Learning to Depend on Others
Sandy Bernards has always been an active person, bouncing from one activity to another and taking care of friends and family in need. So when she injured her knee two years ago, she found herself in the unfamiliar position of needing help herself.
Bernards hurt her right knee falling off of a ladder and tried several alternatives to surgery to ease the pain. When none of those options proved helpful, she turned to orthopedic surgeon Dr. Michael Vessely and the Joint Replacement Institute to get her back on her feet. “The whole process sounded so positive,” she said about her first impression of the program. “Being my first surgery, I liked that I would know what to expect.”
At first she said she was surprised at the number of pre-operative appointments she had to schedule. Always a healthy person, Bernards wasn’t used to spending so much time undergoing tests. But she quickly learned it was to her benefit.
“They want to make sure you go into your surgery healthy,” she said. “I’ve never had so many tests at one time in my life. But that’s what I like about it. They do those tests for a reason. You aren’t a sick person, you just need surgery.”
Bernards said everyone she worked with, from Dr. Vessely to Joint Care Coordinator Natalie Reed to physical therapist Miguel Alonso-Diez and occupational therapist Joy Hallett, treated her like family and made sure she was comfortable.
The transition home where she needed to rely on others was difficult for Bernards. “It’s very tough for me to just sit,” she said. “I had to learn to be patient and know I couldn’t go back to doing everything right away.” Bernards also dealt with pain after arriving home, but said Reed and Dr. Vessely were responsive and offered her the support she needs.
Now daily tasks are easier and she no longer depends on her walker to get around. In fact, she is back to walking with out any assistive devices. And while she knows she is still on the road to recovery, she dreams of the day she can get back in her garden and try Zumba. “Every day it gets better and easier,” she said.
Getting Back to Walking
A Mill Wright at Cascade Steel Rolling Mills for 30 years, Gene Cain has always been active. But when the cartilage on his left hip started to wear away, normal activity became difficult and extremely painful.
Cain, 66, put the surgery off for nearly three years before the pain got to be too much. He was referred to orthopedic surgeon Dr. Michael Vessely, and after hearing about the Institute, he was eager to move ahead. “I felt reassured by Dr. Vessely’s information about the Institute and the education they give you,” he said.
Cain said he was anxious about the surgery initially, but as soon as he attended his first pre-operative class with Joint Care Coordinator Natalie Reed, all of his fears subsided. He said he was comforted by the amount of information he was given about the process and how it was presented. “The guidebooks are a great resource,” Cain said. “I knew what to expect the whole way through.”
He said he thinks anyone needing a joint replacement would benefit greatly from the experience. He was particularly impressed with the way the staff worked together and how light hearted the atmosphere was.
“The whole unit works great together,” he said, adding that the family-like setting made him feel like he was at home, rather than in a hospital.
Since his surgery, Cain has done remarkably well. He left the hospital three days after his surgery, and just one month after surgery was able to walk one mile on the property surrounding his Rickreal home.
Cain’s general health was excellent prior to his surgery, which he said contributed to his quick recovery, but he has one piece of advice for future patients, regardless of their health. “You have to decide you are going to follow their directions,” he said, adding that it is often difficult to do when you are in pain. “If you do, you will feel better quickly.”
The Importance of Being Included
Going into surgery can be scary for a patient, but also for a loved one. There are many unknowns, which is exactly what coach Lola Cain was worried about when her husband Gene was scheduled for his hip replacement surgery.
Cain accompanied her husband to his first pre-operative appointment with orthopedic surgeon Dr. Michael Vessely, and said she was immediately calmed by the wealth of information they were given. That feeling continued through his surgery and well into his post-operative stay.
“They made me feel like I was part of the experience, like I was important,” she said. She explained that not only was she allowed to stay overnight with her husband, share his meals and participate in his post-operative care, but she was encouraged to do so.
Cain said she enjoyed accompanying her husband to his pre-operative classes, where she learned how to help him with his pre-op exercises and how to prepare him for surgery. She said a coach is there to learn along side the patient, and that having a coach is essential. “A coach is a very needed part of the process,” she said. “I asked questions he didn’t think of, and I was right there learning everything he was.”
Feeling Better at Home
Once a patient returns home, the work doesn’t stop. Knee patient Joy Harris knows this first hand.
Harris, who had both her left and right knees replaced, had to rely heavily on friends and family to perform even daily tasks.
“I was completely dependent on friends for help,” she said. “I had three of them helping and I wore them out just going to the bathroom!”
Harris had no shortage of coaches. Her roommate Lisa Garvey attended pre-operative classes and stayed with her in the hospital, and once she returned home, had the help of friends, siblings and her mother. “I would not be doing as well as I am if it hadn’t been for my coaches,” she said, emphasizing how they each worked together to get her to and from therapy, help prepare meals and help her perform daily tasks.
In addition to the help she had, Harris said the discharge aspect of the pre-op class helped prepare her to return home, especially because of her limited mobility . She and Garvey spent time rearranging Harris’ bedroom to make it more accessible, borrowed a recliner chair that she could get in and out of easier, and de-cluttered the living space and garage so she could navigate her home easier.
One month after her surgery, Harris said the preparation helped her tremendously. If I hadn’t done my exercises and anticipated what going home would be like, I wouldn’t be where I am now.” she said. “Daily functions are still a process, but it gets easier and easier.”
Before and After
At 48, Tammy Huege is a young patient by standard joint replacement standards. But because she suffers from rheumatoid and osteo-arthritis, her right knee replacement was her second knee surgery in six months at Willamette Valley Medical Center.
Having undergone an earlier partial left knee replacement with the same orthopedic surgeon Dr. Christopher Blake, Huege and her husband Don thought they knew what to expect. “I told my husband about the Institute and the classes we had to attend, and he wasn’t sure about it,” Huege said. “He thought it might be too much. But we were both impressed with the pre-op class and the preparation it provided.”
Huege said the difference between her first and second surgeries has been significant. While she has experienced quite a bit of pain through both because of her rheumatoid arthritis, she said the preparation through the pre-op class and having a coach made a big difference in how she approached recovery.
“It’s important to have a coach,” she said. “I had a lot of pain and I was nauseous a lot of the time. All I wanted to do was stay in bed. But having a coach helped me push through it.” Huege added that the staff was “wonderful through the process,” and helped find a solution to her pain and nausea.
Despite the discomfort, Huege was still able to participate in group therapy classes and – to the amazement of her orthopedist and the Institute staff – even walked more than 4,000 steps. She went home after three days in the hospital, and is home and feeling better every day.