Columnist: Have new knees, will travel


Editor’s note: This is the third of a four-part series Sandi Wicher, a Walla Walla-based master tai chi trainer, is writing for the U-B’s Health & Fitness section about her personal experience with bilateral knee replacement surgery, from diagnosis to recovery.

So I splurged to go to Australia and booked first class. Both legs had to be kept in full-length elastic leg support hose, but I had the pleasure of a stretched seat to keep them up on the long flight.

I would be in Australia for two weeks.

The bummer was that I wasn’t going to be able to do much sightseeing, not only because of the master tai chi training I was here to do but also because I was not able to get around very much on my new knees.

I did take a sitting sightseeing bus upon arrival, having arrived a day ahead of training.

I was still on my pain medication but cutting down. Dr. Paul Lam, a renown physician and tai chi master presenting the training, was aware of my bilateral knee replacement in early October.

He had instructed me to do only what I could during the practice sessions.

I attended the workshops, sat and observed between practices and went back to my room each day at lunch to ice my knees and rest.

During my time there Australia was recording some of its hottest temperatures ever and I was not very comfortable wearing support hose in the heat.

But I did and I survived, thanks to the ice, rest and, of course, my pain meds.

Coming back to Walla Walla in mid-January was only a pit stop on the way back to Arizona for more recuperation. I was still not ready to return to life’s normal routine. I was, however, walking more, biking some but still on meds, rest and ice.

I tried two or three times to quit taking the meds but my knees hurt. I cried, doubted my decision to replace both knees at the same time — and again thanked my husband, Gordon, for his support.

In time, he said, no rush. Same words from my physician. But it’s ME, I don’t do meds! Having not taken any medications in my adult life, I don’t know, I think I had the small fear I would be addicted. Yet my body still needed the help to heal.

Time went slowly and the weight gain seemed to come quickly.

Without my usual busy routine, without daily exercise before surgery when my knees hurt and now when I am recovering after surgery, my pants were feeling tighter and my body was getting uncomfortable.

Way too much sitting with ice and rest for the amount of food I was eating.

But, again, my knees were not ready yet for the program my mind thought I needed to be on.

As April approached and I knew I would be back in Walla Walla and teaching tai chi classes, I felt ready.

Tai chi is slow, relaxing and builds strength, range of motion and helps with balance — all the thing my recovering body needed to do. I was also ready to ride my horses again. So, six months after surgery I was ready to face the world, or so I thought.

Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I would ride my bike for an hour in the morning. I would go on a usual route, including hills, 15 to 20 miles, just like I used to.

Then in the afternoons, I would ride my horses for about two hours. Tuesdays and Thursdays I was teaching two back-to-back tai chi classes.

I was finally able to roll onto my stomach to sleep. Yay! So catching up on rest was getting better. My knees were still a little sore and some swelling. I had finally cut down on my pain medication, now just enough to sleep through the night.

I decided to ask my surgeon about a few concerns related to continued swelling that I thought should be gone by now and still some discomfort when lying on my side.

I told him what I was doing each day, now six months since surgery.

I reminded him that he said I could get back to “my normal life” when I felt ready, so why was I still having discomfort and swelling.

His answer was brief: “So do you think you’re doing too much?” He explained that I was not his “usual patient” because most people who have bilateral knee replacements are not back to normal until at least a year after surgery. “You’re doing great, but you’re doing too much,” he said.

I guess he didn’t know me that well. After 43 years of marriage, my husband knows me and he told me the same thing. But do I listen to him either? It’s my body and I thought I was ready.

It was at that time I really had to give some thought about doing too much and to take care of my knees. I sure did not want to go through this again, ever.

I would make a priority list. My cycling could wait, I was getting other exercise.

My tai chi classes and my horse riding ­— I had not ridden much during the six months before my surgery because of the pain — were a priority. My knee strength, flexibility and my weight gain also were priorities.

So, once again, I set a goal and a realistic plan of action

Next week: Back in the saddle again, and pain free.

Sandi Wicher is a master trainer for the Tai Chi for Health Institute and owner of Harmony and Health teaching classes and workshops at Many Waters Wellness Center in Walla Walla. She can be reached at or 509-386-4305.


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