Reminiscing...

It's hard to believe it's been four years since Josh's knee surgery. The first week of April always brings back a flood of memories, so I thought I'd share this memory and have it in writing so I can read it whenever I feel like it. I will warn you that it's really long! These are details I never want to forget and it also explains how/when/where we found out we were pregnant with Luke!

As a back story- Josh was in the Air Force. He served close to 9 years before being medically discharged. He tore up his knee pretty bad in tech school and it took years to figure out what was wrong, finding a doctor to help, and recovering from a pretty indepth surgery.

In 2007 we got the news that he had a torn meniscus. Although we were very grateful for the military and how they covered EVERYTHING about the surgery, we had to do things on their time. And we all know how government time works. It seemed like it took forever to straighten out the paperwork (his medical files had been lost) and have the meniscus repaired (at a non-military hospital).

3 months before we walked down the aisle, he had his first knee surgery. The goal was to go into his knee and fix the meniscus. We prepped for surgery, played the waiting game, and when the doctor came out to talk to us (his dad and I), I knew right away something was wrong. He shook his head and said, "I have good news and bad news." Hearing a doctor say "bad news" 3 months before our wedding kind of freaked me out a little. He said the good news was that he made it through surgery and would be fine (umm phew?!?). The bad news was that he was unable to repair the meniscus and he had to remove the whole thing. He described it like a shredded tire on the side of the road- there was absolutely no way to repair it. This caught us totally off guard... we never talked about what would happen if they couldn't repair it. We just assumed they would be able to.
{this was taken hours after his first surgery- he was starving afterward so we went and ate some Mexican food!}
The next thing he said was even more troublesome... he said that there are other surgeries to replace a meniscus, but it is so rare and hardly ever happens to anyone as young and Josh (he was 24 at the time) that he has never done the procedure before. And he didn't know anyone who had. He did say he was willing for Josh to be his first... ummmm thanks but no thanks...

This doctor recommended Josh for a meniscus transplant (either cadaver or artificial). Cadaver meniscus surgeries were more common, although meniscus transplants were so rare that very few hospitals/doctors could do them. They explained it to us that in order to even be a good candidate for surgery you had to be young and arthritis couldn't have set in it (this is typically seen in athletes). It is rare to have someone with such a horrific situation as Josh at such a young age. It was like the perfect storm of knee problems. Typically when they see meniscus issues it's in people twice to 3xs the age of Josh and in that case they recommend a knee replacement. Josh was NOT a candidate for a knee replacement because they explained that if he lived the typical age range of an American male he would need 3-4 knee replacements over the course of his life. Those fake knees only last so long. In the same breath they also explained that meniscus transplants were still relatively experimental and they couldn't guarantee how long they would last. The first transplant was done less than 10 years before so they had no long term data about the effectiveness. But all parties agreed (us, the military, his doctors) that it was in his best interest and he really was a perfect candidate. If the transplant was successful it would mean not taking high doses of pain medicine and it would prolong the life of his knee (knowing that sometime in the future he may need a knee replacement). But he may not. It just depends on how his body takes to it and whether or not there are any other injuries.

All the surgery details were relayed back to the military and they told us that he would have to have the transplant done at a military hospital (since it would require an overnight stay) and the 2 closest hospitals to perform the surgery was in San Antonio, Texas or Portsmouth, Virginia. We chose Portsmouth simply because of the distance.

They put us on a transplant list and we waited... and waited... and waited. We knew that once we got the call that they had a meniscus he would have to have the surgery performed within a week. This complicates matters when we were both working full time jobs and Virginia is a 10 hour drive. Also the surgery required an overnight stay AND we had to be at post-op 7 days after surgery. Minimum we were looking at a 10 day interruption from our lives. Neither of us were sure how we would make it work (there was no way I could take 10 days off school). But we waited...

16 months went by and we got the call the last week of March 2009. The amazing thing (which I don't know why things like this surprise me- the Lord knows what he's doing!) was it was a week before Spring Break. Meaning I had 9 whole days off!! I believe I only ended up taking 4 days (1 before SB for travel and 3 after).

We got up there a few days early and did some sightseeing. Josh's mom and step-dad used to live in Portsmouth (or nearby) so we drove past the house he remembers.

We also got on to the military base there and looked around at all the ships. It was really amazing to see these mammoths that close up! They're huge.

We also ate at a couple of local places...

Surgery was scheduled for Monday April 7th. We ate our "last supper" at Red Lobster that Sunday night. I remember ordering a diet coke and insisting that it didn't taste right. Josh assured me it tasted normal, but they got me something else to drink. This will be an important detail later.

We had to wake up at 3:45am to be at pre-op at 5am. Surgery was set for 6am and it was suppose to be a 7-9 hour surgery. I remember waking up thinking the night went waaaay too fast, being super apprehensive about my husband being in surgery for so long, and not being sure about where I was going to spend the next night (more on that later).

We got to the hospital which was on the Navy Base in Portsmouth, VA. Walking in we passed a coffee  shop and all I wanted was a Caramel latte. I decided to wait until they took him back since that would just be cruel to drink coffee in front of him. The next 2 hours are a blur. I know we sat in a waiting room with a bunch of people prepped for surgery and I remember a nurse taking us back and he laid on a gurney. Josh got freaked out when the doctor started talking about the catheter (assuring him that it wouldn't be placed until he was under anesthesia). But other details are gone. I don't remember saying "bye". I don't remember walking to the waiting room, and I'm not really sure at what point I decided to get coffee.

It was probably close to 7am when I walked back down to the coffee shop. I left the family waiting room (which had an attendant who manned the phone and took messages when the doctors called about details of the surgery). The doctor assured me he'd call at some point, and the attendant assured me that she'd take a message if he called.  I felt safe to go. I went and got my coffee and tried to figure out where to go to look into staying on the base that evening. At this point I didn't have a military ID and I was worried that if I left the base that I wouldn't be allowed back in. They had a Ronald McDonald type house on campus and I was curious if they had any rooms that night. We knew Josh would be admitted for a minimum of one night and I wasn't sure I had the confidence to drive 30 minutes back to our hotel in a city I wasn't familiar with before I had an iPhone (with GPS navigation).

After getting the information I needed to make a decision I headed back to the waiting room. I had brought plenty of magazines and books (I was reading the Nicholas Sparks book The Choice). There weren't any messages from the doctor and I settled into my chair ready to read and drink my coffee. Except the same coffee I had been craving an hour before made me nearly vomit after I started drinking it. I thought that was strange and after realizing I wasn't going to be able to force it down, I trashed it, and went about my day.

The minutes turned into hours and the doctor called at the 4 hour mark assuring me that everything was fine, and Josh was ok, but they still had a ways to go.  By then it was lunch time and we were under a tornado watch at the hospital. I remember watching the severe weather reports thinking "what in the world do they do if in the middle of surgery there is a tornado warning?" I headed down to the cafeteria to eat (all I remember was a pizza hut and taco bell). I've always liked taco bell- it's kind of my guilty pleasure because I know it's super gross. But it was what I felt like. Lunch passed quickly and I went back to the waiting room and the time seemed to fly. Josh was out of surgery between 1-2pm. The doctor came and showed me pictures of Josh's "new to him" meniscus. The meniscus part of the discussion started to fade when he began talking about the issues with his catheter. Of course the one thing Josh had feared about the whole surgery was the one thing that was going to cause him trouble. The doctor explained that when they put the catheter in they had punctured his bladder and in order for his bladder to heal the cath needed to be left in for a minimum of ten days. I remember thinking "Oh boy Josh is going to be thrilled by this news!" Josh was still in recovery and I wasn't allowed to see him until he was situated in a room.

I remember the long hallway leading to his room and wondering if there were sick people on his wing or if they were people recovering from physical injuries like his. I held my breath just in case. He had a roommate (which was super awkward!) and he was awake when I walked in. We had planned to watch movies and just chill the rest of the day, but he was really tired and just wanted to sleep. They brought him dinner and the smell of broccoli was enough to send me to the bathroom. I thought I was going to loose my lunch, but instead I had to put my head between my legs in the tiny hospital bathroom to keep from passing out. Me and hospitals have never really meshed. I didn't tell him this happened until much later.

He was ready for bed around 8pm and I decided to head back to the hotel. I decided against staying on base (a couple of reasons- 1 of them being that I forgot an overnight bag-duh). I stayed up pretty late watching TV because I was just too wound up from the events of the day to relax. It was weird being back at the hotel alone, knowing I couldn't just call Josh because he was drugged up, and being so far from family and friends.
{we had several post-op appts in the next few months- this is one view I remember outside the hospital window}
The next morning I rushed back to the hospital and easily got on base. They gave me a visitor pass since I was able to show proof that he was hospitalized overnight. It was harmless and much easier than I envisioned. I found a parking space and walked in (past the coffee shop: ick) and up to his room. He had already been to physical therapy that morning (they didn't waste anytime) and he was up moving around on crutches. His surgery required him to be on crutches for 6 weeks. This is no easy task when you are also hauling around a catheter bag!

Before being released from the hospital the nurse showed me how to care for a properly clean his catheter bags. I quickly realized those vows I spoke just 16 months before were holding true "in sickness and health, for better and worse". I never thought I would have to clean his catheter bags when I walked down the aisle!!  I also realized (which sounds crazy) for the first time how much he was going to depend on me to help. Especially that first week!

He was discharged from the hospital late Tuesday afternoon. We headed back to the hotel and I was never happier to see those 4 walls. It was just nice to get out of that hospital environment. All we had was a king sized bed and a lounger chair. We would be there another 7 days so we had to find ways to keep ourselves entertained. We had brought a bunch of stuff from home to go through, purge, and organize (hardcopy pictures), and he brought his video games. I kept myself busy on facebook and talking to family on the phone. I was also the designated food runner. We ate breakfast every morning at the hotel but I had to go out and get lunch/dinner each afternoon and evening. We quickly learned that eating out is NOT all it's cracked up to be and we were perfectly content to never eat out again after that week!

It suddenly occurred to me after all the hoopla of the past 48 hours that I was late (sorry about the lady business and sorry if that's TMI for some, but it's a huge detail of this story). I knew I was late before surgery, but I put it off thinking I was stressed about the surgery and just overwhelmed from the past couple of days/weeks. Of course I had never been late, but I had also never been on the emotional roller coaster we had just experienced. Josh was the one who urged me to go buy a pregnancy test. I poo-pooed it saying there was no way I was pregnant- wouldn't I "feel" pregnant? I always thought I would just "know". Clearly I had NO IDEA what it felt like to be pregnant!

I decided to take a trip to Wal-mart that evening (Wednesday April 9th). I had a couple of things to get since we needed some medical supplies to care for his catheter. After looking down into my cart while I was in the store I realized it looked like I was about to kill someone and dump the body- I had latex gloves, bleach, trash bags, alcohol swabs... and a pregnancy test (oh yeah- and Easter candy). Josh's mom had also asked me to buy him some candy for his Easter basket since Easter was the following Sunday. I thought that was such a sweet gesture especially since Easter was the last thing on my mind!

I felt really weird checking out- it was the first time in my life I had bought a pregnancy test and it felt strange to be buying a bunch of stuff I didn't normally buy...although I clearly had a good reason for everything.

I didn't tell Josh I had bought the test, although I'm sure he knew. I hid it and snuck it in the bathroom as soon as I got back to the hotel. Since he had his cath bag he didn't really frequent the bathroom ;P  I remember his mom calling and thinking it was the perfect time to slip away and take the test to put my mind at ease. I really never thought it would be positive. After reading the directions on the box it said to do it first thing in the morning (fail) and that results could take up to 3 minutes to appear (fail). I made sure to get the digital kind so there wouldn't be any question in my mind. I followed the directions and put the stick on the counter fully expecting it to take the full 3 minutes. The word "pregnant" popped up within SECONDS. I was so shocked I literally froze. It was not the way, place, or circumstances that I thought I would get my first positive pregnancy test!
It's hard to believe Luke was already baking in there!

Josh hung up from his phone call and I walked out of the bathroom. He said he could tell from the look on my face what the results were (although he didn't even know that I had bought a test). There was no surprising him or figuring out a clever way to announce it. I was shocked and I needed him to tell me that everything would be ok!

It all made sense why the diet coke at Red Lobster didn't taste right, why the coffee at the hospital repulsed me, and why the broccoli they delivered to his room almost made me gag. I put it all off on nerves, but little Luke was already doing his damage and making his momma sick! We called our parents and closest friends and everyone was just as shocked as we were. It's so hard to imagine Luke being such a surprise because it's like he was always meant to be here! I can't imagine life without him!!

I can still recall smells from that trip so vividly. They say a pregnant persons sense of smell is super heightened and I can totally attest to that. I remember how the hotel room smelled (being cooped up for a week without being able to open windows creates some pretty stale air). We didn't do much the rest of that week. Of course I jumped online and began looking at baby stuff which helped pass the time. There was a mall right down the street and I bought a pregnancy journal so I could start recording my feelings/thoughts. But I remember being cautiously optimistic keeping in the back of my mind that anything could happen.

I used all my "killer" supplies to clean Josh's catheter bag day after day. We didn't let the maids in to clean because he didn't want anyone to see his bags hanging from the towel racks in the bathroom (this still makes me chuckle thinking back to these details!). Ironically they had places us in a handicapped accessable room (on the 4th floor- still haven't figured that one out yet). But the bathroom was HUGE and the shower had a seat in it (which helped when I had to help him shower).


He ventured out for the first time on Easter Sunday. We have friends who had relatives in Norfolk and they asked us over for lunch that Sunday. Josh was still pretty self conscious about his "bag" so we declined the invite and went to Olive Garden instead. It was his first time wearing the discreet cath bag on his leg- it is truly something neither of us want to relive!

His post op was scheduled for the following Tuesday. We both hoped that they would inspect his catheter and say that it was healed, they would remove it, and we would be on our way home. Instead they said it needed to be in a full 10 days to ensure that his bladder healed and that we would need to have the bag removed in Georgia. Which meant a 10 hour drive home with it.

We packed up our bags and left that Wednesday (exactly a week after we found out about the pregnancy). It was POURING rain that day and we had his Tacoma. Thankfully because of all the trashbags I had bought we had to wrap our luggage up and seal it with duck tape. Also he was still practically immobile so I had to do all the packing, wrapping, and loading- in the rain- and I was pregnant. Fun times.

We made the best of it all the way home and giggled that I had to stop every hour to pee and he could have made it the whole way without stopping! There are perks if you look at situations optimistically.

Josh began physical therapy here in GA but had to go back at least 4 times post op to be seen by his doctor. All in all the doctor was very pleased with his results. He did warn him that a transplanted meniscus was just like the meniscus he was born with and that he could damage this one if he wasn't careful. He advised him never to run, ski, or do anything that could cause harm (sliding in baseball, etc). This is why I always roll my eyes and tell him to be careful whenever he goes against the doctor's orders. I'm not just being an overly annoying wife- I heard the doctor's orders too.

Thankfully it's been 4 years and he hasn't had many issues with it. His family practitioner allows him to keep IBuprofen 800 prescription filled for days when he has flare ups, but these days are few a far between. He has run up (and down) Currahee Mountain, done the Insanity workout, and chased Luke around the yard. These are all things that he never would have been able to do before surgery. Unfortunately this surgery also ended his military career. He hates that and wishes that they would have allowed him to stay. He fought it before a judge in San Antonio, TX and sent a letter of appeal to the Secretary of the Air Force. We also wrote a letter to our local Congressman petitioning his help, but none were successful. He tried every avenue to stay but with the severity of his injury/surgery they just couldn't risk it and ultimately we understand. But it's still a battle he fights with himself- wanting to be apart of the Air Force.

This time in our life feels like forever ago- yet parts of it feel like yesterday! Looking back I regret not taking more pictures! I only have 10 from that whole month. But I'm glad I was still able to remember some of the details.

And speaking of great timing- we thought our lives were crazy before children. It would have been 100xs harder with a child! The Lord really does work in the details!

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