I wanted to pass along some observations and lessons learned during these initial weeks to others who might be planning ACI knee surgery. In no particular order, here they are:
Stockpile tons of reading material and movies. For the first 7-10 days, you’ll likely spend most of the day in bed. To pass the time, I plowed through 2 books and tons of feature articles I had gathered in anticipation of the surgery. I also watched most of Season 1 of Mad Men, as well as a couple movies with Christina once I was able to move to the living room couch. I probably would’ve watched more movies if the portable DVD player hadn’t broken down.
Get married. I can’t imagine going through this experience without a spouse, or at least a very serious significant other. You’ll need someone to change ice packs, load ice into your ice machines, help you with your brace and the CPM, fix you dinner, and generally fetch all of your stuff. In the early days, you’ll also need help going to the bathroom, as well as showering. While a parent might love you unconditionally, I don’t think you want to pee or wash your private parts in front of Mom. You will quickly lose all dignity. Don’t fight it. Just make sure you have someone with whom you’re comfortable enough to let down your guard.
Get a laptop with WiFi. My laptop hasn’t left my bedside table since the surgery. I use it for everything, from surfing the web, to blogging about the surgery, to working part-time from home. Staying connected has been critical to maintaining my sanity.
Exercise and stretch before the surgery. Your body will suffer tremendously. It’s inevitable. But the recovery will be easier if you’re in decent shape beforehand. Plus, the intense rehab exercises won’t be as much of a shock to your body if you’re accustomed to working out hard. Looking back, I wish I had added some of the ACI rehab exercises to my normal workout routine before the surgery. I also wish I had spent more time improving my flexibility. My hamstring actually hurts worse than my knee.
Provide work with a realistic assessment of your work load and expected absence. I gave my bosses at least 4 months’ notice about my surgery and anticipated absence. I outlined the status of each of my cases, and all upcoming deadlines. We agreed which case I would hold onto, and which case (or task) needed to be transitioned to others. My office has been great about my situation. I told them I likely wouldn’t be in the office for at least 1 month, and possibly 6 weeks. Every patient recovers differently, of course. Some ACI patients have returned to work 2 weeks after their surgery. Even though I have a traditional “desk job,” there’s no way I could last an entire day at the office right now. My knee still occasionally aches and I get tired very easily. Also, I can’t drive, and can’t lug my workpapers back and forth between home and the office. Plus, there’s no way I could squeeze in the 6-8 hours daily I still need to spend in the CPM if I went to the office. My boss agreed to let me work from home as often as I’d like, as long as I send him a detailed summary of how many hours I worked and what I accomplished. I’ve also remained accessible via remote access email and cell phone.
Find a nearby PT with ACI experience before the surgery. This is an obvious point, but, after reading blogs by other ACI patients, it seems like some overlooked it. ACI is a highly specialized procedure, and success is dependent on the rehab. Find a PT who’s worked with plenty of ACI patients, especially one whose office is nearby. Right now, I go to PT twice/week for 1 hour per visit, and probably will continue to do so for several months. That’s a huge time commitment. Patients actually spend more time with the PT than the surgeon. Also, make sure the PT and the surgeon communicate regularly about your rehab progress.
Understand it’s a marathon, not a sprint. The first few days, perhaps weeks, after the surgery will really suck. I’m not kidding. There will be a few times when you are absolutely miserable. It’s human nature to question, even regret, the surgery while you’re wallowing in pain and self-pity. I know I did. But, like the overdone cliché, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Better days are ahead. Remain resilient. Take some advice from the New Kids on the Block and Hang Tough. Good Lord. I can’t believe I just quoted the New Kids.
Develop a routine. Full disclosure: I’m a creature of habit. I like planning out my days. If I don’t, I forget to do stuff. Following a routine will help you get through the day and complete all the necessary home rehab. Patients spend 6-8 hours/day in the CPM, usually in 3 separate two-hour+ sessions, plus they spend another 15-30 minutes doing home PT. That basically wipes out your day. If you miss one of your CPM sessions, it’s difficult to make up those 2-3 hours. If you head back to work, it’s even more difficult to sneak in the required CPM time. Think about it. If you’re gone from the house from 8am – 6pm, you either have to wake up a few extra hours earlier than normal or you’re going to spend your entire evening in the CPM, leaving no time for the family. Plus, it’s taxing to spend more than 3 hours in the CPM.
Here’s a rough timeline of my normal day:
6–7 Wake up and eat breakfast
9:30-1 Relax, work, etc. Eat lunch.
3:30-5:30 Spend time with kids, work, relax. Eat dinner.
5:30-6 Playtime with kids.
8:30-9 PT exercises
10 Shower and sleep
Trust me. My day’s as boring as this timeline suggests. But at least I’m able to carve out enough time for the CPM and PT, which, at this point in the recovery, is critical.
Buy a shower seat and toilet seat riser with handles. As soon as you’re physically ready, you’ll want to shower. Your injured leg will quickly become engulfed with dead skin. It’s just nasty. However, you won’t be able to shower standing up. I bought a simple bench with a handle; that’s worked just fine. You’ll also want to keep your shampoo, etc. in a basket within reach of the bench. The toilet seat riser is also necessary, especially for women. I recommend getting one with handles, which make it easier to push off back to your feet. Plus, I plan on leaving the Cadillac on our guest crapper during all future parties. That should make for great conversation.
Don’t hesitate to call in favors from friends/family. You’re going to need help. Lots of help, especially if you have kids. You’ll need to arrange rides to school and sports practice. During those first few days, somebody will need to remain with you 24/7 in case you need assistance. If your spouse needs to run an errand or takes a deserved break, you’ll need a replacement adult to watch the kids. Guys hate asking for help. It’s genetic. It’s why we refuse to ask for directions, no matter how lost we are. Set aside your pride and ask for help. Don’t play hero. I learned most folks are more than willing to chip in. We’ve been fortunate, with several friends inviting our kids over for playdates, taking them to basketball practice, and bringing over dinner. You’ll have plenty of time to “make it up” after your knee heals.
Familiarize yourself with your insurance benefits. ACI is pricey. There are several cost components to the surgery. The cloning. The surgery center. Anaestesiologist. Surgeon fee. PT. The rental of the CPM and ice machines. Know how much insurance covers. Examine the exclusions provisions. Study the pre-certification and appeals process. Organize all communication and bills relating to the surgery. Save all EOBs. Document all contacts with your insurance carrier. Insurance companies make money by screwing people over. That’s their business model. Hopefully that won’t happen, but accepting this fact will provide a dose of realism. The surgery center initially asked for almost $9,000 before it would schedule the procedure. Luckily, I understood my coverage, refused to pay and directed her to the surgeon’s and Genzyme’s insurance liaisons. Perhaps this was a simple mistake by an unknowledgeable billing clerk, but a lesser-educated patient might’ve mistakenly paid the bill. And everybody knows how difficult it is to collect a refund once that money’s gone. The lesson: wait until all the bills arrive and insurance discounts have been applied before paying anything.