My mom had her knee replaced about two weeks ago. She's been having a lot of pain in it over the last few years, probably even the whole time I was in college, and she had arrived at the point of being unable to bend her knee and as a result, hobbling around like a pirate with a peg leg, her right leg swinging out and around to the side with every step.
When she was wheeled into her room on the ninth floor, we were already there waiting for her (having marginally beaten her up the elevator). My brother, my mom's brother and his wife, and my dad's sister--all of us waiting to welcome her back from her anesthetized journey into the operating room.
I brought up her luggage and mine, too--we were both there to stay. I put things away, trying for a bit of a homey touch but honestly, putting a few pairs of underwear in a cabinet and hanging an outfit from a hanger doesn't really add that much to the ambiance of a hospital room.
The whole first day, she does really pretty well: her leg is swaddled hip to toe in an enormous ace bandage, adding three inches to her leg's diameter. She has a continuous passive motion machine that moves her leg from extended to a set number of degrees of flexion. More importantly, she has a happy button, a self-medication switch that allows her to dispense morphine as needed (within safe limits) in order to monitor her pain.
The first night is restless and neither of us get much sleep. The nurses and techs come in and out almost on the hour, checking her incision drain, her vital signs, the CPM. The next morning, I get dressed and go to the cafeteria to forage for food once Mom has eaten. I stay with her all day but by the afternoon I feel smelly and exhausted. My friends are going to see Karate Kid and she encourages me to go. I leave as she is napping to go home, soak in the tub, have dinner and see the movie.
When I get to the hospital, the pavilion doors are locked because it's after 10:30pm. Not just on the second floor, in the skyway bridge to the parking garage--the ones on the ground floor are locked, too. I slip inside when a woman in pink scrubs walks out.
Wednesday, Mom decides to wash her hair. It is an ordeal. Once she comes back upstairs from her physical therapy session, while she is already in the wheelchair we decide to go on an adventure. I think by now, the nurses and techs have realized that a) Mom is stubborn and determined to do things perhaps ahead of schedule and b) I am her dedicated accomplice. I wheel her down the hall, her shampoo travel bottle wedged in my pocket and a towel over my shoulder. We overshoot the right room and ask a nicely dressed woman in an office where the beauty-shop chair is (it is in the shower room). She holds the door as I wheel Mom in, and we quickly realize this is impossible for me alone to help her do. Our tech comes and apparently the woman was her boss. She says she was scolded for losing her patient, and calls us Thelma and Louise. We decide that Mom can just stand at the sink while I help her scrub and rinse her hair.
Back in the hospital bed, Mom can blowdry her hair and it is obvious that she is pleased by this small accomplishment. That night, I go home to sleep and it is blessedly restful. In the morning, I bring real coffee and the crossword puzzle and Mom knows we just have to get through Thursday, the last day, all the way through before she can come home to her own bed.
The worst part was the steps up to her bedroom. Seventeen of them, my hand on the small of her back but with my fingers curled around the gait belt; she, inching upwards, one step at a time, and I, praying that she doesn't lose her balance because despite using the belt correctly I am sure that I would not be able to support her.
We make it up the stairs, no problem.