Never let your heart go numb

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

The surgeon and the physician’s assistant fully explained what to expect. I expected post-operative pain. You can’t completely replace a worn-out, old knee without having a considerable amount of pain.

As usual after most surgeries, the pain increased after I got home. Pain on the fourth day was worse than the pain I felt the day after surgery. I expected that.

My physical therapists weren’t really concerned about making the pain go away. Their focus was on function. They wanted me to be able to sit on the exam table and flatten my right leg (like that was going to happen).

They wanted me to be able to squat (of all things). They wanted me to able to sit on the exam table, pull my knee up and bend it as much as possible. That’s when I almost whacked a therapist.

Following total knee replacement surgery, I assume everyone complains about physical therapy. It does hurt. I expected it to hurt and I hung in there with all the fine folks at the physical therapy clinic.

We even had a few good laughs over the weeks as my complaints became ever more and more creative.

Eventually, with good therapy and the benefits of time, the pain started to subside. Even now, 14 months after surgery, it hurts some, especially when using the stairs or riding my bike. I expected that.

What I didn’t expect was the numbness.

I was told to expect some numbness around the kneecap, but I thought it would subside with the pain. Now, I remember the surgeon explaining to me that the numbness could last for several years. That means I can expect several more years of my right knee being numb.

A few months ago, I was manually ripping apart an old cabinet that used to hang out in the garage. It was a fairly cheap cabinet — cheap construction and it came apart easily. I wanted to rip all the pieces small enough to fit into our garbage can.

One of the last few pieces was being stubborn. So, I stepped on one chunk of wood, reached down and grabbed the other corner of the cabinet and heaved as hard and as quickly as I could. Immediately, I realized that my left middle finger was caught in the cabinet hinge.

As I heaved, the tip of that finger was smashed, torn and about 85 percent of it was ripped off.

Ouch. Well, in reality, I said a lot more than ouch.

My right hand was used to cup the injury and keep the blood from dripping on the floor as I went into the kitchen. Cold water ran over the injury. It took a while for the bleeding and stinging to stop.

Debbie thought I should go the hospital and have a stitch or two put in. Despite having worked in the emergency room for decades, I still hate going there as a patient.

So, I did what any red-blooded, American male would do. A wad of gauze was put over the end of the torn finger and I used a few small strips of masking tape to hold it all tightly in place.

The next day, I changed the dressing using some real bandages and surgical tape. It still hurt like the dickens but seemed to be staying together. It oozed for several more days but seemed to be healing.

Today, a few months later, you would need to know where to look to see the scar. The fingernail is still a little black, but it’s starting to look normal. Except now, the end of my left middle finger is almost completely numb. It really feels weird when I touch my numb knee with my numb finger.

It strikes me as odd that I’ve had two body parts go numb in a little over a year.

What really bothers me is that our country seems to be going numb to the suffering of others.

We are now officially in the 2018 hurricane season. It’s been nearly a year since our own territories in the eastern Caribbean were devastated by back-to-back Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Since that time, Puerto Rico is still recovering from the storm damage. Eight months after Maria blew across the island, more than 10,000 are still without power. Many communities still need to have safe drinking water shipped in.

Puerto Rico is an American territory. Why haven’t we helped them fully recover?

There are many other situations within our various states, within our own country and within our territories where people are suffering. We could do so much more to help others around the world.

Have our hearts grown numb? I can live with a numb knee or a numb finger, but not a numb heart.

Let us never get numb to the suffering of others. Let’s always be willing to reach out and help.

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and a local resident of more than 40 years.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist