For Part 1, CLICK HERE
I arranged the surgery date based on a trip I had already planned to go back to Namibia for a good friend’s wedding that I desperately wanted to attend, and without crutches.
For all the seemingly ridiculous prices one regularly encounters in Switzerland, I have to applaud them on their accident insurance policy. At my place of work this policy covers employees for any accident, no matter how it is incurred. Essentially this means I still have to pay to go to the doctor when my ear hurts, but everything related to my injury, from the medical appointments to the surgery at a private clinic, to the 6-9 months of rehabilitation, to the 4-8 weeks of medical leave, are 100% covered by insurance. In addition, the clinic where I had my surgery was beyond anything I had imagined. It was mandatory for me to stay 3 nights (whereas in Canada you are sent home the same day), and the room and meals I was given were nicer than at most hotels I stay in.
Considering I had previously spent no time in hospitals and was as unfamiliar as possible with the Swiss medical care system, things plodded along quite smoothly. The surgeon’s office and clinic for the surgery ended up being a 5 minute walk from my place, and the physiotherapy before and after surgery was also within walking distance. My office let me work from home after the accident, and I was fortunate enough to have my dad come and stay with me for a few weeks following my surgery. I thought I had things under control, even setting up an exercise bike for recovery and consulting all my friends who had been through something similar, but I was mortifyingly under-prepared for the events of Monday October 1.
My father and I arrived at 8:30am, were brought to my room by a man in a suit and then left alone until 12pm. Eventually I was instructed to remove all my clothes and lie under the blanket, and then taken downstairs in the hospital bed and left in a hallway. I was given local anaesthesia – meant to help with the pain post-surgery – and at 2pm taken into another room for the operation. I was told to think of a happy memory as they gave me the general anaesthesia and the first thing that came to mind was Christmas Day 2014, spent with the mountain gorillas in Rwanda.
My friends had all said the best part of this surgery was the moment you wake up. “You’ll be so high and happy, your knee will feel amazing” “You’ll walk up the stairs because you can’t feel any pain” “You’ll feel sooooo good” “There won’t be any pain for days”. Well, I woke up from surgery basically crying from the pain. My first thought was that it had all gone wrong because I was in excruciating pain, to the point that I couldn’t breathe properly. I couldn’t even look at my knee because I was sure there would be pins sticking out of it. Immediately I was asked how I was doing and I could barely answer. A nurse was assigned to hold my hand and help regulate my breathing while another gave me oxycodone. It had no effect and so I was given morphine. This also had no effect and when I mentioned as much I was asked if I took drugs regularly because the local anaesthesia combined with these other drugs given should have ensured that I was completely pain free. I wanted to laugh but was in too much pain. Eventually I was given more drugs and was able to relax. I spent so much time in the recovery room that I missed my first physiotherapy session, but seeing as I thought I was dying, it’s hard to imagine physio going well.
That night around 3am I called the nurse because of the pain, and was informed that I don’t get more painkillers until the morning. That day I watched the sunrise and cried into my three course meals.
Another slight difference in my surgery / recovery, when compared with Canada, occurred when I left the hospital with prescriptions for ibuprofen and over the counter low level pain killers….considering the oxycodone and strong painkillers everyone I know has received, I was a bit shocked to say the least. “We don’t give ‘hard’ drugs outside the hospital in Switzerland” is what I was told.
The initial recovery process has been much longer than anticipated and it’s only too easy to compare with other’s recovery timelines. Accepting that this differs for everyone and there is no way to speed up the process was extremely difficult for me. I was in constant pain for almost three weeks and could not comprehend why I didn’t have the appropriate medication to assist me, yet if I was at home in Canada it would have been completely different. The general anaesthesia also took a heavy toll on my body. I had been prepped regarding uncomfortable physical situations, but I had no idea it could (and heavily did) affect oneself mentally. For almost the entire time my dad was around, I wasn’t able to read, play games, or do things that use much mental capacity. It felt like I was in a fog and didn’t have the energy to use my brain.
Fortunately I’m pretty blessed in the dad department and he managed to amuse himself by creating meals that made his 27 year old daughter (who was essentially a helpless baby at the time) smile.
I was told that I would need to be on crutches for 4-6 weeks and as Namibia was 10 weeks away, I would be more than ok…Little did I know it would take 10 weeks to the day for me to be completely off crutches, giving me 3 days of walking around freely to adapt before flying to Africa!
I’ve been told the full recovery can take 9-12 months, giving me a minimum 6 more months to go. While I’m grateful I was able to walk into 2019 on two feet with no crutches, I’d be lying if I didn’t also mention that I’d give almost anything to be able to run.
Having come out the other side, albeit with less of a hamstring than I prefer, I have to say this experience has been extremely smooth, considering all the variables. This is thanks to the financial coverage and medical leave provided, the ease of access to the hospital and physiotherapy appointments, but most importantly to all the friends and family who have helped in so many different ways. I refer to this experience as a “best case scenario inside a terrible situation” and I don’t wish it on anybody.