Sunday, May 1, 2016

Addendum:

For those of you who read the last post and thought, "Big whoop! A post about a tiny bit of rain when floods and tornadoes are devastating much of the rest of the country? Who cares?"

Let me just note that, had we wanted to live in Texas, for example, and deal with its weather (and laws!) we would have moved to Texas. Same with Oklahoma. Or Kansas. We could have stayed in Minnesota if we adored snow, ice, and frostbite, or wished to exchange them for mosquitoes.

We chose to live where snow is almost unheard of locally, where tornadoes are pictures on the TV, where floods are in places where stupid folks choose to build or drive into despite warnings, where earthquakes may register on a Richter's scale but not underfoot.

And yes, a little rain is a big deal down here. So is a mosquito.

YTD In The Rain Gauge

I love our new rain gauge. The last one was cute but kept tipping over in a breeze and was the dickens to try to read even if it didn't. The new one mounts on the fence, and has the wide top where an inch of rain shows up as about a 4" column in the tube, well marked of course, and easy to see clearly from the bedroom window or the patio.

With showers being as spotty as they are down here, it's necessary to have an accurate one if you care what your rainfall was. Perhaps you were thinking of watering something. Or hoping not to. This way you know. The official Sun City rainfall can be wildly different from backyard rainfall, even though that backyard is actually in Sun City. The first two rains of the year - and the only ones until yesterday - each left behind a quarter inch of rain. The record for other spots in Sun City read higher. We were deprived. Even for here.

Somehow the older, established plants cope with that. I was, however, contemplating watering the Mexican Bird of Paradise, as it hadn't received a drop, not even a dog leg lift, since we cut it back in mid February. With enough water it is absolutely gorgeous in the early fall, full bright blossoms topping long feathery stems. It was coming back up from the ground nicely, but the stems did seem short for this time of year. The reason I delayed was pure laziness. One has to fill a bucket and haul it back to the bush, far removed from the reach of a hose that at any rate has been enlisted to connect to three soaker hoses which are nurturing last fall's plantings until they are fully established. As in, when we leave to go north.

Yesterday relieved me of that particular work load. We were just coming back from a trip to use coupons for sandwiches on their last day before expiration when we saw lightning to the south over the road we were traveling. We decided to sit out on the patio to eat as the temperature was as perfect as it gets, and noted more and frequent flashes of lightning. Ellie was busier hunting for a hiding space than she was eying us for possible dropped crumbs, and once finished, plus feeling a chilly breeze move in, we adjourned to the living room.

I caught a whiff of rain-washed air. Down here, that is indicative of nothing in terms of possible actual precipitation, but soon there followed a light sprinkle, and finally a lovely little downpour with rain streaming off the roofs front and back, streams running down both sides of the street, and the physical and emotional refreshing that a desert rain brings.

We're used to rain falling much harder on the outskirts of the valley, up in the high country. A modestly flooded street makes the news, and those are always elsewhere. As it was, the big news from this rain was the lightening. It killed a horse. Now that wouldn't necessarily have made the news by its lonesome, but it also severely burned its rider, who was transported to the hospital after CPR revived him. He's still critical, last they reported. The news cameras keep rolling on the carcass of the horse behind a very small bush while people try to figure out what to do with it. The close-ups just show its hooves. I guess that's supposed to be the least upsetting part of the picture.

Those same news reports give official rain totals for various parts of the valley. Sun City got .04 inches. Our gauge showed a whopping - for here - 3/8 inch.

By this morning that fresh desert after rain smell had vanished, along with all but fluffy clouds. The bigger ones had moved north and east to drop snow by Flagstaff and rain over the rest of the high country. Looking over the yard I was glad I had just pooper-scooped two days earlier. It would have been such a mess otherwise!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Couple of Spring Firsts ... And Addendum

It's great to see those first flowers on plants you selected only from a picture and description.

Last week the plant we initially called a pencil plant, but discovered is locally referred to as a ladyslipper from the odd shape of its blooms, finally developed a half dozen blossoms. It's been in the ground for three and a half years now, and I've taken yearly cuttings and spread them along the mini wall where the first one grows, in hopes of a whole wall of them. The blossoms are supposed to attract hummingbirds, but I can't see for the life of me where it might be hiding nectar.

Today while I sat eating supper on the patio I happened to look over at the San Marcos hibiscus. After fencing the branches up vertically to keep them safe from rabbits, I found out that it is meant to be a low spreading bush. So occasionally my eyes wander over that way and I again entertain the question of whether to let it spread and hope the rabbits aren't hungry, or keep it mostly vertical and ensure we actually have a bush. It's first blossom was about half open, a delightful light yellow with deep orange/red accents inside the center.

While I was finishing my chicken, I wondered why I hadn't seen any baby quail yet this spring. It seemed like it was getting late in the season for them. Movement off to my left caught my eye, and I caught a pair of quail running through the yard to my east side. Was I seeing things? Was there more movement?

There was! A single tiny baby, plain light brown blending into their brown rocks, just bigger than a hummingbird, running upright between its parents, keeping up with them as they raced through all the yards surrounding our back yard without ever stopping at the seed block we put out a month ago in the back corner to attract quail.

Figures.

*    *    *    *

That was yesterday. Today when I got home from an errand I checked the back yard near the seed block. This time it was a quail family with 5 babies! Needless to say, the camera wasn't nearby. But I sat and watched them for several minutes. While the parents peckat at the block, the babies pecked at the ground next to it. When sparrows got too close, the babies actually took the lead in chasing them away. The parents saved their energy for cardinals and pigeons

Monday, April 18, 2016

Survival Guide

Heather's Survival Guide to Knee Replacement Surgery:

This is written as a reminder to me, both for the things I will have forgotten between knee surgeries, and to refer to if I do it again in a dozen years or so. If you know anybody in the same situation, feel free to pass it along. I've already stolen or adapted many of its ideas.

Preparation:

This is optional surgery, so you will have time to prepare. Use it.

Start at home. Check out your chairs. Any one you use should be high, firm, and have sturdy arms. Never go for a rocker, being both unsteady and turning itself into a low chair as you lean forward. If you have access to a lift chair, even just renting one for a month or two, do it. It has a wide variety of positions for comfort, and moves you during that time when you are unable to do so yourself without major pain. Firm (fiber filled, like cotton) extra seat cushions can turn an otherwise suitable but low chair into an acceptable one, but check it out first. Squishy (foam) cushions are useless. The seat should reach and stay at knee level. Consider a rolling chair for the kitchen so you can roll back and forth rather than walking and standing while you prepare food, do cleanup, etc. Again, side arms and an extra cushion on the seat will be invaluable for standing up again, and roll it so the back is to a wall so it doesn't go out from under you and dump you on the floor.  You still can't get up from there, even if you weren't hurt in the process.

Find a folding chair with arm rests and sufficient height (cushions again) to take with you when you go somewhere. Don't ever assume your friends will have what you need, or have a clue how to properly help you out of their low chair. I personally recommend Coleman's steel camping chair, sturdy enough for even my weight and with a mini table attached to one arm. Along the same lines, find out where usably high toilets are, or stay home  unless the visit is so short it won't be an issue. Just because a public restroom has support bars and claims to be handicap accessible does not mean the seat will be high enough. You don't want to sit there until you either have completely healed or are willing to face the pain of standing up from it. Arizona is particularly lacking in seat height. Minnesota is much more knee friendly.

If you don't have a handicap height toilet at home and have been considering it, now would be the time. Either way, get a toilet seat insert which raises the height and provides sturdy side arms. Safety bars near the toilet, tub and shower, as well as stairs, should be installed. If your community provides walkers and bathroom aids free for a couple months, use the service.  The walker is a must. The shower seat is optional: it can take up all the room inside a smaller shower and turn into more of an impediment than a help. Ours sits outside during a shower to hold the towel and/or clothes up off the floor, then stores out of the way inside the shower when done.

The incision area needs to be kept dry for about three weeks. I didn't chose to go through the wrapping with plastic and tape routine, especially with my tape allergy, just to take a shower I wasn't quite ready to stand all the way through anyway. The first couple weeks I learned to either accept being grubby or cleaning with a washcloth in the stinky spots and leaning over the kitchen sink to shampoo. Check out your sink, planning how your walker fits into the process.

Scout out the house for pathway hazards. Small area rugs and clutter are easily tripped over. If you have large rugs, decide whether they will be a problem or lay flat and unmovable and are easily gone over. Train dogs and cats to move quickly out of your path, and beware of lap sitters, especially if they have the habit of accessing your lap by climbing up over your legs and knees. The lap blanket comes in useful here.

Practice moving. Take the walker around the house, making sure pathways are always wide enough. That box that got moved or the new chair may not be in the way when it's just you going by, but it might block the walker. Also note whether anything catches the wheels and figure out if you need to change it or how you lift vs. slide the walker past it. Get the critters used to the noise, and in fact make extra noise with it so they learn to get out of the way. Right now!

Learn to sit in the car by backing into the passenger side doorway (you will not be driving! At least not until you can go more than 8 hours past your last percoset before turning that key.) and planting your butt on the seat before any leg goes in. Then lift each leg under the knee with your hand and place it inside, noting where the door frame is in the way. For the first couple weeks, any slight bump hurts. Get out of the car doing it all in reverse, pushing yourself up and forward off the seat back and door frame into a stand. If you think you can just stay home, forget it: plan on heading out to three PT sessions a week for a while.

You will need to strengthen certain muscles in preparation for coping with the surgery and learning to use your leg again. You should be given instructions. They boil down to different ways of straightening the leg, pulling the heel in towards the top of your thigh in a tight bend, increasing leg circulation by flexing your ankles, and strengthening your arms to aid in standing up. DO THEM! No matter how much your knees hurt before surgery, do them. Painkillers are available. When you need to quit anything resembling blood thinners before surgery, including aspirin or ibuprofin, ask your doctor for a substitute that works for you such as percoset. Failing to follow through on PT, either before or after surgery, can make a strong negative impact on your recovery.

Note here that not all painkillers work for all people. It has been discovered that this is genetic. There is now a DNA test available which Medicare will pay for that will determine, for example, if your body will metabolize Tramadol so fast it's already out of your system in ten minutes, thus useless. I'm one of those, just like I metabolize alcohol so fast I'm instantly giddy but my hangover has started on the way home. Also not fun.

Practice getting out of all chairs, as well as the car, by bringing your hands back as near to your torso as you can and pushing yourself up from the arms: those muscles will be needed for months so start strengthening them right away, even if you're coping with rotator cuff injuries. (My old injury actually has improved in function from this way of standing. No guarantees for y'all.) Include getting out of bed and off the toilet seat in your practicing. Tiny bathrooms also need logistical practice getting in and out with a walker. Adaptations may include sideways or backwards walking, even parking it outside and using counters and walls for support. Find out. Learning when you're in a hurry to reach the toilet means you're too late.

Since you'll be slower getting to the bathroom regardless, panti liners or more absorbent items may be in order. Their plastic seal will increase your nasty body odor. Mind your personal hygiene. Consider baby wipes. Your wastebasket will also grow odors quickly, so have a small one lined with plastic shopping bags so the contents can be regularly sealed off and tossed.

Minimize your need to move after you get home. Stock up on food items that take minimum preparation. Despite your feelings about taking care of the environment, get a good supply of paper plates and napkins to minimize dishwashing chores. Make sure your regular prescriptions are filled ahead, there's enough toilet paper, tissues, light bulbs, etc. You won't want to go to the store if you can possibly avoid it. You might stock up on cash so you can send somebody else to buy things on the latest list.

Check your wardrobe. You'll be wearing shorts for a bit, even in winter, and they'll best be baggy for easy on/off, and full of pockets for carrying little stuff while your hands are busy with the walker. A lap robe or small blanket will be a must, especially if  surgery is in the winter. But even during summer, your ice packs and inactivity will help chill you down temporarily. Sometimes too temporarily. A light sweater or sweatshirt that's easy on/off can also be handy for minor changes.

Your foot will be hard to reach for a while, so keep dressing quick and easy. If you don't already have some, get a large package of cheap ankle socks and consider slip-on shoes. Barefoot or flip flops may become the new you, at least indoors. Make sure those toenails are trimmed before surgery as you won't be doing it again for about a month. maybe more. Accept that those legs will be hairy for a while.

Make sure your bed is freshly changed and laundry done before surgery. Again, you won't want to bother for a while after. You won't be sweeping floors, vacuuming, or doing much of any housework for a bit, and only the light stuff when you start in again, so either tolerate the result or arrange help.

Your doctor will likely require you to take iron supplements to build up your blood supply before surgery. These cause constipation. So will the narcotic painkillers for afterwards. Lay in a supply of stool softeners or other favorite laxative,  and vitamin C. One of the additional and lesser known benefits of vitamin C is that when you take more than your body needs, like for healing from surgery, it excretes it. In fact, a test for what dosage is right for your nutritional needs is that when you reach too high a dosage it causes diarrhea. Increase till you reach that point and then back off. A little experimentation will determine your optimal dosage.  As a cautionary note, when it's time to decrease either iron or the narcotic, decrease the dosages of the laxatives a day ahead or so, or be wed to the throne.

Since your dressing will need changing periodically, lay in a supply of gauze pads, enough to cover an 8-10" incision. Rather than tape, find some stretchy gauze rolls to hold the pads in place. Think of it as a sleeve. They are loose enough to bend with you, can be lifted and/or shifted to examine how healing is progressing, and snug enough to stay in place as you move around. They have the added benefit of no medical adhesive for those of us who are allergic to it, or who just hate having your hairs pulled off with the tape. And you can easily tell if you've gotten an infection by seeing how red the incision area is. A little red for a while is expected. A lot, and spreading red, requires immediate attention. So, for the first weeks, does a fever, so get - and check - a thermometer.

Once you know when your surgery is scheduled, clear your schedule. For the first month after, not only don't plan on going anywhere, but actively plan not to go anywhere, other than medical appointments. You'll be surprised how quickly you lose whatever ambition you had. You'll also tend to wind up paying for whatever you do for at least two days afterwards, whether it's the increased level of PT exercises, housework, swimming once it's allowed, or a trip in the car. For the second month or so, leave anything on your schedule as optional, to be decided in the moment. Stamina will eventually return, as you slowly increase activities like walking, but you won't have any now. Plan on that.

Get that haircut, the one that makes styling all but unnecessary for a few weeks. It may be the ponytail without the split ends, or the do so short it hardly matters when the wind blows. Just because you can shampoo over the sink doesn't mean you will want to as often as necessary to keep it up to your usual standards, especially if it requires fussing with after cleaning.

Your surgeon and/or hospital will require a visit with your primary care doc plus lab tests to verify you are OK for surgery. This is usually 3 weeks out. They will also schedule your first follow-up PT sessions, and your follow-up return visits to the surgeon. If you are lucky, they will also sponsor something like a "Joint Club" where you can get detailed information on what to expect and how to prepare. Don't miss one of those appointments! A calendar with large enough spaces to write each appointment in (including address and phone) is a big help, as life will become very complicated for a while. Make sure your partner/helper is aware of any need to drive you to your appointments, or find a circle of people to commit and take turns.

Prepare ice packs. Easy and cheap DIY recipe: 2 bottles cheap dish liquid, 1 bottle isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. Mix 2 measures soap to 1 alcohol, pour into quart zipper bags. Wrap in thin cloth like dishtowel, then set into gallon zipper bag. Set in freezer until needed. Reusable. The towel/double bag method keeps them intact despite other additions and subtractions to your freezer shelves. Make at least two so one can chill while the other is in use. You may want more. When you no longer need them, their contents can be reclaimed for dish washing: it's just soap plus alcohol, both of which clean and sanitize your dishes. However, you may be thoroughly sick of the smell long before that point, as it creeps out even from double sealed bags.

For The Hospital:

Pack light. You should be there two or three days. You will be an orthopedic patient, not a sick patient, and most likely will need shorts and shirts rather than the bare-ass gown. They will provide non-skid footwear. Do bring your cell and charger. Don't bother with a book. You won't be reading because the anesthesia and painkillers will keep you from concentrating or even staying awake long enough to get anything out of it. You likely won't watch the TV there either for the same reason. Plan on sleeping, eating, PT, changing your bed position, visits from medical staff, sleeping, traveling with assistance to the toilet and back to bed, washing your face once a day, sleeping, taking meds, practicing walking, and sleeping. Nearly all of it hurts.

Find out your PT schedule and get your pain shot or pill about 90 minutes before for maximum effect. If they offer you a menu, choose about half your usual fare, both because your appetite will drop and peristalsis is affected by the anesthesia. You don't want to get too much food backed up in your plumbing while you wait for it to work again. The first day or so, you will be holding so tight onto your walker that you won't have the third hand needed to wipe yourself, so get over any embarrassment  about receiving help to do so. No, you can't do it while sitting because they have this weird cup in there to collect all your pee for inspection and it literally gets in the way of your hand. Once your balance and leg strength return you can manage wiping yourself again.

I expect guys have it better but I haven't asked whether they ask for a shake or just stand and drip. Nor will I.

Going Home:

Make sure you get that painkiller ahead of time just as if you were going to PT. There is enough torque on that new knee that getting in/out of the car will be at least as painful. Also get a prescription to hold you a couple weeks or so, until your next doctor visit, and plan on having to show up in person at the pharmacy to get it filled.  This will be a test of your ability to get in and out of the car, and using the walker - brought from home - in real life. Good luck and try not to scream and scare the kiddies. If you can shop in a place with motorized carts, do so, as it will be a very long walk  for you otherwise. (Have you ever noticed that stores plan for you to walk past half their merchandise to reach the pharmacy in hopes that you'll buy some of it?)  Have whoever drives you there bring the cart out to you, no matter what the store policy is. Stand up into your walker, then take the step or two to the cart, and vice versa. Don't try to hop on the good leg. Not for one single step.

At Home:

Use that walker for at least the two weeks they initially want you too. It may take longer, or you may feel independent of it sooner, but don't push it. You need the healing time, where you still have to stop and think where and how you use that leg. Falls are a disaster.

Settle into your comfy chair with your feet up and use that first ice pack. You may need a thin towel between your skin and the pack. In fact, plan to need one: since lots of your nerves will have been severed, you will not be the best judge of what too cold (or later, too hot) will be. You don't want to add to the damage that's already been done to skin, muscles, and tendons when they split everything away apart from the bones so they could work on them. This will be where the most of your pain will be coming from now that the bone spurs and stuff have been removed. Think of everything as having been sprained, torn, bruised.  It doesn't need to be made worse. It can still take a year to completely heal. So test that temperature on a similar tender spot, like the other thigh.

Settle on a time schedule for your painkillers that works with the rest of your routine. You will often be too foggy to remember whether you had that last pill at 3:30 or 5:00 today, or whether that was yesterday, so keep to as much of a routine as possible. If you get one of those 4 x a day weekly pill holders, you can pre-fill it and then look under each flap to check on all your meds. Be aware your screwy new sleep schedule will try to mess it all up for you.

You will still sleep a lot for weeks, partly from the anesthesia still in your system, partly from your painkillers, partly just because you are recovering from major surgery. Don't fight it. You can sleep in your recliner, or flat in your bed. If you are a side sleeper in bed, a small pillow between the knees is recommended. I haven't found one thin enough to be comfortable, and suggest substituting a few folds of a soft lightweight (baby?) blanket for cushioning. After six weeks you might not even need that as you find comfortable positions for your legs.

Your dreams will be weirder than usual. Nightmares more vivid. Actions more vivid. You may find yourself often waking from a dream with your arm outstretched reaching for some dreamed item,  feeling it in your hand. Don't let it bother you. Things will normalize, especially as your painkiller dosages decrease. If you find yourself sleepwalking, make sure the car keys are where you can't find them!

Find little bits of time for your home PT. If I do it before bed, I am wakeful for at least an hour, so I try to do it sooner. First thing in the morning isn't for me because I'm in a hurry to get some food in me that I need before taking my painkillers. Priorities, you know. I like doing most of them on my bed, after coming out of the bathroom instead of on the way. Priorities, you know. I modify some of the exercises to fit my surroundings. There is no good place to pull the knee back into a tight bend like they have at PT unless I have the elastic band handy, but if I lay on my back, thighs vertical, letting the knee lower the rest of the leg, gravity pulls it down for me. If I get myself into a spot where I can't lift the foot up again, I can just roll over and slowly straighten the leg on the bed.

The tight bend is the hardest for me. If I'm sitting where my feet swing freely, I can use the other leg to push the exercising one back into position, especially as I'm first recovering. In fact, early in the recovery I've found a stick with loops at both ends is useful in moving the leg when I can't. My hand goes in one end loop, the other slips around the foot, and I pull, lift, or whatever it takes to get that leg where I need it, whether as part of PT or just a comfy position to rest in. I don't know where to get one of those. It helps to be married to somebody who got one when he got one of his knee replacements.

If your years with bad knees haven't already taught you to do this, learn to lift the blankets up off your legs before rolling over so they don't get caught up in them. You can't effectively or painlessly move the covers aside using the recovering leg for a long while.

Keep that lap blanket handy to your chair. You can be too warm one minute and chilly the next, and 5 minutes under the blanket overheats you again. Your ice pack will cool the whole of you down to shivering, but keep using them because for the first few weeks they are great for reducing swelling and controlling pain. After that you may find gentle heat, like from a hot shower or a gently warmed hot pack, may ease pain by loosening up those tendons, same as an athlete stretching and warming up before the run or whatever. My best results are from heat before activity, cold after.

That blanket can also keep your knee protected from the rest of your environment, things which might apply pressure as you rest them there, or the dog or cat which insists it belongs in your lap because it has missed you. For the three days you were gone. For the ten minutes since it was last there.

Reading is still more challenge than not, but improves with time. TV can be problematic as well, as you drift off mid-episode. Some recording device, like TIVO or a DVR, is helpful if you can keep others in the house from erasing what they think you've already watched just because you were physically present when it was on.

Your appetite is still likely to be suppressed while you are on the narcotics, so don't be shocked when it's two hours past lunchtime and you never noticed. I won't say it's a weight loss plan, partly because of the lessened activity and partly because once you come off the narcotics the appetite returns with a vengeance.

You will wear tight elastic socks out of the hospital to help prevent blood clots in your legs. They will tell you how many weeks you should wear them. As for me, the first time they had to come off  for something, they stayed off because 1: like everybody else I hated them and 2: I couldn't reach my feet far enough and for long enough to be able to pull them back on. This is a case of my saying, "don't try this at home." And also, "results may vary." I was very conscientious about doing my ankle flexing exercises to increase circulation and hopefully avoid any clots forming.

Energy levels will be up, down, all over the map, different than what you thought they were half an hour earlier. Bedtimes vary by the day. If you make plans, be sure you and those around you understand you may need to break them without notice, the same level of notice your body gives you. Be aware that your body will be doing odd things  for a while, like the hot/cold cycling, long after you figure that it should be all over. My surgeon explained that it is because of the anesthesia, a conglomerate of very strong chemicals needed while they take you apart and put you back together, and they don't flee the body instantly once the surgery is done.

So give yourself time. And have a help-line number handy when you have a question about whether something is to be expected and just muddle through with it or apply a certain treatment, or whether you need to seek in-person medical help because whatever it is, it's important.

I try to wean myself off the narcotics after a few weeks. The first two weeks are absolutely the worst, and you need to move around, so take whatever is offered during that time and be grateful. It makes it bearable to do something as basic as rolling over in bed, or flexing and straightening the knee, not to mention PT. Living still seems worthwhile. Then you can start to decrease dosages, space out pills, substitute a dose of anti-inflamitory for one pill. At 5 weeks - which may vary for others, or with a second knee - I was on ibuprofin, 600 mg. two or three times a day, and one 5/325 percoset around supper time. If I've been at all active, both my legs absolutely ache by that time from mid thigh to the ankle, and the one pill carries me through the evening and a night of sleep, with low enough pain levels that by morning I'm back to ibuprofin again. In fact, sleeping the night through makes such a difference that when I feel an afternoon ache coming on I preemptively head to bed for a nap so I can put off the evening percoset as long as possible.

Strategies vary as time progresses. It may help that the knees were so bad for so many years that I'm grateful for even a little improvement. Then again, every little improvement makes me impatient for the next and the next until it's over, and I have to keep reminding myself to be patient.

Or I could go take another nap.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Spurts

No, not that kind! Get your mind outta there! This is a G-rated blog.

I'm talking about life these days consisting of spurts of energy, spurts of activity, spurts of feeling like I can contribute some small measure of something to at least my little corner of the universe.

They seem to always, however, be followed by  about 4-8 times the amount of time used up in the spurt needing to be spent in recovery. If it's not dealing with pain, it's just large bouts of inertia. Nothing appeals for an activity, nothing is necessary (barring bathroom breaks), nothing worthy of the energy needed to accomplish it. However minor. Nothing.

Tuesday I did my taxes. No biggie, right? I needed three pieces of information, the printed forms to fill in and mail, and instructions. Some things were changed from past years when I had to fill in a complete Schedule C, an SE, and my deductions and exemptions weren't influenced by my age. Yes, all that didn't really constitute a challenge after all those years of doing my own business taxes. But still....

There was a year of paperwork to go through, just because. Maybe I don't really need every little gas or fast food receipt, few as they are these days, or every RX expense documented since I'm not itemizing, but there still is (my) need to file all the stuff together into a folder for the year, "just in case." Tax audit paranoia, maybe, despite never having been audited and always having documentation. My need to garner 2,000+ pieces of paper means going through each file folder, sorting, spreading everything across the bed in piles, tossing a 5" deep stack of recyclable papers in the bin, making sure all bank and credit card statements are included for the year.... You know, all the stuff I didn't really need to do.

The point is that it all took most of a day, involving lots of movement in the legs as I found  different places for everything, requiring me to turn different ways across the bed. Lots of movement. I also filled out the forms sitting in the recliner, but my knees were now protesting their position and I kept crossing, moving, recrossing, stretching.... Well, again a bit of overactivity. And three days were necessary to recover from it.

This meant I was finally up to thinking about doing something again today.

Perfect timing as it turned out, as today was the day to visit the surgeon and lobby him for replacing knee #2. I was at my most pain free, best able to demonstrate my recovery at my 6-week point, and... successful. Surgery is next month, just under 4 weeks away. And I can now make plans to return to Minnesota's cooler and mosquito-filled summer just after The Fourth.

We'll see how well I can manage those spurts by then. Perhaps I can spend the next few weeks learning better how to pace myself, finding out if that can really make a difference. After all, I'm looking at a three day driving marathon.

Or maybe I'll have to fly back instead.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Just the First Bill

I've been telling anyone who asked why I hadn't gotten my knees fixed years sooner than I did that the reason was I couldn't afford to do so.

Many of those years I had no insurance. Other years, in fact until this year, I had partial insurance, making surgery still more expensive than I wanted to even consider. Once I finally had a complete "Medigap" type of insurance, or a second plan which fills in the gaps of coverage in my Medicare plan, I was more than willing to do whatever it takes to get those knees replaced. Except pay, of course.

I finally got concrete validation for waiting.

I get those bills which say "this is not a bill" on a regular basis, explaining how much my medical care has been billed for, how much is covered by each plan, how much is my responsibility. Generally my part is what I know ahead of time. It's called a co-pay. This year I haven't had any of those. I can walk into my doctors' offices without bringing my purse along. That alone is sweet, but not nearly what I had been waiting for.

I just read in detail the several pages of my latest insurance coverage report. There were a couple minor separate items unrelated to the knee, charges running up to a couple hundred per visit or service. I fully expect that more PT charges will be reported on the next not-a-bill. But the one bottom line total, the one covering the knees, was a breathtaking $46,000. Plus a bit.

I'll be interested in comparing this one to the second knee bill.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Trying Opposites

Life was pretty quiet the first few weeks after surgery. Then Paul came down to visit, and we began to go out and see the sights. His goal was to see the desert in bloom, and as much as possible during his two weeks, we did that.

Of course, it meant a bit of travel, riding in the car, riding on my scooter, knees bent back, things my body hadn't been used to in its recovery process. You won't be surprised to hear that it found new ways to hurt. By the end of the day at the end of the visit, both legs ached for hours. It got so that I couldn't stand to stay awake past 8 PM, with sleep being the only solace, and it being somewhat fitful, especially as I was working to wind down my painkiller usage.

I have a love-hate relationship with those things. I love not feeling the pain. After all, life hasn't been pain free since my first injure in 1985. I'm pretty lucky that ibuprofin came along at that time, because nothing else really worked. However, you know you're not really supposed to take it regularly over 30+ years. Nor anything even close. Aspirin and acetaminophin did nothing, not did any of the other almost-narcotics that were occasionally tried. It wasn't until my abdominal surgery a few years back that I found a real pain killer, Dilaudid. Since it's a close derivative of heroin, it was for very short term usage.

So the hate part of my love-hate relationship with painkillers is that the good ones have two major drawbacks. The body adjusts to them, rendering them less effective as time passes. And they lead to the possibility of addiction. For both reasons I've been working hard to decrease both the dosages I take of the good stuff and the frequency with which I take them. Meaning I'm still fighting pain.

I added ibuprofin back into the mix shortly after returning home after surgery. Much of my knee pain was from the inflamation that comes when they pull all the soft tissues apart to chop/saw out the old bones and cement in the new metal pieces, and ibuprofin addresses that. Somewhat. Percoset with acetaminophin didn't address it, and the two aspirin I was to take daily to prevent blood clots barely touched it either. Of course the resulting cocktail can be best described as everything all at once.

Also not the best idea, long term. Hence backing off, and aching legs. Both of them, replaced knee and yet-to-be-replaced still arthritic knee.

Moving was supposed to help, and as long as movement was modest, it did. Cold packs were prescribed as well. They worked fairly well at first, but by the end of Paul's vacation seemed to become useless. Something else needed to be tried.

First, of course, was a few days of very little moving. That was hard to do, with the little voice in the back of my head reminding me I was supposed to move, and whatever I did starting out as relatively pain-free. Of course I managed to over-do whatever I did, pool walking or pooper scooping. So, quit that, go back to lots of reading and TV catch-up. Eventually the deep aches went away, and I'm avoiding the temptation to go out there and be busy!

I also noted that on the days I had PT, when I preceded it with a nice hot shower, the knee tendons seemed to loosen up and there was less pain during and after the exercises. So the ice packs have stayed mostly in the freezer, and I try to start and end each day with a hot pack.

So far, meaning two whole days, it seems to be working, and yes, that's with continuing to decrease the percoset levels in my body. So I'm going to continue with that plan and see how it goes.

Friday I see the surgeon and ask to replace knee #2 ASAP. Wish me luck on all of it.