I had a total knee replacement along with a near-total femur replacement in January of 1998. The combo was supposed to last about ten years. In early 2014 I began detecting the first sure signs that the replacement was deteriorating (i.e. onset of permanent significant limp, the sort of limp that used to come and go with heavy walking days for the first 17 years). By some time in September of 2015 it was clear that femur #2 wasn't much use to me anymore—it had become totally loose, rendering walking a real 9/10 difficulty and sometimes the rod would jab against the side of the bone it was inserted in, causing an apocalyptic pain that would leave me grabbing for the support of scaffolding, street signs, or strangers in a "this is it, it's over, I'm ruined" panic. I began consulting with physicians. A date for a surgery was scheduled. My mom flew out the night before. Immediately after she arrived I received word my surgery had to be postponed a week. Mom and I saw the King and I that night and ate at Uncle Boon's the next night, then she went back to Chicago. The next Wednesday she was back, and we ate at Lure and watched Meet the Patels. And then I got up the next morning and went to NYU to have my femur replacement replaced.
Above: a video of what my limp was like before the surgery
The whole process, particularly the surgery, was a lot like having my elbow removed two years ago, as it was the same doctors and hospitals and all. We cabbed there in the morning, made my way from helpful desk to helpful desk until I was back in the pre-surgery waiting room in my gown and hospital shorts. Things were pretty slow going and I eventually saw my surgeon for a minute, and then a little while after that they told me it was time to go and I walked back into the operating room. It looked like a garage in there there were so many stacks of tools and equipment. I got strapped on the table as "Brown Eyed Girl" played from some iPhone speakers. "Sweet Home Alabama" was playing while the anesthesiologist started working on me. I was in there a good long time before anything happened, I can account for about 20 minutes of it. Oddly I have no memory of the countdown to black out, the time when the anesthesiologist tells me I'll be going under. That's kind of my favorite part of an operation, when they tell me to count to 20 and I see if I can beat the drugs. But for whatever reason I don't remember that at all this time. It's just one minute I'm in the operating room, the next I hear people yelling my name at me in the recovery room. My first thought when I hear my name "Oh good, I didn't die, I can see Star Wars." Then I wiggle both sets of toes and think "Oh good, they didn't amputate my leg." In my first moments of consciousness I establish that neither of my two worst surgery fears happened, from here on out everything should be easy.
The next thing I notice is the time. I note that the surgery has taken a relatively short three hours. That means the operation was as simple as it could have been, the doctors didn't have to dip into any of the additional possible scenarios they'd talked about in our appointments, like needing to replace my knee as well, or needing to put in a bone graft, or needing to repair any fractures. Later on I'm told that this was the case, that everything was straightforward and "simple." But I already knew, through the power of subtraction.
I'm in Recovery for a good 3 hours. There's a busy woman very good at her job of yelling at me to remember to breathe. This is always an issue for me, post-surgery, making sure I breathe enough to make the hospital people happy. I take deep breaths and I don't need a lot of them! I once held my breath for over 4 minutes! Doesn't matter to them, need to keep breathing.
It turns out one of the reasons I'm in recovery for so long is they can't find a room for me. But then they do. They say they're sending me to the VIP room. It seems like a joke, but the room is, in fact, VIP—no roommate, set apart from the other rooms, has a nice big shower [that I won't be using], nice walls, sconces, lots of chairs [lots and lots of chairs, too many, in fact. Always getting in everyone's way, there's so many chairs]. I get to the room, am moved from my stretcher to the bed, and promptly throw up the jello I ate in the recovery room. As I arrive in the room at a little past 6, it's technically too late to get dinner. One staffer gives me her Cup of Noodles. I eat half of it, then immediately throw it up. This is how Thursday basically goes. There's not much to it.
I stay at the hospital until Sunday. My time spent there is divided between: sleeping, watching videos on my computer, getting presents from my co-workers, getting a crank call from my co-workers, visits from my occupational therapist who is determined to make herself useful by figuring out how I will sit on a toilet, visits from my physical therapist who is useful at getting me up and walking right away—first with a walker, then with crutches; first to the door, then halfway down the hall, then down the hall and back, and figuring out the intricacies of filling out the hospital cafeteria menu—it turns out that sometimes something isn't as simple as just checking off what you're interested in eating.
It kind of seems like I might just stay at the hospital forever, things go very slowly, but gossip builds on Sunday that that's the day I'm leaving and suddenly I've signed the appropriate papers and put my clothes back on and I am out of there, just like that.
Mom and I cab it home just in time for a visit from Aubrey, who comes bearing Twix bars and a Sweetgreen salad. An hour or two later Angelique stops by with Becky and Braden and nachos from Taqueria Diana. My guests absolutely will not share my gigantic order of nachos with me, a gesture of politeness that actually leaves quite the burden on me. I do not finish the nachos the first night and the next day make myself sick (*not literally, finally) trying to finish them off for lunch.
Monday I had an excellent visit from Kim, didn't remember to take her picture, though. But she asked really good questions, as she does.
I spend the first four days at home, slowly getting started on home-visit physical therapy and daring to take my first crutch-less steps. Nights are rough, lying with my leg in one position for 6 or so hours turns out to be quite painful. I make sure to take pain pills an hour before bed, then wake up halfway through the night to re-up on the percocets. I have astoundingly crazy and realistic dreams, dreams where I think out loud "This is crazy, I really wish it were a dream...too bad I can tell this is NOT a dream." My best sleeping is done mid-morning on the couch.
The hero of all this time is Mom. She looks after and cares for me tirelessly, and when I don't need any looking after, she just cleans or organizes the apartment. I can't believe how nice the apartment seems when it's been well-scrubbed and organized—and I had thought the apartment was fairly clean and organized before she got there! (*Important Note: by wonderful coincidence, my roommate was off on a many-week trip to Japan at this time, so Mom was able to stay in his room. This was the key to everything). Mom also takes daily walks and I trick her into checking out the new Whitney museum. And also she comes home with food. I start to worry what on earth I'll do without her during the next week or two (*two! It turns out to be two!) weeks of recuperation.
But there is a miracle! My friend Trevor invites me to come stay in the spare room at his elevator building downtown. The thought of spending my days in a multi-room apartment with sunlit views and comfortable amenities is overwhelming. This also ranks as one of the Top 3 super-miracles of the leg replacement ordeal. I may have just said Top 3 super-miracles, but I think there were actually 4 top super- miracles.
Anyway, during my time homebound on Hester street I also have visits from Hannah & Hazel & Joni, Andrea, Patricia, Emily & Whitney & Natalie, and tutor Christian one night. Mom and I win him over with Prince Street Pizza. I also win Mom over with that Prince Street Pizza. Finally, a New York slice I care about. I also have visits from home nurses, one of whom is pictured below, and home physical therapists, none of whom are pictured below.
Friday Mom and I venture out into the world to see Spectre. The trip to the movie theater goes pretty well, and the movie is good. Then we go to get lunch at Pies and Thighs, which I used to think of as being close to my house. The walk from the subway to the restaurant is nearly too much for me. But we make it, and we eat, and we are there a long time.
Saturday Mom and I turn a one time thing into a tradition by getting brunch at Ma Peche. Again, the hike from subway to restaurant is nearly too much for me. Or maybe it was too much for me, but somehow I survived? Yes. Somehow I survived, and then I ate.
We go down to Trevor's apartment to do laundry and enjoy ourselves next. Mom goes on a tour of the Woolworth Building lobby and returns with Emily, Ty, Carol and Lauren. Patricia stops by, too.
Sunday I surprise everyone (or at least "many") by going to church and realize I've set dangerous precedent by getting there. Mom and I sneak out a tiny bit early to dinner at Parm. We enjoy pastas, meatballs, and ice cream cake. It's a near perfect day.
That night Mom finishes her work by clipping my toenails. Some of them really needed a lot of work.
Monday, the morning I had been dreading, Mom leaves for Chicago (getting to LGA from my apartment in exactly one hour via subway and bus). Once I recompose myself I prepare for my journey down to Spruce street and friend Alexia brings me noodles and then cab rides down with me and my bags (because, while I've figured out how to go up and down my five floors of stairs on my crutches, I don't have anyway of doing it with bags in hand) to Trevor's.
The next week I basically spend reading (a tiny bit), playing Playstation (PLENTY), and going down to find food with the downtown lunch crowd at lunch and then having meals delivered to me by my kind fellow church-members at night (also a neat trick to force people to visit me). And one or two nights I stay up late playing video games with Trevor. It's the life!
Friday night there's a big party at Pres Comstock's showroom that I get to DJ. It's my first subway ride since church the weekend before and my first big outing. A few people are like "Hey, come on man, why aren't you dancing?!" and I point to my crutches leaning against the wall, but most people are like "No way, Brigham, you made it!" which I like better.
Maria, who did an astounding job throwing the party, gave me a ride home. That's the only party picture I have.
On Saturday Patricia comes over and we walk over to Whole Foods to try some fancy yogurts. And then I discovered an amazing new $2 burger at Checkers.
Over the weekend I think I'll be going back to work the next week, but Sunday for some reason is a sumamente (Spanish) exhausting day, I feel on the verge of collapse into sleep through all of church, and I know work is not in my near future. So I spend another week enjoying daytime at Trevor's.
On at Tuesday, I discover Lucas is in town. I also walk home to Hester Street to check on things and make Chong Qing Chicken tacos. Lucas meets me at my place after I've cooked and eaten. We go get him a snack (three plate meal) at X'ian Famous Foods. He orders us a very flagrant Uber ride from Bayard to Spruce street. I enjoy his company a bit more. He leaves for the King and I. Then Christian comes over for more studying and more talk of the trip we'll take next year to Chicago.
Wednesday night Victoria and Andrea and I go see Creed. The theater should have been packed, but wasn't, but the three dozen of us were spirited. It was a ton of fun.
Out of Order Addendum: Saturday evening, Victoria and Andrea bring me over a sandwich. After hanging out for a couple hours we start watching Star Wars. And then we watch Empire with Charles. Next thing we know, it's 2:30 in the morning and we're finishing Return of the Jedi. I don't believe I'd ever watched all three in a row before. It was an important box to check off before the 17th gets here.
Thursday was Thanksgiving. Patricia came with me to a party in Harlem. Didn't take a single picture. Oh well.
Friday I thought I better start writing this report, so now my writing has caught up with me. I thought I might go see a movie this morning, but realized my guts weren't feeling very well. I ordered delivery for lunch. It took nearly 2 hours to get here, but it's hard to say how long it really took, because somewhere between the hour and a half and two hour mark the delivery guy came, left the food at my door, and took off, without a knock or a phone call. And I had pre-tipped 20%!! Oh well. That's the New York life right there.
Sometime while this was all happening a nurse came over and removed the dressing from my leg. If you want to see my leg without the bandage on it, click here. It's not THAT bad, but I thought it should be an opt-in photo.
And here's my new femur from my first post-op check-up. Look at all that great cement! Let's go for 20 years this time, leg!