Becoming a Patient

July, 1996

I completed my most difficult semester of graduate school thus far. I took pathophysiology, taught by a physician from Russia who had a heavy accent and was challenging to understand. It was a great review of physiology, but took us much deeper into what goes wrong in the body when disease occurs.

The second course was in pathopsychology which a nurse taught. We learned about the different mental illnesses and the criteria for diagnosing a person with them. We each had to choose a fictional person with a mental illness and see if they met the criteria and diagnose them with a mental illness. I chose Scarlett O’Hara, the main character in Gone With the Wind, a popular novel made into a movie about how the American civil war affected her family in the southern part of the USA. She certainly met the criteria for a Narcissistic Personality Disorder according to DSM 3. (DSM is the main book that psychiatrists use to diagnose people with mental illness.) They define Narcissism as “A pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy.” The person also has to have at least five of the listed nine characteristics. I learned there is no treatment for someone with a personality disorder. I think Scarlett had all nine of the characteristics. My classmates laughed when I read my paper out loud because most of them had seen the movie if they had not read the mammoth sized novel at some point in their life.

I also decided to go downhill skiing with the career group from church for the first time in March. I painfully discovered that it is much different than cross country skiing and requires more athletic skill than God gave me. I took quite a few falls trying to get down the icy mountain and wrenched my left knee. I was unable to walk very far without pain, so the doctor did an arthroscopy on July 8 to look inside my knee with a small scope and clean out the floating piece of torn cartilage. He said my knee was so inflamed that he was amazed I could still walk.

I painfully discovered I am NOT good at downhill skiing!

I painfully discovered that I am NOT good at downhill skiing!

I needed to take 2.5 weeks off work to recover rather than the predicted one week. This is the first surgery I ever had and the amount of knee pain I had after surgery was staggering. I discovered that my best pain reliever was frequent ice packs. But I guess it is good to experience surgery from a patient’s point of view rather than a nurse. So many people from church have helped me since I live alone. Their assistance and fellowship have been a great blessing to me! It also makes me realize how frail I am, and that good health is very precious.

“As a father pities His children, so the Lord pities them that fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.” Psalm 103:13-14

Reflection

That first surgery was the first of two more arthroscopies (surgery with a small scope) followed by a knee replacement at age 49. Moral of the story: DON’T try to learn to downhill ski in your forties if you are not a gifted athlete. It has always been more challenging to travel ever since I started having knee surgeries. A few years later, I sold my three story home and returned to a one level home to try and spare my knees.

I went to England on vacation with some ladies from church three weeks after that first knee surgery, and remember my 70 year old friend, Trudy, pushing ME in a wheelchair through the London airport. I exchanged my house and automatic shift car with a family in England, but their car had a clutch for shifting. I was unable to work the clutch with my left knee until the very end of the vacation because it was still healing and painful.

I also learned that I could no longer lower myself into a bathtub, kneel, squat, jump, or run. I also had to give up cross country skiing, so winters in New England aren’t too much fun anymore. After each surgery, I received treatment from numerous physical therapists, and we enjoyed talking “shop” after they found out that I was a nurse. I tried to do my post-operative exercises faithfully to get as much range of motion of my knee as possible.

I encourage my patients to do the same after surgery and to set up their house with adaptive equipment BEFORE they have surgery to make it easier when they come home. A toilet riser, reacher to pick up things off the floor, and plastic lawn chair with arms to put in the bathtub, shower hose, and bath mat are the bare minimum. A sock aide also comes in handy so you can pull on your socks without assistance. Many visiting nurse agencies have “donation closets” with equipment former patients no longer need. I tell my friends to save some money and ask if they can borrow some equipment and then return it after they have recovered from surgery.

A reacher is extremely helpful after knee surgery.

A reacher is extremely helpful after knee surgery.

Whenever one of my friends tells me that they need knee surgery, I have the utmost empathy for them and try and pass on things that have helped me over the years. Most of all, I suggest they ask God to comfort them, and He always does.

“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort, Who comforts us IN all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them who are in any trouble, by the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds by Christ.” II Corinthians 1:3-5

 

 

 

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