Surgery Day Tomorrow

Tomorrow, I will be having my left medial meniscus removed. After waiting a month to see a second doctor, I was unable to get to my appointment because it fell in the middle of another 2 foot snowstorm! (Of course that was going to happen…). When I tried to reschedule, they said the next available appointment was March 2nd! I called back twice and told them I couldn’t wait another month and asked if there was there someone else I could see. “There’s an opening with Dr. Smiley on February 23rd!”. I called back again and was told they were trying to get me an appointment with a third guy in a week to 10 days. (I should have tried to get something sooner the first time around!). I only had two narrow window frames for surgery: one at the end of January/ very early February, and one as close to February 20th as possible- to give me a bit of time to recover before my next set of talks. The first window frame had passed just waiting for an initial appointment with this doctor.
In the end, I was able to see the doctor the following day. I had been told that he was a “people-person” and very friendly, so I was surprised that he did not even smile once during my appointment! He seemed very disgruntled (especially when he had to insert the MRI CD himself) and very tired. Maybe it was all the snow that we have had to deal with, or maybe it was the result of spending his entire life working so many hours.
I didn’t expect his opinion to be any different than the first guy I saw, but at least his reputation was a bit better. I told him that I wanted to hike thousands of miles beginning mid-April and was that possible after having surgery in February. He shook his head. “No. I wouldn’t do that.” The initial recovery is 8 weeks, and only after that can I even begin to build strength in my quads. “I wouldn’t want you to get 1,000 miles in and be stuck somewhere.” “And I couldn’t hike like this, right?” He shook his head. He had me tense my quads, looked at and felt them, and said my left quad had already atrophied. (That explains the uncontrollable shaking I had experienced when trying to stand on one leg recently while trying some yoga at home). It was bad enough not to be able to walk or take yoga classes for 3 months, but the viruses I had in January completely knocked any remaining strength out of me). He admitted that I would get early arthritis in that area of my knee after having the meniscus removed, but the truth is that I’ve had arthritis in both of my knees since my 20’s. They both make awful sounds when I flex and straighten them. He said that is arthritis in my kneecaps (which they also saw on the MRI).

I agreed to have the surgery. Due to a cancellation, I was able to book it for the 11th. I cancelled my talk on the 12th and after hearing that my yoga teacher who had the same procedure done had a rough recovery and couldn’t even walk for 2 weeks (“they clipped my hamstring”), cancelled my two talks the following week, as well. It is probably asking too much to drive 2.5 hours in one direction 5 days after surgery.

My mind has been consumed with preparing for surgery this past week. Mostly, I have been feeling very, very sad, and very, very alone. Because of the pain I have been in since early November, I have not been able to put any energy into planning for the Continental Divide Trail. But the truth is, I’ve had the desire to hike that trail this year in the back of my head for a long time. I told the libraries a long time ago that I could not commit to anything beyond the end of March. I had an amount I needed to have in my bank account to feel okay about (even though it would completely wipe me out), and knowing that Fun Size was hiking the CDT this year, I wanted to do it then, as well. He is the one person who I feel would look after me and make sure I was okay out there. (I’ve been completely fine on my own on the trails I’ve done so far and have known that before I started any of them, but the CDT is different).
Now, that opportunity is gone. I went back in my head- back to that day in September when I ultimately went against my own body’s knowledge and did what my teacher told us to do. (It turns out that September was even worse than I thought!!). I felt so mad at her. Not only do I have to go through the pain and long recovery of surgery (losing half on my year membership that I paid for at my yoga studio, miss the classes that I love so much, spend a lot of money on everything related to this surgery, lose a month’s worth of income, but worst of all, be unable to hike the trail that I have been wanting to hike since the PCT!!). I feel a little hurt that she hasn’t even asked about me, as well. I know that the responsibility is mine, but I can’t help thinking about how my other teachers would never have asked anyone to do such a move. It takes one momentary bad decision to change the entire course of a life.
I’m also been replaying all the decisions I have made since that moment. Maybe if I acted quickly and had the surgery in December, it would have given me enough recovery time to hike by April… But I didn’t know that it was so badly torn then- that I needed an MRI and to have surgery in November. At that time, I only had my past experiences to compare it to and thought it could heal on its own. By mid-December, when the pain became excruciating, my body was telling me this time was different. Still, I’m glad I didn’t rush into surgery with the first doctor who had an opening and who clearly didn’t care about me or my pain level. I think I did the best I could. (Even now, someone urged me to see more surgeons until I found one that agreed to repair it instead of remove it. He saw 5 orthopedic surgeons for his problem before he found one who would listen to him and not just revert to “standard” procedure. But I’m tired of being in this type of pain. (It hurts constantly- when I sit, when I lie in bed, whenever I straighten my leg, when I walk…) And I’m tired of waiting for appointments with the few doctors who accept my health insurance).

Meanwhile, Fun Size is posting pictures of meet-ups of fellow thru-hikers in Bend, including a photo of six of them attempting the CDT in 2015 from that one town! (What I am I doing all alone in 6 feet of snow out here??!). It’s a bit much to bear.

My sadness mostly stems from the constant stream of injuries and illnesses that I have been faced with over the course of my life. Time and time again, I have been denied the ability to move (which turns out to be the most essential thing for me). I was going to list a lot of these out for everyone to see, but that will have to wait until post surgery because I have run out of time again. (At the moment, I am suffering from intestinal pain once again! It still happens every day that I have to wake up early even though my breakfast remains the same! I don’t understand it. I do know that I am now gluten intolerant. I’m still suffering the consequences of eating gluten on the road on January 22nd!). I’ve also been recalling my previous surgery experiences (nurses jamming sticks up my nose while I was still awake before my first jaw surgery – one of the most painful feelings ever!-, blood spraying out my arm when my doctor botched the IV needle implantation during a midnight post-surgery visit, severe dehydration and a respiratory infection post-surgery, mis-communication between the surgeon and orthodontist and both leaving me high and dry after the surgery, and on and on and on! I could write a book about that experience alone!). I guess the good thing about knee surgery as opposed to jaw surgery is that I will still have the ability to eat afterwards!

Holidays and surgery are days that allow you to see how many people are present in your life and that is why I have been feeling so extremely alone and so sad. All week, I didn’t even know if I had anyone to bring me home from the hospital. Taylor has classes until 3:45 on Wednesdays and Jacqui has to work. I thought and thought and thought…. I didn’t want to ask my friend, Checka, who lives an hour away to drive to one town, drive to another to bring me home, and then drive back home, but when I did finally ask, it turned out that she was free until 4 and was happy to bring me home! So in the end, I lucked out. I will have a very nurturing person (whom I very rarely get to see), help bring me home.

I bought as much food as I could at the grocery store today and plan to hibernate until it runs out.
It’s been a very tough time for everyone in Massachusetts with over six feet of snow falling in the last 17 days. There is nowhere to put it! This morning, my car was completely trapped by my neighbors cars and no one was even stirring. I had no idea how I was going to get to the hospital for my pre-op appointments. I called my landlord and luckily he got my message and came out to help me. After an hour of shoveling and frozen feet and fingers, I ended up arriving just in time! And when I got home from the grocery store, a couple more neighbors appeared at just the right time to help me out even more. While I was trying to shovel a path wide enough to walk with crutches, a neighbor offered to bring me my groceries from my car. After telling her a good five times, “That’s okay, I’m fine…. Thanks, but I can do it… It’s no problem…” she insisted.
“I know how helpful this is because every time I come home after grocery shopping, my husband is always waiting to take the bags.” I told her I was having surgery tomorrow.
“Do you have anyone to check on you?”
I shook my head.
“Would you like us to check on you?”
With tears in my eyes, I nodded yes. Yes, I would like that. After all my worrying, it turns out that I am not so alone after all. I’m still sick, injured, and very emotional, but I am not alone.


4 thoughts on “Surgery Day Tomorrow

  1. Wendy, maybe lay low on the hiking, until the knee heals. You have your whole life ahead of you and with your spirit and strength and determination you will be able to hike again. But injuries have to heal. I hope for your recovery and that the life you dream for an want comes to be. With heavy physical activity injuries are bound to occur.

  2. Wendy,
    My wife and I attended your talk in Chelmsford last year. I later read your entire PCT blog, which took me weeks. I loved the day-to-day rhythm you captured in your writing. The photos were outstanding too. Thank you for all the work you put into recording your experience. I hope your surgery was successful and wish you all the best.

    • Thank you so much for writing, Mike! I’m glad you enjoyed my PCT journal! I appreciate you taking the time to read it! I still feel bad about the slideshow malfunction that night! I wish I had played my quicktime file, which I have since discovered works just fine. Learning process…

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