Little addictions

My handicap tag quietly expired 9 days ago, marking six months since my knee replacement surgery.  The last time I hung it on my rear-view mirror was a few weeks ago when I had to make a quick stop at a shop with no parking spaces open nearby except the handicap spot right out front. I tried to look a little crippled when I edged out of the driver’s seat in case anyone was looking, but I’m not handicapped that you could notice. Here is a six-month progress report.

I can walk up to two miles if I have incentives. I need incentives because walking is not yet fun. It feels like work and my gait is still awkward.

This means I am once again walking to the library because books are a good incentive. So is a good restaurant meal or an afternoon cocktail with my husband. Yesterday I started out for the river, which is not much of an incentive, but ran into friends who were walking their dog and the incentives multiplied. I was able to go farther and faster than normal and didn’t notice how hard I was working because we were talking. I was panting only a little.

The knee flex is almost normal and I can push the joint to straight when I’m sitting in a hot bath, but it isn’t quite straight when I relax. The work on straightening is slow but I’m seeing progress. It’s surprising how important a straight leg is for normal walking. Otherwise you lean forward.

I’ve started doing some Pilates exercises to develop core strength. This is also helping my walk.

The knee hurts a little when take stairs the normal way but I do it anyhow. I can’t take the laundry basket upstairs but I can bring it down.

The discomfort has all but disappeared in most situations, and yet I am hanging onto a small set of habits that helped me through the discomfort: meal kits, a sleep aid, and fruity seltzer water.

Meal kits reduce my trips to the grocery store. I like Sun Basket because it often features exotic recipes with ingredients I wouldn’t normally have on hand. It is a nice treat to sit down with my husband, a glass of wine, and “fesenjan pomegranate and walnut chicken” on an ordinary weeknight, usually in front of the television, watching Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” version of the bad news of the day. (What. You think we should talk to each other over dinner?)

I’ve reduced to a bare minimum my dosage of gabapentin, which is a sleepy-making, non-opioid pain medication, but it feels good to sleep through the night, which I hadn’t been doing for a long time before the surgery. I’ve tried to get off of it but find myself taking forever to get to sleep and then waking up at 3 am. This was what my nights were like for many years. Could I go back to that?

I don’t know why I am now addicted to one or two cans of grapefruit Bubly a day or what it has to do with my knee. This, too, is probably in the category of small comfort indulgence, brought on by discomfort which no longer exists.

Fortunately, my addictions are pretty harmless. But I understand how opioid pain medications can become harmful addictions. Something makes you feel better when you really need help, and then you find it hard to give up when you don’t need so much help, or you use it to address a different kind of pain. The opioids I took for a week after surgery did help with pain, but I found the woozy side effects so annoying that I stopped them as quickly as possible and never experienced any of their physical or psychological addictive properties.

We’ll see whether I still “need” meal kits, gabapentin, and Bubly six months from now.

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