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McCallum: Range Of Motion

I’ve joined the growing ranks of Americans who’ve undergone a total knee replacement. If we live long enough, the human body eventually needs updating with new parts. It’s a little like renovating an aging Vermont farmhouse. More than 600,000 knee replacements are performed in the U.S. each year. That’s a lot of new knees now hiking across America. And hiking is precisely what I hope to resume - eventually.

In the meantime, in case you haven’t heard, I can tell you that total knee replacement is not for sissies. Even with the best surgeon, hospital care, physical therapist and intentions, it’s a very long slog. And in my case, I like to say that it took a village to replace my knee.

Folks dropped off meals, neighbors walked the dog, others drove me to appointments and I was able to spend the first few weeks recuperating with a friend. Through it all, I’ve learned to maintain a steady focus on a phrase that’s become my new mantra: range of motion - not to be confused with range of emotion.

I’ll grant you that it’s been an emotional roller coaster ride: giving up my independence, pushing through pain and sleepless nights, and spending more time within four walls than is good for the spirit. But that’s all part of this recovery package, while range of motion is all about the bend. I never knew that a knee that always bent on command could stiffen like a piece of angle iron intent on never moving past ninety degrees again – potentially making it impossible to kneel in the garden, zip nimbly upstairs for a forgotten item, or crawl around on hands and knees to retrieve the dog’s toy.

These dark thoughts propelled me through hours of painful physical therapy to add one more degree to the knee bend, then another, each one cause for celebration. Like Aesop’s tortoise, I’ve relearned the lesson that slow and steady wins the race - or at least gets this tortoise to the finish line in her own time. Step by step, degree by degree, rotation by rotation.

It’s been a long strange trip but I'm heartened to know that I'll eventually join those 600,000 other annual new knees that finished the race.

And the next time anyone says “No pain, no gain” I hope I’ll be able to kick ‘em in the shins.


Mary McCallum is a freelance writer and former prison librarian who now works with Vermont elders.
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