more at the scrap yard than I am as a working model.
- I have changed my will from cremation to smelting.
- My insurance has gone down because when I die the insurer gets to take me to the scrap metal dealer and get some money back.
Then I came up with the idea that if my knee has grown old fast and my body remains on average 43, then there must be part of me that is still a teenager.
You can divert yourself for hours imagining different bits of you still performing with such youthful vigour. I resigned myself to the fact that I still had the mind of a teenager, that was all.
2. Physical recovery
I had a sheet with 5 exercises I was supposed to do, 10 repetitions each time, 4 times a day. Some aim to straighten the leg, some to bend it to 90 degrees. They hurt, I wasn’t going to hit the target.
Eventually I dug out the old bags of frozen mixed veg and applied them to my knee (never eat anything made from frozen mixed veg in our house – they are only ever used as ice packs). This helped enormously and I did the last round of exercises with less pain and more muscle extension.
It was so good that even in the night I was able to fully straighten my leg, which I had not been able to do before.
I now get the ice out for each of the four rounds of exercises and have loads more flexibility.
3. Retail therapy
I spent some money to cheer myself up. I bought a book and some records (and my daughter came home from school and caught me on Amazon so I bought her a new book too).
But I also took some Facebook advice from Eugenie Verney, an NUJ member who ran the London Marathon for NUJ Extra link (opens new window), the charity I chair. She recommended a Cryo Cuff. So, for about £100 (link opens new window), I ordered one of those too.
I have not been eating as much. On Thursday I was ravenous again. Having spoken to Arthritis Care this morning about how much pressure each extra pound puts on your knees, perhaps I should not be pleased. But it cheered me up. I had a glass of wine with dinner too.
5. Getting about
You can move on crutches but it is harder to move things. So, my top tips include:
- Baggy shorts with big pockets into which you can fit things (or you need a small rucksack)
- Single cup thermos with secure lid, for carrying cups of tea about in your pocket
- Cycle-style drinks bottle, with waterpoof stopper or lid, so you can carry cold drinks in your pocket
6. Undone tasks
We all have jobs we hate doing and we can never find time to do. Mainly these involve technology and help desks.
Bed-bound is a good time to spend the hours required fixing problems and on hold to help desks. My Macbook is running better than ever as a result of yesterdays hard drive doctoring.
And you feel like you have not wasted the day completely.
Have I mentioned them? I spoke to the press office this morning. Get in touch. Write about arthritis. Here are a few things I learnt in a 5-minute phone call:
- They have a helpdesk and offer free self-management courses in cognitive behavioural training – re-pacing your life and setting yourself new goals.
- You need to re-think the way you do things. So much of what we do is random and ill-thought out, but changing the order and timing to cut down unnecessary movement means you can often still do as much, just more easily.
- 40-something is a common age to get arthritis, especially for sporting, active people (so I’m not old, after all).
- Joints are meant to be moved, so even when painful, it’s best to move them.
- Technology has already moved on and new knees, for example, are much better these days. Things can only get better.