Mike Zielinski

Mike Zielinski

I’m not vain, so I won’t presume that some of you may have noticed that my columns have been on hiatus for a few months.

I’ve been preoccupied rehabbing from a total knee replacement, which seems to last longer than the 100 Years War while you’re going through it.

Fortunately, it’s a war that the patient wins if he or she applies herself. The rehab is a race against your body’s natural healing process, also known as scar tissue. So you must work aggressively on extension, flexion and strength to achieve maximum knee motion.

If you’re nonchalant with your PT, scar tissue builds up inside the knee, causing the knee joint to shrink and tighten, truncating your knee’s range of motion and making you walk like Peg Leg Pete.

Consequently, I’ve been absolutely, indefatigably relentless with my rehab at home and at Body Zone Physical Therapy under the direction of Dr. Randy Yocum and his talented team of physical therapists.

Your rehab, especially early on, requires a narrowing of focus, like sighting down a gun barrel. All you can see is your knee. Trust me, there are more beautiful sights in the world than my left knee and its new zipper.

Immediately after my surgery, my reconstructed left leg felt as frozen as a glacier before global warming. And remained so for a couple weeks. Not to be gross, but it was a real adventure getting up from the toilet in the early weeks. It was enough of a challenge to make a guy crave constipation.

Try putting on your socks and shoes by yourself when your leg is stiffer than a cell tower. Unless you’re a contortionist, it’s impossible.

After a few days after surgery, you’re in dire need of a good shower and shampoo. But at that point you have one good leg to stand on, and in my case, that “good” leg is riddled with patella arthritis – the same culprit that forced me to opt for a total left knee replacement. The right knee is next … perhaps next year or the next decade or the next century.

Since becoming dirtier than a coal mine is not an option, you have to suck it up and shower and pray that you don’t fall and wind up with a reconstructed knee that is more crooked than a rural road.

Thank God for my lovely wife and her assistance in the early weeks of my recovery. Of course, now I owe her a kitchen remodel. Unlike my knee surgery and rehab, my health insurance won’t cover a kitchen makeover.

Low chairs are your enemy as well. In the early weeks of recovery, you can’t exactly vault up from a low chair unless you remove the roof and have a crane assist you.

I found my two cars to be a major problem as well in the early weeks. My low-slung sports coupe was impossible for me to get in and get out of. My wife’s SUV is plenty high enough but has limited leg space. Which means I went absolutely nowhere in the early weeks, except for short trips to PT when I imitated a painful pretzel while biting on a birch tree branch.

At least my new knee now feels human to the touch. In the beginning it felt like it belonged to a robot. I had become R2-D2.

Chances are some of you can relate. More than 600,000 knee replacements are performed each year in the United States. Which is why orthopedic surgeons live in mansions, drive expensive cars and will resume vacationing in Monaco once the pandemic abates one of these years.

My knee has almost reached maximum extension but the last several degrees I’m told are the hardest to achieve. But at least it’s now flexible enough to sit at my desktop.

The problem is that my desktop sits on a desk that has zero leg room because my printer occupies the space where otherwise I could stretch my legs comfortably while I write. Instead, I have to practically stick my feet up my butt – a feat my left leg screams while attempting.

So I wrote this piece with tears in my eyes, not from laughter but from pain.

Alas, I dipped into the same hot broth of tears when I stopped staring at my knee and resumed looking at the state of affairs in America.

Our country remains the same hot mess it was prior to my surgery. The coronavirus still ravages the populace, and the economy should be put on a ventilator except for the rich Wall Street folks puffing on cigars longer than their limos.

Bitter partisanship and racial hatred continue to fray the fiber of our country. We are imprisoned in a land where everything is binary. As for the presidential race, I look at those two geezers and ask, is there no one else?

There’s not a lot to smile about these days unless you catch a classic Marx Brothers, early Woody Allen or any Mel Brooks movie.

Makes me wonder that if rehab can heal a bum knee, perhaps it can heal an America strangled in scar tissue.

Mike Zielinski, a resident of Berks County, is a columnist, novelist, playwright and screenwriter.

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