Two Weeks Flat on my Back Following TAR Surgery

I settled in quickly at our friend Thelma’s house near Vail for the first two weeks after my TAR surgery. It is a beautiful fall and the view from my upstairs bedroom is a panorama of yellows, greens and golds.

Beautiful fall colors of yellow, greens and golds.

A Daily Routine Develops

A routine develops of somewhat uncomfortable, intermittent, (thank God for the urinal) sleep, waking earlier than I would like, draping myself with the nerve block pumps and hobbling cautiously to the bathroom. The raised toilet seat is a god-send, standing on one leg balanced on crutches to brush my teeth and shave, precarious.

Me on crutches with the nerve block pumps strapped on.

Yolanda brings breakfast and coffee while I read some news. Next I take my morning prescriptions and give myself an injection of Lovanox, the mild blood thinner I’m to give myself for the next thirty days to stave off dangerous blood clots.

The Pain or Lack Thereof

I have my foot and splint elevated with several pillow at all times to help reduce swelling, an inevitable result of TAR surgery. Because the foot is the lowest extremity, blood, hence swelling, naturally tends to pool there. There’s no pain to speak of, just numbness in my leg and foot. 

Dr. Clanton’s PA, Terie, told me I should frequently wiggle my toes, the only things peeking out from the splint. This works at first. After a couple days though, I can’t do it. Terie told me to call if anything seems abnormal. Plus, I should call immediately if I develop a fever or unusual pain begins possible signs of a very dangerous infection. 

Concerned that I can’t wiggle my toes anymore, I call. She assures me this is not unusual and that swelling will come and go. Sure enough, the next day I can wiggle them a bit. A couple days later I can’t, and then again I can. My discharge instructions say to use ice packs frequently; thirty minutes on, thirty minutes off. I’m not sure it does much good through all the padding of the splint but what harm can it do.

Icing my ankle

Each day progresses slowly. I read, watch some TV, (cable news is just so much boring repetition), work on my taxes and learn some new image processing techniques for my photography.

Yolanda patiently sees to my needs, brings my meals and, in an above and beyond gesture, empties the urinal. (Yes, too much information. It’s reality though.)

Entertaining Myself

The Hunger Games movies are playing on TV. I’d seen the first and always wanted to see the whole series. Yes, they’re supposed to be more of a teenage phenomenon but the production values and special effects are exceptional. The plot is a unique take on good vs. evil, freedom vs. tyranny and especially the over the top decadence of a wealthy ruling elite subjugating a divided majority. The four movies, recorded therefore sans irritating commercials, are a welcome diversion.

Each day to my surprise, I get a call from the nerve block pump company. They’re checking to make sure everything is working and to calculate how much longer the anesthetic will last. What little pain there’s been I’ve been able to control using only acetaminophen. I haven’t had to push the button for additional doses thus prolonging their effect.

The pumps have an LCD display which shows the amount of anesthetic left in the bags. From that the caller can calculate the number of hours until they run out. Turns out they’ll run dry around 2:30 AM five days after leaving the hospital.

Great! So I’m to be awakened in the middle of the night as pain finally kicks in. 

I finish my taxes, transmit them online to the IRS and indicate the bank account for my refund. Thelma comes up each day before taking her afternoon nap to check and me and chat. 

Each evening after her dinner in the kitchen and watching the PBS Newshour, the only news program that is rigorous in their non-partisanship, she joins Yolanda and me for a movie. I’ve recorded a couple Shakespeare movies which she, being a retired English teacher, enjoys throughly.

First Snow of the Year

The first snow of the year is forecast and sure enough, the next morning I wake to a world of white. 8” of snow has fallen overnight and it snows off and on throughout the day.

The first snow fall of the year.

The weather changes once again. The sun returns and it’s typical glorious Colorado weather.

The Nerve Blocks Run Dry

The night arrives when the pumps run dry. Thankfully I’ve been warned in advance so I can take a precautionary Oxycodone before sleeping. This night I sleep through most likely due to the pain pill. The next morning, still feeling little but some discomfort, I carefully read the instructions covering the removal from my thigh of the two tiny lines that fed the anesthetic.

This proves surprisingly easy. The hospital had given me two small shipping boxes with pre-paid labels for the return of the pumps to the company. They call for the last time to check on me as I box things up for shipping.

Without those pumps and their tubes in my thigh I finally feel comfortable to bathe. Hobbling to the shower, I sit on the shower chair and cover the splint with one of each of the two types of waterproof cast covers the hospital gave me. I’m sure one would be adequate by why not be overcautious. The last thing I want besides somehow damaging my new ankle is to get the splint wet.

Showering goes fine and feels wonderful after a week. Clean again!. 

Still, feeling only mild discomfort from the TAR surgery, I’m very happy to not have to take but that one Oxycodone. There are too many stories of people with destroyed lives and worse getting hooked on opioids after surgery.

The next week of recovery from ankle replacement surgery becomes an uneventful period of continual improvement. Getting up and around on crutches becomes easier. Balancing on one leg and crutches at the sink feels more stable and I’m ever more confident showering. 

There’s no need to venture downstairs even on the stairlift, no need to risk a fall. My toes wiggle more easily but without the nerve block I can feel them being squished. This becomes my biggest discomfort throughout my recovery and persists into the next phase because they’ve gotten abraded and rubbed a bit raw between my little toe and the next one.

Coming to the End of Phase 1 of TAR Surgery Recovery

At two weeks following my ankle replacement surgery I have my first followup  with Dr. Clanton at The Steadman Clinic. I gather everything together and pack what I can while Yolanda packs the car. We hug Thelma, thanking her profusely. As always, she’s loved having us.

I hobble to the stairlift, ride it down, totter much more confidently through the garage to the car than I did two weeks before immediately after TAR surgery. We drive off to my appointment and into the next phase of recovery from my ankle replacement surgery.

By Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging