How Not to Lose Your Leg

What follows is a sort of journal, a record of the strange little adventure I’ve been going through of late.  See, I had a wee procedure to fix an old problem, and it’s become…well, it’s been a bit of an odyssey.  Please enjoy (although I’d warn those with weaker constitutions to maybe skip this one.  Y’been told.)  Without further ado, here are the five things I’ve learned about knee surgery.

  1. The sooner you see the doctor, the better

My knee troubles began when I was a young 20-something. I was hit from behind playing ice hockey. My right knee went out sideways, rather than back along the hinge as nature intended. It hurt quite a bit, but I just wrapped it in an ACE bandage, iced it, etc. I was young and probably under-insured. Mostly, though, I didn’t want to bother. “Probably nothing” I told myself. That is, until I started having discomfort. It felt at times like I needed the joint to ‘pop.’ You know how sometimes it feels good to crack your knuckles or your back? Like that. Sort of a dull ache and stiffness. I would sometimes lie on the floor and have a friend pull my leg out from my body until I felt (and sometimes heard) a gentle crack. Then I felt better for a while. As I aged, it started turning into an ‘old man knee’ which would react negatively to the weather changes and such. I discovered that the older I got, the more pain I’d experience after playing hockey, paintball, or soccer. Sometimes I could barely make it up the stairs. Two procedures, and a scary infection later, I wish I’d gone to the doctor right away. Might’ve been expensive, but would’ve saved time and money in the long run.

And a lot of waiting.  And selfie-taking, natch.

And a lot of waiting. And selfie-taking, natch.

  1. Your body is a crazy, autonomous, self-protection machine

The main problem was that a bit of scar tissue from my initial injury (or perhaps a bit of bone or tendon) had broken free inside the flesh within my knee. My body decided to encapsulate it in a cyst. The cyst grew over time, until it became the size of a peach pit. This, more than anything, was the cause of most of my discomfort. Imagine having a Lemonhead candy in your knee, only it’s wrapped in layers of raw bacon and wet tissue paper. Gross, yes. But that’s what your body does to protect itself. It’s akin to an oyster creating a pearl around a grain of sand, if the oyster was a fan of David Lynch films. This bodily reaction is all well and good, until it gets in the way of flexing your knee or pushes down on your patellar tendon or expands and contracts in response to barometric pressure. Then it becomes troublesome. And, jumping ahead a bit, it turns out that for years I harbored a sub-dermal infection in the knee after my first procedure. (SURPRISE! It’s MRSA! Seriously, this could’ve ended up with me doing a great Long John Silver cosplay.) This infection stayed trapped in the knee cavity for years. In other words, my body basically threw up a force field around the nastiness, keeping it from spreading throughout my body…until we inadvertently released the monster.

"Heeeeeeere, monster!  C'mon out, buddy!" (And yes, that's me on the table.  I spared you the rest of the pics.)

“Heeeeeeere, monster! C’mon out, buddy!” (And yes, that’s me on the table. I spared you the rest of the pics.)

  1. Even nurses get grossed out

My first outpatient procedure was almost ten years ago. They went in and, unable to remove the entire cyst, sort of cut it down a bit. Trimmed the proverbial hedge. The problem was that the sutured wound became infected. They took out the stitches and gave me topical antibiotic cream and antibiotic pills. Should’ve cleared it right up. It didn’t. WARNING: we’re now getting to the part where you weak-stomached types might want to skip ahead. When the wound finally healed, it left a little ‘vent’ of sorts. This was disgusting, as now and then enough fluid would build up inside the joint that it would express itself. On one hand, it meant that the juice in my knee never reached critical, painful levels…but it also meant that it never truly healed, and had the added annoyance of being irritating and embarrassing. I’d stand up from kneeling to tie my kids’ shoes and there’s be a wet spot on my knee. Yuck. And the cyst was still in there, so when I did get down on my knees, at just the right angle, it was like having a marble sewn inside your pants leg right at the knee. Awkward and unpleasant. Finally, I’d had enough and went to my current doctor, who also specializes in sport medicine. He went in and basically performed the same procedure that I’d had before. Sewed me back up. And, you guessed it: more infection. The knee had been swollen and sort of red for a few days, and I was getting concerned. Then my shin got sort of pink. Finally, the Monday after my procedure (I’d gone in the previous Thursday) I awoke to find my knee a bloody mess. Literally, I’d ruptured, and spilled blood out of my dressing and down my leg. When I went to clean it up and re-dress, with every small bit of pressure I put on the wound, fresh blood poured out. It was like my knee was a water balloon full of blood, water, and pus. I called the doc, and he got me in fairly quickly. Opened me up, flushed out all the nastiness with saline, swabbed it, and packed the wound with medicated gauze. Here’s how that works: he opens a jar containing the gauze. The strip is about 1/4 to ½ of an inch wide and a foot or so long. He takes the forceps and slowly crams it all into the wound. Then he covers it with dry gauze padding, wraps it with more gauze, and puts an ACE bandage over all of it. One of the two nurses that have assisted every time I’ve been to the doctor has told me how hard it is to keep her breakfast down during my visits, first the cutting-out of the mass and cyst (the stuff looked like chewed-up watermelon bubble gum as he pulled more and more out) and then the stuffing of the raw, open hole in my knee with gauze. I, on the other hand, found it fascinating to watch. I had my phone in my hand at one point, and he asked “taking a video?” I told him that I was Tweeting, but damn if that wasn’t a good idea. But it was too late by that point. The good stuff was over.

Afterwards, I thought "Huh.  Hope I didn't interfere with some guy's heart monitor or something..."

Afterwards, I thought “Huh. Hope I didn’t interfere with some guy’s heart monitor or something…”

  1. The pain actually isn’t the worst part…

The most difficult hurdle of this whole situation has been my feeling of helplessness and immobility. The healing process mandates that I keep my leg as straight as possible at all times…even during sleep. You know how difficult that is? Do you realize how many times a night you instinctively pull your knees up, fetal-style? I also have the tendency to cross my legs under one another, like a figure-four. Every time I’d start to move too much, I’d wake myself up in alarm. It makes for restless nights. And maybe it’s the stress or it’s the antibiotics, but I’ve had some interesting dreams. Stress dreams about my knee exploding or blood soaking through the sheets, enough so that I wake up and have to feel the wrapping to make sure all is well. The doctor also told me to keep weight off the knee, and recommended a cane. “Not only does it help keep the weight off, it forces you to keep your leg straight.” Great. But fucking cumbersome. Have you ever tried to get a laptop bag, cane, and cup of coffee out of your car while keeping your leg as straight as possible? It’s like a hilarious one-man game of Twister. And stairs? Fuck stairs, man. But then there’s the whole ‘propping my leg on a chair at work.’ My job primarily involves sitting at a desk, looking at a monitor. No problem. But when you have to torque your upper body almost 90 degrees to accommodate your gimp leg, it gets old really fast. And showering? Good luck. You’re told to keep your dressings dry. Holding a leg out of the shower doesn’t help that much, as water tends to run all the way down your body no matter whether it hits your head or your torso, following gravity and the surface tension of your skin; water doesn’t give a shit if there’s some gauze and tape in the way, it just wants to flow down. I’ve taken to encasing the knee in Saran Wrap, holding it out (basically standing on one leg) and hoping for the best. And your muscles do strange things. Because I am working so hard to keep my right leg straight while walking and sitting, it’s like I’m constantly flexing it. (Try this: stick your leg out in front of you, keeping it as straight as possible. Good. Now, hold it like that all day.) The downside is that when you do get a chance to relax, you sometimes have cramps. Like, bad ones in the arch of your foot. Or maybe just twitchy spasms in your thigh. And the other (left, in my case) leg sometimes feels like it’s carrying around most of your (in my case) 197 pounds all by itself. So when you ask it to go up the stairs once more, it sometimes says “No. No more. Let’s stay right here.” Hard to argue, Mr. Leg. I didn’t really need to go to the bathroom anyway.

Got my Netflix...got my Depends on...I'm good to go!

Got my Netflix…got my Depends on…I’m good to go!

  1. …but there is quite a bit of pain, too

Ain’t gonna lie. There were some really excruciating moments in this little adventure. The initial procedure a few weeks ago was no fun; yes, I received a shot to numb the knee to begin with. But even that part sucks. They stick a needle waaaaaay deep into the place where he’s gonna do the cuttin’. And then he adjusts locations and sticks you again. Doesn’t take long, but damn, it’ll take your breath away that first time he jabs you. And here’s a fun little tidbit about me: I apparently have a very high tolerance for painkillers, especially lidocaine and novocaine. This means that after the doctor numbed me and started cutting, he had to administer more shots. Every time he’d go to expand the incision, starting at about an inch and then going wider to get at more of the pulp, I’d feel it. He’d stop and dose me again. Tedious. But the really bad part came when, after my first infection-solving gauze-pack, I went in to have the gauze replaced. Watching him pull a foot of bloody bandage out of my knee like a flesh-and-blood tape dispenser was surreal, but more uncomfortable than painful. Replacing the gauze with new, fresh stuff, however…ouch. He started shoving some in and saw me flinch. “Want me to numb it?” he asked. “Nah, just do it. Go.” So we’re clear: this means that I was able to feel everything as he grabbed my skin with a pair of pincers and then slowly, inch by inch, fed a strip of medicine-infused cloth through the red maw below my kneecap and into the cavity within.

You’re gritting your teeth right now, aren’t you? Yeah. That’s pretty much all you can do. Stare at the ceiling, grip the edges of the table tightly, and clench that jaw. But there’s good news. The pain afterwards is minimal. No ongoing sharp pains. And the times when I do feel a twinge or ache, I simply pop a couple of Advil. So no super-powered painkillers or narcotics. No danger of becoming Greg House.

Now it’s just a waiting game. Waiting for this thing to heal. Every time the doc or I change dressings, we remove a bit more of the stuffing. And day-by-day, the wound starts to close and heal. The antibiotics seem to have cleared up the infection. No more MRSA. (I’ll keep taking the pills, though, until the damn thing is fully healed.) Yet, I know that there’s still work to be done. My right leg is going to have to learn how to bend at the knee, slowly and gently stretching the new skin and scar tissue. Plus, there’s sure to be a bit of muscle atrophy (although my left leg should be able to do single-leg squats by now, as much work as it’s doing.) But after all is said and done, I should be right as rain by the end of the summer.

Just in time for hockey season.

When Bad Guys Were P*ssies.

Maybe it was 9/11, you know? Like, maybe the horror and shock of that day forced us to ‘grow up’ for better or worse. We got tougher, a bit more wary and jaded. I don’t know. Maybe it was something else; Western Culture catching up a tiny bit with our European brethren, psychologically speaking. Whatever the case, the fact remains that back in the 80’s and early-90’s, we were soft, pink, mewling little kittens. 2015 us could wipe the floor with 1988 us.  Fact.

Here’s what led me down this particular path of discovery.  Recently I was doing an image search for actor Lee Tergesen.  I’d considered putting together another “That One Guy” blog, with a slight difference in focus:  I’d concentrate on one particular actor. Perhaps make a series of such posts, one for each iconic character actor. Lee is one of those guys who’s been in a lot of films and TV shows, usually sort of disappearing into his role, which is what makes him such a great actor.  The same guy who played Tobias Beecher on HBO’s prison drama ‘Oz’ also played one of Wayne and Garth’s metalhead buddies, thrashing along to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ before appearing as Evan ‘Scribe’ Wright in ‘Generation: Kill’ and so on and so forth.  Anyway, one of his earliest roles was that of Rosie in ‘Point Break.’

Rosie was the archetypical scary biker tough guy.  Bodhi’s muscle, in a very real sense. (Note to self: consider a blog entry that examines how Bodhi, Utah, and Rosie were all manifestations of the Super-Ego, Ego, and Id.) Rosie was frightening, and supposedly capable of gutting someone with nary a concern other than trying to avoid getting any ‘on his shoes.’  I remember seeing the film when I was not quite twenty years old and thinking he was fairly intimidating. Rosie wasn’t a surfer, he was ostensibly some sort of biker.  An outsider, even among the outsiders. He was a savage, and hey, remember that scene at the bonfire?  Remember?  The others are out surfing at night, but Rosie is back on the beach, drinking, and spitting booze onto the fire, making it flare up.  Remember?  I wonder what sort of wickedly potent, liver-pounding rot-gut booze he was slugging?

Wait…seriously?  He’s drinking…

KICK THAT FIRE, ROSIE!  YEAH!  KICK IT!  KICK IT AGAIN!

KICK THAT FIRE, ROSIE! YEAH! KICK IT! KICK IT AGAIN!

CORONA?!  Are you fucking kidding me? A beer?! I mean, don’t get me wrong: beer is great. And Corona is easily one of the top-fifty beers from Mexico. But, c’mon. Rosie is a terrifying monster in bike leathers. He should be drinking moonshine or whiskey…maybe 151…ANYTHING approaching 100 proof. Beer? BEER THAT ONLY TASTES GOOD WITH A STINKIN’ LIME IN IT?! Might as well have been a Zima. (Actually, Zima was a malt liquor beverage with a higher alcohol content than most beers, so it would have been MORE manly.)  A kid that had never actually (up to that point) been to an illegal beach bonfire or nearly incinerated a friend while spitting and igniting grain alcohol and other things that maybe I should stop talking about right now might have been impressed with Rosie.  Shit, I was.  Now I realize he’d get his ass kicked in any place outside of Malibu.  Perhaps his ending was the most realistic part of the film.  It happens off-screen, but Utah tells Bodhi that Rosie apparently got knifed to death in Mexico.  What if that was Rosie’s first trip outside of his home county?  He thinks he’s a tough guy, orders a Corona ‘straight up’ and the Mexicans beat the living shit out of him with bottles of Pacifico and Modelo.

So, R.I.P Rosie and his tough-guy image. I sat there thinking about him, and my mind flashed on another badass that maybe wasn’t. Bennett.  The bad guy from ‘Commando.’ the actor’s name is Vernon Wells, and yes, I could do an entire ‘That One Guy’ on him.  The dude’s appeared in everything from ‘The Power Rangers’ to ‘Innerspace’ and has no fewer than twenty-one projects due to be released this year alone. But the role you will probably remember him from was from the iconic Mad Max sequel, ‘The Road Warrior.’  He played a character named Wez and holy shitballs, was he scary.

Even the Kurgan would turn tail and run from all that crazy.

Even the Kurgan would turn tail and run from all that crazy.

Wells would go on to almost exactly replicate that performance as a party-crashing biker/euphemism in ‘Weird Science.’  Again, an impressively crazy, wild-eyed psychopath on a motorcycle.  Jesus, I almost crapped my pants just thinking about him.

When the guy from 'The Hills Have Eyes' is your sidekick, you are officially a bad-ass.

When the guy from ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ is your sidekick, you are officially a bad-ass.

So when you learn that Vernon Wells is playing the nemesis in an Arnold Schwarzenegger action-adventure flick, you think “AW, YISSS!!  MOTHER FUCKING BAD-ASSERY!” and then you get to the theater and see…

Hey, nice tactical sweater-vest!

Hey, nice tactical sweater-vest!

Freddie Mercury?!  What the actual fuck, man?  What happened?  Is that vest made of old pop-tops or just nasty grey yarn that his grandma didn’t want, because seriously, who wants an olive-grey tea cozy?  Nobody, that’s who. Good call, grandma. While I’m talking about relatives, Bennett looks more like your weird uncle Gary that collects Thomas the Tank Engine stuff even though he doesn’t have any kids.  Maybe that’s more unsettling.  Could the makers of Commando been deliberately trying to give off that pedophile subtext?  After all, the main point of the ‘plot’ is that Arnold’s daughter has been kidnapped…were the studio types making a statement?  A subtle, veiled threat to the virtue and physical well-being of the girl in order to make moviegoers even more uneasy?

"Hey, kids...wanna see my Percy?"

“Hey, kids…wanna see my Percy?”

Or had Wells simply let himself go between roles?  Like, the casting director didn’t request an up-to-date headshot, and when Wells rolled up to his trailer on the first day of shooting, the director was all “Well…huh.  Fuck it, we’re on a schedule people.  Keep the mustache.  We’re rolling in five.”  Occam’s Razor makes that seem like the more likely scenario.  Either way, though, you’re never truly convinced that this doughy, sweater-vested, Bob’s Burgers cosplay guy is going to be able to physically match up with Arnold’s character.  They may as well have cast Kevin Spacey as the bad guy, although holy shit: Kevin Spacey in a mustache would be a GREAT Bob’s Burgers cosplay.

A really smug Bob 'Keyser' Belcher.

A really smug Bob ‘Keyser’ Belcher.

The point is, we were seemingly much more easily intimidated back in the day.  I won’t even get into how the Friday the 13th movies look so dated compared to modern horror films and television.  Seriously, the Jason Vorhees flicks remind me of old 50’s Martian invasion movies.  But initially, they were terrifying enough to spawn a generation’s worth of sequels.  I guess that’s sort of comforting.  The things that scare us often turn out to be not so bad after all.  Laughable, even.  (Gene Simmons used to terrify people.  Let that sink in for a second.) There’s a lesson there somewhere.  Sleep tight, America.