During my Spring Author Tour, I took a question from the audience about how to maintain one’s health while cruising. I explained how healthy we’d been during our eight-year circumnavigation and added that we’d only faced hospitals and surgeries since becoming landlubbers.

“Serious?”

I shrugged and easily dismissed the question.

“I had both rotator cuffs repaired and Gunter is facing a total knee replacement—but it’s only body parts.”

The audience laughed and the Q&A session at the Point Loma West Marine store rolled on.  If only I knew then what I know now—but maybe it was better not to know.

The following Wednesday, May 15th, Gunter was admitted to the hospital for his new bionic knee, an amazing prosthetic made of stainless steel and strong plastic that will last him another 20-30 years—in other words, the rest of his life.

photo 3 photo 2 photo 1

We’d both attended the total knee orientation class given by exuberant physical and occupational therapists, (PTs and OTs) who exuded confidence and efficiency. “You’re going to be the primary caregiver after he returns home? Good for you!” one of them said to me. What followed was a thorough instruction in preparing our home: remove all scatter rugs; rearrange furniture to allow for a walker; make sure risers are attached to low toilets; and add a grab bar to the shower.  Piece of cake. We were ready.

During the pre-op appointment, Gunter’s orthopedic surgeon assured us he had done “hundreds of knees.”

“What’s the earliest I could travel to Northern Bliss—that’s our lake home—if all goes well?” Gunter asked.

“How long is the flight?”

“Just three hours.”

“Okay, no problem. Make sure you order a wheel chair to take you to and on the plane. You’ll be in the hospital for two to three nights, then you’ll begin OT and PT right away. They’ll come to you. Figure three weeks of that. Then you should be able to finish your therapy up at the lake. Stationary bike and lots of walks. You’ll be fine.”

I know that our surgeon admires and respects us for completing a circumnavigation. He has read both my books, Maiden Voyage and Sailing the South Pacific. Having gone through three prior surgeries with him, a meniscus repair (Gunter) and both shoulders (me) he has had plenty of opportunity to get to know us. Now I wonder whether he overestimated our abilities.  Or the knee was worse than he thought.

After the surgery, I waited in the surgical waiting room, for a long time, longer than he said it would be. I tried to get interested in a book, The Language of Flowers, but I kept reading the same page over and over. Finally, he appeared. His mood is always up, so I couldn’t read anything from his face.  “The surgery took about a half hour longer than expected,” he began. “That knee was a mess. Before I could put in his new knee, I had to clean up all the inflammation that spread to the linings. He’s in recovery and awake. You’ll be able to see him in his room within the hour.”

Try four hours. But finally, Gunter—attached to a plethora of equipment—was wheeled into a semi-private room, next to the window. Machines hummed. He was on oxygen, morphine, and an antibiotic/electrolyte drip.  A CPM (continuous passive motion) machine slowly moved his right knee up and down, up and down. He was out of it. He probably didn’t even know I was there. I sat by his bed, looking at him, then out the window to the rooftops of the city and then back to the machines. I stayed until the night shift came on.

At 7:00 a.m. I picked up a disturbing voicemail on my cell phone:  “Lois, where are you? No one is coming to help me since a long time. Please come help me.” I heard a nurse say that she would give him two pain pills. I rushed over to the hospital. He’d had two Percocet, in addition to the morphine drip that was controlled by him, but monitored by the machine so he couldn’t overdose…and he was hallucinating. All day long, he drifted in and out of sleep; he kept trying to convey his weird dreams and hallucinations. The oxygen monitor kept beeping, a signal that it was below the threshold, but seldom did anyone show up. He was supposed to get out of bed that first day, but no way, Jose! I stayed until the night shift came on. By then, I realized that information was not automatically being transferred from shift to shift.

The second day was an improvement, and but all the OT and PT promised in that orientation did not materialize. I had to be there, to ask, to confirm schedules, and to push if necessary. It was then I realized the importance of being not just a visitor, but a patient advocate, a role that goes beyond that of a caregiver.

The third day, Gunter was scheduled to exit the hospital. These days, in the U.S., certain floors are set up for recovery from surgery. That’s it. Since he could not yet come directly home, he would have to go to a rehabilitation facility—something we had not planned for. Best laid plans…

The rehab facility in La Jolla was where all the orientation promises actually took place.  I was amazed at the tools and tricks the OTs had up their sleeves: the sock puller-upper, the pants grabber, and of course, the walker. Simple tasks can seen impossible when one cannot lift one’s leg or bend one’s knee. The PTs are the taskmasters, pushing patients to do more and more painful exercises every day. And all the while, the CPM machine works the knee for 6-8 hours a day, bending it and forcing it higher and higher, stretching those tendons. I would not have been able to lift that bulky machine, let alone position it underneath Gunter’s leg—from the buttock to the ankle. It was good that part of the therapy was done there.

Now, I’m so happy to have my soul mate home with me again. He is making tremendous progress every day, currently transitioning from the walker to a cane. And before long, we’ll be enjoying the lake and the wildlife at Northern Bliss.

Advertisements