I am not known for my patience. And I’ve been preparing for my long-awaited knee replacement surgery for nearly three years.
I’ve acquired all the necessary post-surgical equipment: expensive ice and compression machine, bath transfer bench, walker, crutches, cane, toilet riser, reacher, long-handled shoehorn, high density cushion, a chair with arms. I attended all the prehab and pre-surgery webinars, got my SPARC parking pass, watched all the recommended surgical and how-to videos (several times each), made a list of what to bring to the hospital and rescheduled a host of medical appointments and personal commitments. I even arranged to “foster” some of my furniture out to friends to clear the way for my anticipated post-surgical walker/crutches. I had meetings with the surgeon, pre-admission nurses, anesthesiologist, physiotherapists and an occupational therapist. I was more prepared for my surgery than Eisenhower was for D-Day. I repeat, I am not a patient woman.
Staff at Oasis (Osteoarthritis Service Integration System) and ASAP (Arthritis Surgical Assessment Program) are my new BFFs. They told me about assistlist.ca, a website that lists used medical equipment for sale. I learned that the Red Cross Health Equipment Loan program has become stricter about who it lends to. It used to be that everyone got their equipment there. Since COVID, anyone who wants to borrow from there has to sign a waiver explicitly disclosing their need for assistance. Luckily, I don’t need their services.
I’m armed with more resources than I know what to do with, so it just makes sense to share them. There are lots of medical supply stores, but the ones who have the greatest variety are Lancaster Medical on West Broadway and Macdonald’s Prescriptions (in the Fairmont building). Best place to buy high-density cushions (and any kind of foam) is Discount Foam on Fraser Street near 33rd. Need an ice/compression machine? Go to the source: ProCare Medical Inc. Just FYI, the Polar Care Wave machine combines the ice therapy and the compression that targets not only swelling but also pain. Apparently, it’s a must-have for knee replacement surgery.
If you have an extended medical plan, check to see what they cover, because this equipment can be expensive. Also check if they cover a private or semi-private hospital room. And don’t forget to get a doctor’s note indicating that you need this equipment for a knee or hip replacement, and include this with your extended health claim. My health carrier insisted that I buy from an actual medical supply store (not, say, Facebook Marketplace) and that the receipt indicate the source, and that my name be on the receipt. You might want to buy your equipment secondhand to save some money, but just remember that your extended health won’t cover it.
I learned that a high-density cushion, which I’ll need post-surgery, is not a benefit covered by my health plan. I also learned that, after knee replacement, all seating must be two inches higher than the top of my knee. That includes the toilet, the bed, all chairs and couches, and the car seat. Seriously, the logistics of preparing one’s home (and car) before surgery seem never-ending. Like making sure that everything you need on a daily basis is within counter-height reach. No squatting to get toilet paper out from under the sink – unless you have a reacher. No going to restaurants without your high-density cushion. No bending over to put on your socks. The list goes on. And on.
To say that I was ready for surgery would be this century’s understatement. Then I got COVID.
Don’t ask me how. It’s one of the world’s great mysteries. I am vaccinated five times. After intense speculation, the only culprits I can point to are either the physiotherapist appointment I had (both of us wearing KN-95 masks) or an elevator (me masked, of course).
It was a Friday morning and I just thought my allergies were acting up. Or maybe I’d been mouth-breathing at night – slight sore throat, stuffy nose, tired, a bit of a dry cough and a headache. Minor stuff. Until I did a COVID rapid home test. I tested positive. I immediately called the urgent care clinic and got a PCR test, phoned my gastroenterologist and proactively got a prescription for the antiviral medication Paxlovid, and waited. Less than 24 hours later, when positivity was confirmed, I started on the medication and was better in five days. My surgery was scheduled for four weeks later – and this was a problem, as I will explain.
I want to make one thing clear. I do not blame my orthopedic surgeon or the anesthesiologist for my knee replacement surgery being postponed three times. I do blame COVID. I do blame miscommunication. And I definitely blame an over-burdened healthcare system. Primarily, the latter.
My husband and I have been crazy cautious and isolating like nobody’s business during the pandemic. The wild card is that I’m immunocompromised, so I’m at higher risk for any kind of infection. But nobody has been more careful than us. In fact, I’m pretty sure I spent more money on KN-95 facemasks, latex gloves and hand sanitizer in the past two-and-a-half years than I have on clothing. By a long shot. Until this point, we went nowhere, saw no one and did nothing. But, as COVID eased up a bit during the summer, so did we. But incrementally. Literally by centimetres. I met a few friends for dinner outside. We traveled to Victoria for four days. Wild and crazy stuff by all accounts.
Having just been told for the third time that my surgery would be postponed, I was devastated. It had to do with a seven-week waiting period post-COVID before getting an anesthetic or surgery, because of the risk of blood clots and pneumonia. Immunocompromised … blah, blah, blah.
All this is to say that I should have listened to a wise woman long ago, who advised that I “get comfortable with uncertainty.” Umm, OK. How exactly do I do that? Apparently, you breathe. And wait. And breathe. And practise mindful meditation. Maybe get a little anxious. Breathe some more. Meditate. Eat. Maybe get a bit more anxious. Breathe. Wait some more. I’m now an expert breather.
The only thing that helps me is holding firm to my belief that nothing happens by accident. Everything happens for a reason. Usually one to which I am not privy. But still. Enter faith and trust – stage right, stage left, stage centre. That’s really my only life raft. Luckily, it’s sturdy and solid and mine for the taking. Anytime, anywhere. Now that’s what I need to practise. Oh yeah, and breathing. Meanwhile, I’ll continue cooking and eating. Stay tuned.
Shelley Civkin, aka the Accidental Balabusta, is a happily retired librarian and communications officer. For 17 years, she wrote a weekly book review column for the Richmond Review. She’s currently a freelance writer and volunteer.