I was debating if I wanted to share my story and put it out there for everyone to see. People who know me personally, know that I like to keep my private life private. Then I remembered something – when I was diagnosed, I came home and I was so upset. So I went online and googled it. I bumped into this women’s blog where she shared her story and it was long, and I still read the whole darn thing. Her situation was very similar to mine and it gave me a bit of peace of mind of what to expect.
Ultimately, I have decided to share my whole story hoping that one day it might help someone.
I always was and still am a very active person. At the time I thought something was going on with my left knee I was regularly working out in the gym 5-6 days a week. By initial advice of my trainer, I stopped running for a while and got a knee brace to use for daily activities and workouts, I also iced the knee at the end of every day to reduce discomfort and possible inflammation.
Five months later I was directed by my Physician to an orthopedic surgeon for consultation and evaluation which uncovered both lateral and medium menisci being torn and the need for the surgery.
The way this was explained to me – it was preferred to have the surgery done at a younger age ( I am in my mid-30s) rather than later due to the nature of the damaged part (i.e meniscus) because of the risk of developing knee arthritis down the road if left untreated. The blood supply is very limited or nonexistent in that area and leaving it to heal on its own was an option but not a good one. It wasn’t impossible from Doc’s words but with my level of activity, it probably was. The method of surgical procedure could not be exactly determined from the MRI or X-ray images right away, but only during the surgery itself. Opting out from surgery at that point with my level of activity could potentially lead to heavier meniscus tear and the method of fixing it would be ” Cutting out the damaged piece rather than repair”. Cutting out the damaged part of the meniscus is not ideal from a medical standpoint but is a much simpler procedure in a way of recovery (patients usually are able to walk the next day after that surgery). At that point, I was told I was looking into hopefully a repair, 6-9 weeks of non-weight -bearing and afterwords physical therapy for a couple of months.
This is pretty much all you may ever be told by your surgeon and the nurses. This article, however, is about my experience of surgery and recovery, and also details that doctors and nurses will never tell you for a reason. The main reason for that is that the recovery process is far away from being an enjoyable staycation.
MY INITIAL SYMPTOMS:
I started feeling unusual aching around my knee after my workouts and sometimes during the day while running errands. Shortly after that, I developed knee tightness which felt not only mildly painful but also very uncomfortable.
PREPARATION FOR THE SURGERY:
There are a few things I needed to have done before the surgery. 1- blood work; 2- wait for the office approve the knee brace and come pick it up and bring it with me on the day of surgery; 3 – get crutches; 4- call insurance for all sorts of verification information. My surgery was scheduled 5 weeks out in order for me to get myself mentally and physically prepared.
10 Things you might want to consider getting before your meniscus surgery
ONE DAY BEFORE SURGERY:
I received a call from the hospital where my surgery was going to be performed and got all the instruction: not to eat from the midnight before the surgery day, what to wear, remove all the body jeweler if any, what time to arrive, what to bring with me, how long the procedure was going to be and the whole entire process behind the doors, what to expect, and what to tell my family what to do with me after they pick me up ( because I was going to be very groggy from drugs after the general anesthesia).
The directions were very clear and I had a chance to ask any other questions I had which put my mind at peace.
THE DAY OF SURGERY:
I arrived on time I was told ( an hour before the surgery was scheduled). I proceeded to the check-in area where I was asked to confirm and sign paperwork. The lady at the desk was very pleasant, calm and thorough. She also asked me if I had any questions about anything at that point. I was calm. I have been mentally preparing myself for this day for 5 weeks. Shortly after I was taken to the back to the pre-op room.
The nurse took my vitals, brought me to the curtained bed area, provided me with clothes to change into ( procedure gown and socks). After I was comfortably settled in bed under the blanket, she asked some medical history questions and proceeded to attach the leg pumping boot on me.
Shortly after the second nurse walked in and tried to start an IV for me. It was pretty cold in the room and I was getting very cold. All my veins hid away ( normally they Are very well visible and plump, I never ever had issues with any types of IV or blood work in my life till now). She took a look at my hand and clearly saw that all my veins were super thin and barely visible). However, she still thought that it was a good idea to try to insert 20 gauge needle into my hand. I can’t even describe the feeling of what happened next. I think I almost fainted from the pain she caused by literary jamming it in my poor hand with NO VEIN being visible. She apologized and said she was going to try the Arm instead, which worked. Thank God! I think I was seriously traumatized for life at that moment. Not even kidding.
My hand was very bruised and very sore for probably several weeks after the surgery. I clearly had nerve damage. I was so mad! It was one more thing for me to worry about an extra added pain for no reason.
Shortly after, I met an anesthesiologist who went over my whole entire medical history and also the details of what type of anesthesia I was getting and how this whole procedure was going to play from beginning to end.
My orthopedic surgeon came in right after to say hi and to confirm everything once again and initialed my leg -” the correct one ” ( so they know not to mix things up by mistake).
Then I was wheeled to the operating room.
All I really remember is the sealing with giant lamps, freezing and literally shaking from cold, and a lot of people all fussing around me and the OR table. I was asked to scoot over to the OR table and lay down. The table was in the shape of a cross. So creepy, but I took those thoughts out of my head quickly.
Then all the nurses and anesthesiologist were all over me getting me ready, attaching things to my chest and covering me with straps and blankets and whatnot. I felt like things were happening super fast. I just didn’t care at that point anymore. I wasn’t even trying to understand what they were doing. There was no way back from there anyway. One nurse said, ” omg, don’t put her out yet she is seriously cold and shacking “. They covered me with more blankets and in a minute or so I was out.
I woke up and the first thing I remember saying was ” it hurts so bad”. I heard the nurse saying to someone ” she is awake and saying she is in pain. I’m gonna give her more medication”. Then I fell asleep again.
After I woke up the second time, the nurse had apple juice for me. That was the first “food” I had in the last 24 hours. To tell you I was starving is to tell you nothing.
It was all a BIG BLUR at that moment. I don’t remember any post-op instructions, putting on clothes, getting up or even getting home. All I remember was pain and being very hungry and TIRED.
And that’s where all the ” fun” begins.
I don’t want to sound negative but if someone told you the story that they’d had or knew someone who had meniscus surgery And they were fine the next day, that person most probably did not have a REPAIR rather they had a SHAVE DOWN. In that case, it is most probably very true.
My surgery was a repair and, I will tell you upfront, the recovery was pretty brutal. I wouldn’t want to go through this ever again.
Like I mentioned earlier, I don’t really remember the very first day after the surgery, I was on so much medication. And everything was a blur. I know I ate something when I got home and went to sleep.
I was sent home with Rx narcotics for the pain to take every 4-6 hours and some other medication for nausea which I never used hence don’t remember the name.
First 5 days were definitely the hardest. I had a lot of pain. On a scale of 1-10 pain was a good 50. I cried several times because my meds would start wearing out after about 2 hours and I needed to have at least 4 hours in between. Then on the fifth day, I called the doctor to ask for a refill and he said they normally don’t refill narcotics and he was very surprised that I was still having pain after 5 days. I was told to continue with an extra dose of Tylenol instead which was fine. The pain subsided on the 7th day of post-op.
I was told to unwrap the knee on the 2nd day and change bandages to the new set and start applying Neosporin to the stitched areas.
My knee was very swollen and blue all around. I couldn’t even see where my knee cap was.
My knee brace was fixed straight. I didn’t realize how heavy it was and how difficult it was to walk with the leg straight out. I started having this pain on the inside of my thigh when I walked. As it turned out I was pulling the muscle with having my leg lifted straight up all the time when walking. That lasted for 2 weeks like that until I had my knee brace unlocked and I could have it slightly bent. Ah, what a relief!
Another misery and I think the worst one for me was sleeping and staying on my back all the time ( well, at least for the first 2-3 weeks). I am a side sleeper and I can’t stress enough how torturous that was for me. I had multiple meltdowns because of it.
For the first 5 days while I was still taking prescribed narcotics I would get knocked out and slept like a baby. But after I stopped and switched to lighter meds I was majorly suffering from insomnia, body aches and headaches because I couldn’t sleep on my back and move much. Some days I would try to fall asleep sitting down. I just felt exhausted every single day.
On the third day post-op, I could take the first shower. And let me tell you – it was a workout. You definitely need someone’s help to get you in and out of the shower, you won’t be able to do it yourself (at the beginning at least). Nonweight bearing means you need a shower chair to sit on and because your leg doesn’t bend you need to stick it out on the edge of the tub. That’s the least to say uncomfortable. After about 5 minutes sitting like that your back and leg start hurting because you are not meant to sit like that. Then to get out of there is even worse. Because now you are standing Butt naked on one leg and leaning on someone and trying to dry yourself and then dress. SMH
By the time you get back to your bed, you are literally exhausted. I felt like I ran a 13K marathon.
I never thought so much in my life of handicapped people and what they have to deal with on a daily basis.
Now let me tell you about crutches. I was nonweight bearing for 8 weeks and the 3 more weeks partially weight bearing ( which is the pretty much the same thing, because you still need to walk on crutches). Walking on crutches is WAY WORSE than what it looks like. It is very difficult. You really need to have a good amount of upper body strength and if you are a heavier person I bet it gets even more difficult. I’ll go straight to the point here what you may experience when using crutches:
- Everything will hurt. And I mean EVERYTHING. The palms of your hands, the armpits, the shoulders, lower back, neck, the glute, the knee and the hamstring of your good leg.
- It is very tiring. Small few walks to the kitchen and restroom will be a full accomplished workout for the day.
- You cannot carry anything. Period.
- Stairs are now your worst enemy.
How to make your time on crutches less miserable
After 3 weeks it does become a little bit easier. Physical therapy definitely helped a lot with a range of motion and stability. I started sleeping through the night. I could dress and taking showers with minimal help. I still do not recommend you try to drive or walk anywhere outside without someone being with you. It is not safe. You need to wait until you can walk without crutches.
BRUISING And SWELLING .
Bruising went away after about a month and a half and most of swelling. Some swelling still was there even after 5 months. The Shape of my leg was very disformed around the knee because of atrophied muscle and my knee looked pretty ugly. Overall the shape of my whole left leg looked nothing like my right good leg.
I started doing a very basic home workout after 4 weeks to keep my other muscles moving even though it was not easy to do at all with the full leg brace. I felt like it was very much necessary to keep up with.
I was also advised not to go back to the gym for about 6 months which I followed.
Exercises you can do at home while you still have a knee brace
5 Moths Post-Op
I was dismissed from Physical Therapy after going 3 times a week and continue all the excises at home on the days in between the scheduled sessions. I strongly recommend if you are in this situation ever, you will only help yourself by doing your extra homework.
My knee was in the smaller brace and I still needed to ice the knee area as much as possible because of the swelling.
I was still having a good amount of swelling around the knee and had a compression sleeve on for most time, specially for when walking.
Icing never stopped. I bought 2 heavy duty ice packs and used them interchangeably (while one was freezing in the freezer I’d use the other one till it melted, then switch). What a fun time, I tell ya! And yet, that was the easy part.
I feel like I need to mention smaller things that actually became kind of big, because I had to readjust my lifestyle and one of people around me.
I needed to sleep with two pillows so the leg is elevated at night. The Icing sessions were literally 4 -6 times a day and I needed to always make sure one of the patches is in the freezer. Physicial therapy was 3 times a week and that was my life for half a year or in better words “lack of such”. I couldn’t take my dog for a walk 😦 because he is very active and strong and my knee couldn’t handle the force at that moment and probably for the about 2 more months after. The first time I took my dog out I felt like I was the happiest person on earth! You know, the small things that we never think of till they are taken away.
One more thing and probably the most annoying. My knee could only bend to 90 degrees after I was dismissed from PT. Frankly, I was shocked, I was mad, I was frustrated and all sorts of confused. The doctor said it will eventually go back to normal but it could take up to a year or so.
Here I am a year after, it still doesn’t bend 100%. Stretching is a bit part of every work out that I now do. I make sure I take 10-15 minutes to work on stretching my leg muscles.
1 Year Post-Op
It has been a year. And what a year it has been!
Things that I still experience:
Knee Soreness if I walk too much during the day.
I still wear the knee brace on occasions when I know I will be walking a lot like airports, gym workouts.
I went back to the gym very lightly after 6 months. At first no weights at all, after about 2 months I picked up baby weights.
I still can’t run.
I have to mention stairs. Haha. I was avoiding stairs till probably about 2 months ago.
I can wear high heels only if I know I will be sitting most of the time. It will most probably get better but before it will take more time. I need to say that my sneaker collection grew significantly since last year. Hah, not that I mind, but just saying..
On one of the pictures above, you could see how uneven my thigh muscles were. It was like that for awhile. It became better after probably 3 – 4 months being back to the gym and using light weighted horizontal leg press, elliptical and later on, stair master.
My knee still locks and it is very uncomfortable the least to say if I stand on the same spot for longer than 5-10 min ( ex. standing in line to the register).
The swelling around the knee went down after about 10months.
The biggest part of the whole experience for me was not being active. I went from working out 5-6 days week to nada for 6 months. I lost all my muscle mass and with that strength and volume.
Now, a year after, looking back on the whole experience and how it literally changed my whole lifestyle and also affected people around me (since they had to baby me and help me with a lot of things), I realized that there is nothing more important in this life than being healthy and have more respect to your body.
My message to you is – Take care of yourself and listen to your mind and body a bit more. Do not ignore the signs that your body sends you at times. Being that physical or mental. Take time for yourself when you feel like you need it and don’t waste your time in general for things that do not matter. Do things that matter to you, that you love and do it often! Because you never know when something can be taken away from you.
I didn’t mean to get all sappy, but that’s how this whole year made me feel and I share it with you.
But on the brighter side, That leg brace was a good banana holder lol
I know it has been a very long post and thank you if you read the whole thing. I hope you were reading it just to get familiar, but if you are actually going through the recovery or about to go with a procedure. I wish you a quick and easy one!
Form Eve with Love