From crippled to new knees in two months
It’s been three months since my last blog entry. That’s a long time in the world of blogging. Please forgive me. I didn’t mean for so much time to pass. And I admit, I’ve been negligent. I’ve also been a little tied up. Aside from trying to finish my fifth book, I now have two new knees. I call them bionic, but really they’re cobalt-chromium. It’s a bio-compatible metal, so I guess saying I have bionic knees is partially true.
I’ve wanted to dance, ballroom dance, for years. Now, at age 52, I finally will. And do Zumba and ride a bike and ice skate again. And squat to change a tire or get down on my hands and knees and scrub a floor, if need be. Most of all, I won’t have pain while walking or worry if my legs are going to give out while climbing stairs.
In 2004, the most conservative orthopedic surgeon in Morgantown told me I had the knees of a 60-year-old. “You need new knees,” he said, and then told me to put off surgery as long as possible. I did. I waited 11 more years. Then this January, I learned that my knees weren’t, as that surgeon said, full of arthritis. I was born this way. “If they catch it when you’re a teen, they can do corrective surgery,” Dr. David Tuel, an orthopedic surgeon, told me. “If not, you have a lifetime of pain.”
That sure was true. So surgery was scheduled, then rescheduled, then finally the big day arrived: May 20. The surgery itself was easy; four hours after going under the power saw (Yes, Virginia, doctors really do use power tools when replacing your joints.) I was recovering in my Garrett Memorial Hospital room in Oakland, Md.
But the rest was no fun. In fact, it was one of the most painful experiences ever. Worse than childbirth—and this from a woman whose three out of four deliveries required no medication. Including my last child, who weighed a whopping 10 pounds!
Not so much my bilateral knee surgery. I took every hit of morphine I could. Later, a friend said he taped the button down so he didn’t have to keep pushing it every 10 minutes. I should have thought of that—because sometimes I dozed off or got caught up in the moment, and then the pain ran full steam ahead of me.
Dr. Tuel ordered physical therapy the day after surgery. If I had not lived to tell the tale, I wouldn’t have believed it possible. But I did. On May 21, I stood for the first time. Human assistance came at every step along the way, including swinging both my legs out of bed and onto the floor. Ditto for back into bed. It was a humbling experience. One that taught me what I was made of.
From the nurses who saw me hobbling down the hallway with my walker, to the physical therapists who saw me walking without it a week after being transferred to Heartland in Kingwood, W.Va., for rehab, everyone remarked they’d never seen such progress in a bilateral knee patient. Throughout, they were amazed. Apparently I was doing what many patients with only one new knee couldn’t do. I know much of what I accomplished came about because my surgeon did an excellent job. If he hadn’t, I would have had setbacks. But the medical staff and my great team of physical therapists told me it was my determination to become mobile again, to be totally independent, that inspired such great progress.
There was one small problem following surgery. Due to losing a good bit of blood afterward, I became anemic. By then, even if the morphine hadn’t made me speak and write gibberish, the loss of blood certainly did. Because I follow the Bible’s admonition about the sanctity of blood, I don’t take blood transfusions, so that wasn’t an option. What I requested, and received, were all the additional medical procedures that would help rebuild my low blood supply: iron infusions, folic acid, and liquid chlorophyll, among other things. The medical staff at both Garrett Memorial and Heartland went above and beyond, even consulting with the bloodless medical team at Johns Hopkins Hospital, to ensure they gave me what I needed. The protocol worked so well, in fact, that one month after surgery, my primary care doctor asked me how my hemoglobin (that’s the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen) went from six to eleven so quickly.
Having spent much of my life in Preston County, I have to say my Heartland stay was like a homecoming of sorts. I wasn’t sure if I would know anyone—or if anyone there would know (or remember) me from my days at the Preston County Journal. Or remember my Vintage Berry Wine columns. Or if anyone there had read my books. I quickly learned I knew several people there, patients and the people who visited them. Turns out, Heartland is a great place for a family reunion of sorts. Some people even make weekly visits, since so many of their friends now live there.
Most of the staff didn’t make the connection about me until I was almost ready to leave. Even then, they did so in large part because they had heard about a local story, Pretty Little Killers. But some of the female staffers had heard about my memoir, Sister of Silence.
Being a writer isn’t as glamorous a job as many people believe. It’s hard work, long hours, and low pay. Not too many of us can claim to make a six-figure income. If you write nonfiction, like me, it’s even harder. There’s digging to do and facts to check, and at times, the writing process can be quite tedious.
Nonetheless, the reward that goes far beyond monetary happens when someone who has read your book literally cannot stop talking about how much they love what you wrote. How they hadn’t read a book in 10 years. Or how your book kept them reading in one long sitting, until 3 a.m., when they wanted to pick up the phone and call you to ask you all kinds of questions.
I mention that because after I left Heartland, someone else there who later read SOS wrote to me. “Now I know where the strength to have both knees replaced at the same time came from,” she said.
Yes, but still, I could never have accomplished it without the wonderful caretakers who helped me heal. I received top-notch care from everyone, from Dr. Tuel (who cut his Memorial Day weekend short so he could return to check on me) to the entire staff at Heartland. As well as the fine folks at Dynamic Physical Therapy in Dellslow.
Then there was you. Many of my reader friends followed my progress from surgery to rehab to home. You cheered me on from near and far, sent cards, and inspired me to keep going. Some of you even invited me over for a meal, or came and picked me up, or even drove three hours to help take care of me, like one dear friend did.
You were the best medicine of all. Thank you!
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In November, I will have five books, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.
For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.
Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!
Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”