ON BENDED KNEES: Two steps forward, one step back

Sun Media national lifestyle and food editor Rita DeMontis recently wrote about her struggles with advanced osteoarthritis knee issues, and how she faced the toughest challenge of her life: Bilateral knee surgery. In Part Four of her adventures, she talks about her rehab progress — and how she’s back behind the wheel again.

“Bend your knees, Rita.”

I blink and do as I’m told. I am bending my knees at my biweekly out-patient rehabilitation session at Toronto’s West Park Healthcare Centre, a lovely place located in a picturesque valley in the city’s west-end, home to some of the most dynamic rehab specialists in Ontario. I work with a team of dedicated pros (big shout-out to Janet, Alexandra, Harold, Sunny and Wendy) who, kind as they are, relentlessly move you through all the exercises you need to get back to normal.

And — as fun and friendly as they are — nothing gets past them: “You forgot to bend your knee going up a stair, you didn’t place your heel properly, you didn’t hold to five when you went on your tip toes.” I swear they have eyes behind their heads (certainly the wall of mirrors across the room helps them) and, although a busy bunch, I watched as they treated each patient with kindness and compassion.

Nine-weeks post-op of my bilateral knee surgery, I faithfully attend all my sessions, and every time I leave West Park, I feel stronger and more rejuvenated. I am walking, and getting better at sitting and standing. I do repetitions of 10 and 20 to strengthen my quads and core. I jump on a special stationary bike and put in a mile at a good clip. I am bending my freaking knees to the point they feel like they’re behind me. I do this in a large exercise room with other knee surgery patients, and there’s a camaraderie in place as we all inquire on how we’re all doing.

I get the biggest gasps when people find out I had both my knees done. “How do you stand?” several have asked. Like everyone else, I laugh!

I am enjoying every single moment of this new discipline. Once terrified at the prospect of rehab, based on all the fear-mongering stories I had read online, I had approached this new chapter in my surgery story with trepidation and a touch of terror. After all, they give you strong pain meds to “push through” what one person wrote as “torture.”

Well, it’s not. It’s not easy, that I’ll give you — and there were moments during my recent rehab when I felt like I was back at square one. There were days when my legs felt hot and sore and, well, weird! Like tiny electrical currents were shooting out of my scars. I had more two-steps-forward- one-step-back days than I care to remember.

Humber River Hospitals orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Rodriguez with Rita.

But I didn’t take “strong” pain meds to get through it. And the changes I have undergone since my surgery are short of astonishing. For starters, my legs are now straight, thanks to my surgeon, Dr. Sebastian Rodriguez-Elizalde of Humber River Hospital.

I thought was joking when he told me he’d straightened my badly bowed legs during surgery. (The X-rays show before and after shots.)

Rita DeMontis’ X-rays before and after surgery.

Today, I am walking without the use of a walker. I am using canes but only to make sure I don’t trip. And I’m also back at the wheel of my Nissan Rogue. Driving!

Just recently, I drove to my local supermarket — a massive store — and wandered through every single aisle.

Halfway through my shopping, I kept thinking something was missing. Then it dawned on me…the constant, excruciating osteoarthritis pain in my knees was gone. Not once did I have a need to sit down. I almost wept in the middle of the dairy section.

What I have learned is rehab is just as crucial as surgery. Therapy strengthens your core, your hips and your quads, the muscles surrounding your knee. Yes, there is pain, but there’s also soothing ice packs at the end of the two-hour rehab session. During one of my recent sessions, I realized that my knee surgery had been a piece of cake. Rehab is the reality that I had the surgery, and now I’ve been given the tools to make my wonderful new knees work properly.

The whole idea of all this physical fitness is to build up physical tolerance, and you truly have to shore up every drop of determination and the motivation to get there. Keep in mind, the knee is the body’s largest joint, responsible for many of the common functions that we rely on to get through our daily lives. No wonder rehab hurts — hurt equates healing. And the best way of healing is to keep moving in a series of exercises that build up both your physical and emotional strength.

The good folks at West Park are well aware of all this — the hospital is famous for, among many things, its work in helping those suffering from brain injuries, amputee, neurological and musculoskeletal rehabilitation services.

“We recognize all the challenges our patients face, we know how stressful all this is, so we make sure everyone is treated in a friendly, welcoming manner, as this helps ease the stress,” says Janet Mulgrave, service manager for amputee and musculoskeletal services. “One of the things we always tell our staff is to treat the patients how they would want to be treated, ” she adds.

Like we’re worth every triumphant knee bend and tip toe and step. Like we’re worth the brand-new knees we walk with.

Next time: Coping without a safety net.

Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies