Knee Surgery: One Year Later

Some images are slightly graphic, keep that in mind when scrolling.

Last year was a little weird for me, I had to teach myself how to walk again.

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When I dislocated my knee cap 5 years ago, I had no idea the ramifications of my injury. I was told multiple times that I had cartilage floating around in my knee after my accident, but it would be fine. Specialists said I needed to build up the muscles in my knee (yet in all honesty, that’s where most of my strength was). I had so many friends who had arthroscopic procedures and I figured that if I ever had surgery I could handle 3 small incisions. I saw friends bounce back, with lots of work. I knew I could do that, too.

I was absolutely unaware and unprepared for what I had in store. Here’s my story.

In 2008 I was dancing as much as I could. I joined a dance troupe, was wrapping up my time with the Toronto Argos Cheer Team, and choreographing for a University.

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All of that was taken away one night. I was rushed to the hospital after collapsing on stage, my right kneecap had dislocated and had immediately tripled in size. I was on crutches, had a brace, and of course, was scheduled to go away to Ireland in a few weeks. While I took good care of myself, and got back to normal within a few months, my knee never felt stable. I sought out a personal trainer, a specialist, and did a lot of research on my own. No one said more than “build up the muscle around the knee”. But I knew something was wrong, so I went to the best of the best for answers.

Dr. John Cameron at Sunnybrook Orthopedic is incredible. After 2.5 years of waiting for an answer, he quickly diagnosed me with patella alta. Basically, both my kneecaps sit up too high and are unstable because of it. It would never have been discovered without an injury (I mean who really looks for high kneecaps), but in order for a stable knee, I needed surgery.

I was told I’d be placed on a waiting list, and I would be walking in 4 days post-surgery. No. Big. Deal. So I continued on.

Well, you have no idea how much your knees impact your daily life. And from the time I left the hospital that day, things seemed to get worse. My kneecap would slip while walking down the street. Which was not only painful, on a daily basis, but extremely scary. I remember playing Ultimate Frisbee one summer and running down field only to have my knee slip in and out 3 times during my sprint. I also went back to participate in an Argos alumni game and had my knee slip mid performance.  I counted down the days until I got the phone call.

On April 18th, 2013 I went in for surgery.

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Sunnybrook is a teaching hospital, so I was constantly surrounded by many students, in many areas of the hospital, learning about my procedure. Dr. Cameron is close to retirement, and I liked seeing him teach the next generation about something he specializes in. It was neat to be a part of that, until of course the Doctor (student) freezing my leg inserted a needle incorrectly into my thigh and I almost blacked out from pain. But that’s a story for another day.

I woke up with a gigantic (to me) incision.

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5 inches to be exact. Not what I had expected. My kneecap had been lowered, part of the padding carved out and removed, and screwed in with 2 screws. I was shocked. Thank God for my Mom, and best friends (I love you) for sitting at the hospital with me and being my voice when I didn’t have one.

My pain was inaccurately managed over the next few days. I love nurses, and think they’re fantastic and selfless beings (2 were all stars for me, I hugged them when I left). But not being on top of pain is difficult. It makes managing your pain extremely difficult once you leave the hospital, and for a week I struggled to be even remotely comfortable.

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4 days and I’ll be walking. Well I was, but not how I thought.

The morning after surgery I was up and moving with a physiotherapist. I thought I could run that morning! My leg was still frozen, and I whipped around the 6th floor, and the stairs, like I had nothing wrong. Little did I know that when the freezing wore off, I wouldn’t be able to lift my leg, never mind walk around.

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The first week I noted my progress with laps around the bottom floor of my Mom’s house. 1 in the morning, 1 in the evening. I slept for hours upon end. Week 2 saw more progress. I could walk for about 15 minutes straight if I really pushed myself. Week 3 I walked to Starbucks and back, I was overjoyed. Week 4 I felt like I could conquer the world!

Then my brace came off.

I was back to ground zero with complete muscle atrophy. I couldn’t even move my leg without assistance. The uphill battle started.

A year later, I’ve learned a lot of lessons, and I’m sure they can be applied in many situations.

Ask Questions

I didn’t ask enough questions. I was far too optimistic, and just nodded my head when everything was being explained to me. I didn’t question screws going into my body, I didn’t ask about the length of recovery time after I was up and walking. I asked nothing. Make sure you think about every possible outcome and research the heck out of your procedure.

Appreciate the Milestones

I posted a lot of milestones to Facebook over the last year. Some people probably groaned, others wished me well, and some privately told me that my progress felt like their progress. I have never been more thankful for social media, because it kept me appreciative, and kept me going.

Weight Comes and Goes

Gaining a lot of weight devastated me. My injury limited my ability to do a lot of exercise, and I wasn’t dancing 3-4 days a week anymore.  I truthfully have felt like I have been living in someone else’s body for the last 5 years. But I am working diligently on it, while listening to my body, and pushing only as much as I can. It’s an internal struggle, that quite often becomes an external one. I constantly remind myself that a year ago I couldn’t do more than a lap around my home, and am happy to report I am down 8 pounds, 2 dress sizes, and counting. I can smell a 5k, and I’ll most definitely ball my eyes out when I accomplish that goal.

Surgery is an Opportunity

My surgery gave me many limitations, but it also has given me the opportunity to change parts of my life. I have become so concerned with being a healthy gal that since having surgery, even without exercise, I have felt strong.  I fuel my body with clean foods, drink plenty of water, and walk as much as I can. I take care of my mind, and am slowly introducing exercise back in my life. Two screws in my knee means I can’t kneel, but it also means I have a secure knee to live my life.

No One Cares What You Look Like But You

I walked around with a cane for quite some time after surgery, and the only person who cared about it was me.

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I made excuses all the time, feeling embarrassed for whoever I was with. And no one cared. In fact, I went on a lot of dates with it. One in particular was with a physiotherapist who took my cane away from me and corrected my walking. While we didn’t last, my walking did! Now my scar is my cane. I think it’s the only thing anyone is looking at, and I’m dreading the summer because of it. My own inner struggle, and I will get over it.

Have A Support System

My Mom was by my side the whole way. She did it all, from injury to today. I cried a lot, and she was always my shoulder. Then of course, my best friends. Casey even washed my hair in my sink one night when I couldn’t get into the shower.

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I live alone, I’m independent, and asking her to come over to scrub my head was a big ask for me. To which she laughed. Ask for help. I also relied on my physiotherapist, my lovely friend Andria who did acupuncture on my knee, Ashley who talked me down off a ledge when I was feeling the size of a whale, Gian who kept me inspired, Leslie who got me out of the house, and Rebecca who always made sure I was ok, even during her wedding (thanks for letting me rock flats and Pink Tartan). So many people to thank, and I am so glad I had each and every one of them.

Stay Positive

I’ve had a lot of setbacks. But I won’t let them stop me. I also won’t let anyone stand in my way, especially myself. I set small goals, and I stay with them until they’re accomplished. For example, sitting cross-legged. While I know it’s bad for you, I know I know, it was a major accomplishment to have the flexibility to do it. As Dory said, “keep on swimming.”

For the record, this is far from a pity post.

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Believe me I am well aware this is a 2 on the scale of surgeries. But it has made a significant impact in my life, one I deal with daily, so I thought I would share. As I celebrate my one-year anniversary, I’m heading to a yoga class, for the first time in over a year. I have a long way to go, but I am proud of my accomplishments.

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And my pesky scar, well that’s just building character.

  • http://www.KeriBlog.com Keri

    Your scar is cool and makes you look tough, don’t dread this summer!

  • http://www.searchingforhappy.com/ Alex Conde

    I agree with Keri. Sometimes a scar is a trophy saying you’ve overcome something.

  • Danielle Fulton

    That’s amazing Shannon. I know what it’s like to go through something like only I went through with my heart. And your scar makes you part of a very cool club. We call ourselves the Zipper Club. Welcome :)

  • http://www.urbandaddy.wordpress.com/ The Urban Daddy

    Amazing story! Thanks for sharing it. Glad to hear you’re moving so much better after a year. You don’t seem like the kind of person who is going to let a scar hold you back from anything. Honestly.