In July of this year, it started with an ache, a slight limp. One day it was slight, the next a bit more pain, by a week later, I could barely put any weight on my left leg, my knee pain was so excruciating. I have had surgery on this knee before, but since then, there had hardly been any pain. There had been some pain related to a tight IT band, but this was different. This was on the inside. This was…in the same spot as it was 10 years ago…
After two months of doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, X-Rays and MRIs, the diagnosis was confirmed. There was a tear in the left meniscus cartilage, the same as ten years ago. But this time, the tear was not as neat, and there appeared to be a cyst in my knee as well. Unfortunately, there is no treatment you can do for either except surgery.
Once the surgery was scheduled, I went ahead and got a ticket for my mother to come out. The surgeon told me that if he could do the repair, I would be on crutches for two weeks post-op. My husband just started a new job, I knew I needed reinforcements. I thought, I’ll take off 3 days, then work from home while on crutches. It’s just arthroscopic knee surgery, how much time do I need?
After talking with a few friends at work, they convinced me that the three days I was planning to take off was not nearly enough to heal. Even with my mother around I needed to take more time off. My job is fairly demanding, and I work with high level executives who expect me to be at the top of my game. One good friend, who has known me most of my career sat me down and said “look at this as an excuse to take a step away and take a break.” After talking with my surgeon he agreed that I needed more time off. So he ordered two weeks no work and one-week work from home. I worked with HR and filled out the disability paperwork. I’m fortunate enough to live in California, which has state disability insurance, and have a gap coverage disability insurance from my work. This meant I could take off time without forgoing too much pay. In addition, since I was planning to go the disability route (and not just paid time off as I originally thought) I was having my work access shut off. That meant a true break, no connection to work. I was to completely disconnect and spent time healing. I wrapped up my work as best as possible, then at 5 PM on the day before my surgery, my access was cut off. That was it, I was now off work.
Day 1: I got up at 5 AM to dress, and go to the surgery center. I had a 6 AM check in and a 7:30 AM surgery scheduled. I filled out the paper work, discussed one more time with the surgeon what needed to be done, let him sign my leg (to ensure they operated on the correct knee), and walked off to the OR, nervously waving at my husband as I went in. I remember laying on the table and trying to think of my children as the anesthesiologist put the mask on my face. The next thing I knew, I was in recovery. Still groggy, and quite emotional from the meds, my nurse quickly gave me and my husband post-op instructions, lessons on the crutches, and sent me on my way. Before I knew it I was home, and my husband and mom were helping me into bed so I could rest and ice. While groggy all day, I was so surprised at the lack of pain and the ability to put weight on my knee. I didn’t read the post-op instructions until two days later, which is why I didn’t realize I still had numbing meds in my knee. By the evening they had all worn off, and I was in agony, having to take two strong narcotic pain killers to catch up with the pain.
Week 1: The next few days I spent mostly in my room, trying to recover. It took another two days before I felt well enough to put any weight on my left leg. I ate my meals in bed, iced, and napped. I listened to my novel, watched some Netflix, and read. Unfortunately, this was also the week of the large wildfires in Napa & Sonoma counties. My kids were home two days from school because of the bad air quality. That also meant they could not be outside, but had to remain indoors. Then my husband got a cold, and was down for the count for a few days. Thank God I flew in my mother! She had her work cut out for her, taking care of the four of us.
Finally, toward the end of my first week, the fires had died down and the kids could go back to school. I was able to put more weight on my leg and not only got out of the bedroom, but even made it out of the house once. Mom and I went to Target where I used my crutches to go from the car to the front lobby. That effort wore me out and the nice manager at Target took pity on me and drove the electric cart over to me. I then scootered all over the store, enjoying the freedom and mobility I had not had for days. However, that wore me out and I spent the whole next day recovering. Then I had my one week post-op visit. My surgeon was impressed with my range of motion, gave me some more exercises, and even gave me permission to try and use my crutches less. I was on my way to recovery!
Now that I had been cleared to try and do more exercise, I was off and running. Well…off and crutching and wheel-chairing. With my mom in town, and me getting cabin fever, I wanted to try and get out a little bit every day. I started small:
Every day I started off feeling great. Every day I did a little more before I was hit with a wave of exhaustion and had to go home and take a nap. Every day I was able to go a little more on crutches before I had to rely on the wheelchair. Every day I was frustrated that I couldn’t do more, and I still didn’t feel “normal”.
At the start of this, I thought I’d only need a few days, and the rest of disability leave would be time off. At the end of two weeks, I’m tired and wondering if I should have asked the doctor for another week off. I’m not good at asking for help, and it’s been a humbling experience to have to rely on others to help me with some of life’s most basic functions. I did get to spend some quality time with my mother, but each outing took a lot out of me and had me mostly confined to my bed most of the rest of the day. But really, at the end, what did I learn? What did I take away from this forced vacation?
- I learned I am human and have limits
- I learned how hard it is to truly be disabled and not be able to do things on our own.
- I learned how blessed I am, with a supportive job and a supportive family
To me a paid vacation day spent at home is a wasted vacation day. The idea that I had to use so many to be bed bound was an abomination in my mind. I’m lucky enough to live in a state that has disability insurance, and work for a company that provides gap insurance coverage, so I didn’t have to use so many of my “precious” paid vacation days. But using forced vacation time allowed me to instead explore my mind, my limits, and my body as I recover from this episode. It allowed me to appreciate the many advantages I have. And it allowed me to heal without the added stress of work. Sure, I would have loved to spend those two weeks in Thailand, Dubai, Paris, Vancouver, or nearly anywhere. But I think I still was able to use these two weeks wisely to learn about myself and my limits, and that means the time off was worth it.