Part 40: Stuck in the house
One aspect of growing old, for animals and us humans, is that joints wear out. Osteoarthritis is characterized by loss and/or degeneration of the cartilage in joints. The process is accompanied by osteophytes — new bone growth where it is not wanted or needed, the body’s unfortunately ineffective effort to immobilize the joint and stop continued wear and tear. This is a problem I am quite familiar with, having treated many old dogs, cats and horses trying to alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with the condition.
For several years I suffered from severe osteoarthritis in my left ankle, necessitating the use of a cane and even with that I was unable to walk Charlize for more than a few blocks without considerable discomfort. Two columns ago I wrote about the surgery I underwent in an effort to do something about the problem. The aftercare for the procedure involves 10 to 12 weeks, or more, of no weight bearing on the operated leg.
The surgery was done on Oct. 9, the initial cast was removed on Oct. 22 and I was fitted with a plastic boot. I get around on crutches and something called a “knee scooter” that is kind of fun to scoot around on. However it is a bit of a hassle to get up and down stairs with the knee scooter, as in impossible. It is also difficult to get the scooter in my vehicle and take out again while managing crutches. I do have a problem with allowing people to help me, something my sons are constantly giving me grief about. Can’t help it, it’s the way I am.
One of the smarter things I did was to hire a very nice young lady to just be around if I need her. She helps out during the day, walks Charlize, does some chores and errands and keep me company. My regular cleaning lady also stepped up to help the old man manage. An added benefit is the 16-month old daughter of my helper. I was, somehow, smart enough to insist that she shouldn’t pay a babysitter, just bring the baby with her. I relate well to animals, young and old, and to small children. The little girl is a happy — no, joyous — child who speaks a language that not even her mother understands. She loves Charlize and Charlize reciprocates. She keeps me smiling whenever she is here with her mother almost every day.
The first couple of weeks post-op were not fun, post-op pain masked by the mind-numbing effects of the painkillers prescribed along with the side effects of those opioids. I was able to stop taking them in just a few days but the toughest part was sleeping on my back with the leg elevated for the first two or three weeks. Got past that and am now able to sleep on my side again, what a relief!
The next obstacle was getting out of — and then back into — the house, negotiating the two steps down into the garage. After the weeks of not being able to get out, I was suffering significant cabin fever. Perseverance and practice with the crutches finally paid dividends when I realized I had to trust the crutches to hold me up, balance by holding the bad leg forward and swinging down or up instead of trying to hop. Once out of the house and into the vehicle, driving is not a problem since it is my left leg and the vehicle has an automatic transmission. Maneuvering on crutches to be able to get into the vehicle also took practice but I am free again! Able to get to the Corner Coffee Café for my regular fix, take myself on errands, including grocery shopping — a chore I found to be very difficult to assign to others since my habit is to go to the store with a list of things I’m out of, but to shop for inspiration of what to prepare.
Throughout this experience, Charlize has been good. She loves going for her twice-a-day walks with my helper and I’m hoping it won’t be too long before I will be able to reclaim that time with her. When we are alone in the mornings and evenings she is very attentive and obviously concerned about me. I’ve been having long conversations with her about the resumption of our travels. I think she misses the open road as much as I do. We still have another four to six weeks of no weight bearing to get through and I’m hopeful we will be back to some semblance of normality afterwards.
— By Dr. David Gross
After his losing his wife of 52 years to cancer, Dr. David Gross has embarked on an extended road trip with his new dog, Charlize, and is writing about his experiences.