How to come back fighting following a total knee replacement by Jenny Bill

Hi! I'm Jenny, I’m 60 years old, I have a total knee replacement, AND...I am a figure skater :-) !

I first started figure skating just over 30 years ago now, at around age 29. I had always wanted to skate, but had never been allowed to as a child. And then one day, completely out of the blue, I decided to give it a whirl! There was no looking back! I wasn't necessarily particularly any good at it but in figure skating I truly found myself, and also found something that I wanted to dedicate my life to. It became the love of my life. I gave up virtually everything to skate - a career, relationships, money, etc, and what was left behind became revolved around it. My life (outside of working) consisted of training up to six days a week, working towards tests and competitions (sometimes travelling considerable distances to do so), designing and making my own costumes, choosing and cutting my own program music, and travelling all over the world to compete :-) ! One of my many achievements was one year becoming Adult British Champion for my age and standard.

                                                  Skating pic 2 in San Francisco.JPG San Francisco 2003

Even before I very first started skating I had a patellar tracking disorder of my left knee but with the strength built up in my left leg through skating, along with the help of various physiotherapists and a sports osteopath (who also worked with other skaters), I managed to maintain the full use of the knee until it finally gave out in 2013. Over the years I had found myself able to train increasingly less as the pain in my left knee became increasingly worse but, unbeknown to me at the time, 1st February 2013 (my 54th birthday) was to become the last day that I would ever 'hit the ice' prior to my TKR.....

Just days later I innocently stood up from a seated position (to make a cup of coffee!) and my left knee seemed to lock and give way at the same time. This was it...the moment that I had been dreading all of my skating years, but had always tried to pretend was never going to happen!!! From that day forward I could no longer walk properly, never mind skate. It is still very hard for me to put into words the complete and utter devastation that I felt at no longer being able to was like the end of the world to me! In all my years I had never found anything else that excited me the way that skating did, and finding myself suddenly without it in my life left me feeling completely lost, and dead inside!

At first I was advised that I was too young to have knee replacement surgery, but my supportive GP still pushed for me to see a consultant orthopaedic surgeon. I had to wait about 10 months for this appointment, but as soon as the consultant saw the condition of my left knee he felt that immediate surgery was my only option. Not only had most of the cartilage and some of the bone been worn away, but also the knee cap had displaced so far that it was in contact with, and wearing a hole in, the femur!! Finally, on 6th January 2014, I had a total knee replacement of my left knee.....NEW YEAR, NEW KNEE!

                                                    2 wks post op.JPG  2 weeks post op

My road to recovery was long and hard, fuelled by blood, sweat, and tears, and like nothing I had ever endured before (or ever want to again!!! - although of course knee replacements do not last forever :-/ ! ). I never really suffered much direct pain from the surgery itself, but just days after returning home from hospital my left leg began turning black and becoming increasingly felt as if it was being crushed. The physiotherapist that I was assigned as part of my surgery package explained that this was due to the muscle trauma sustained during my surgery, and helped to ease the condition over the weeks to come with massage. But for many weeks I was in constant agony and unable to sleep properly! I found that 60mg of codeine would relieve the pain in my left leg just enough to enable me to fall asleep, but then after about two hours the pain would again became so intense that I would awaken. I would then ice and massage my leg until enough time had passed that I could safely take a further 60mg of codeine...and so the cycle repeated itself! This monotonous routine continued for many weeks, and at times I really thought that I was going to go out of my mind, but eventually of course time passed and the condition dissipated.

From day one following my surgery I had to do specific exercises every two hours, of every day, to help get as much eventual flexibility back in my knee as I possibly could. These exercises were tedious and, particularly just following the surgery, difficult and painful, but religiously I always did them...feeling like I was going crazy, but with thoughts of returning to a 'normal life' driving me on! Six weeks following my surgery I was able to also start working in the gym with my (surgery package assigned) physiotherapist...on the bicycle, the cross trainer, and a few machines. On my first visit I could not even bend my left knee enough to cycle with the seat of the bicycle in the highest position but, although the pain from trying to do so was so intense that it made me cry, I knew I had to push myself to do it if I ever wanted to give myself any chance of that 'normal life' again!

I had to use a crutch for 13 months, was off work for 7 1/2 months and then a further 4 1/2 months on light duties, and it was probably about 3 years following my surgery before I started to feel like a normal person again. It is now 5 years since my surgery and, although I find it a chore, still visit the gym an average of three days per week. Over time I have been able to lower the height of the seat on the bicycle (to increase my knee bend) to a point where the seat will now not go any lower, increase the intensity level of both the bicycle and cross trainer, and add various strengthening and flexibility exercises to my routine. But the best news of all is (drum roll please)...I STARTED FIGURE SKATING AGAIN!!! Something that not even in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine could, or would, ever happen!!!

                                                  Skating post op.jpg First skate 16 months post op

Despite being told that I would never be able to skate again, it was the dream of doing so that drove me on throughout my recovery. It may have seemed like madness to some but I took my first steps back on to the ice on 18th May 2015, and managed about 20 minutes of skating before the pain became too much. I could barely walk afterwards, but was encouraged to find that my knee seemed to have completely settled back down again by the following day. I skated again in September 2015, and then in 2016 started trying to skate once, maybe twice, per month and also started having lessons again. In 2017 I began skating an average of one day per week, and continued to do so throughout 2018. Now, in 2019, my goal is to try to skate an average of two days per week. I will never be able to skate like I once could, and I do have to be careful (something I certainly never was before!) but I, like sailors to the calls of Sirens, find the lure of the ice just too much to resist and cannot stay away! For me there is no other feeling in the world quite like that of the ice gliding below my feet and the cool air rushing past my face...and the rush that I get from this thrills me like nothing else can, and the joy that it brings me takes me to a place of complete and utter peace and contentment. Being on the ice is the one place where I truly feel 'at home'.

However, I cannot take ALL the glory for my return to the ice...I was pointed in the direction of a specific protective and supportive knee brace that I would most certainly these past few years not have been able to skate without, and that brace deserves much of the credit here :-) ...along with the staff at Physiohaus, Jesmond, Newcastle.....
.....Even before my surgery I had been having physiotherapy at Physiohaus with Tim. He is no longer there, but I have continued to see other physiotherapists based as Physiohaus (primarily Fiona). Following my surgery Tim suggested that I worked with Phil, Physiohaus's physical therapist at that time. Phil quite literally revolutionised my recovery with his tough exercise routines that targeted the various muscles in my left leg that needed strengthening. But progress was seemed for months that I was getting nowhere until I finally began to notice small but significant improvements. One day I realised that my left leg was finally strong enough for me to be able to walk down stairs without holding on...I was overjoyed! From day one following my surgery the staff at Physiouhaus have helped and encouraged me to achieve greater things than at first I ever thought I possibly could, and their belief in what I can still continue to achieve still continues to inspire me to push myself just that little bit further each and every day....

                                                    Last pic 3 yrs post op.jpg 3 years post op!

So...this is where my story comes to an end, and my journey continues..... there a moral to this story I hear you ask? I'd like to think that it is ‘believe that anything is possible’ and be inspired by those that believe in you!

(C) Jenny Christina Bill