By Eastern Ontario dairy farmer Angela Dorie
Just over a year ago, our Number One farmer broke his kneecap completely in two. “Like cracking an egg!” observed an ER nurse after seeing the X-rays.
“It was a stupid old man thing!” our Number One farmer said. In reality it was a combination of impatience and doing what you know you shouldn’t in the machinery shed. A kick from a heifer and a slip in the mud finished it off.
Our two at home immediately stepped up. Our son, a volunteer firefighter, no longer responded to calls while our daughter took leave from work and cancelled her beloved horse showing season. Milking and haying took precedence.
After waiting at home, leg in a full brace and on painkillers for four days, a five-and-a-half hour surgery pulled the kneecap halves together and held them there with a screw, two pins and crisscrossed wires. Just over 30 staples closed the incision. The new X-rays, according to the kids, looked like a high school machine shop accident.
Sent home the same day, the first 48 hours were hell on everyone. Within hours I had practically doubled his pain meds. We all needed rest but I wondered how to explain it to the police if he OD-ed! His only movement, with assistance, was from his chair to the huge inflatable bed and back. Stairs were impossible.
On the third day, he started to improve . . . and then things really got hard. How to stop him from overdoing it in spite of now having a hobbit’s foot. His left foot was double its normal size for months. A pair of totally adjustable sandals (velcro) solved the lack of footwear but it also meant he headed to the barn on day six despite warnings of getting the incision dirty. He quickly became adept at using only one crutch: one for the barn and the other for everywhere else. The only thing that stymied him was putting a sock on that foot: He needed help and that slowed him down.
Operating the tractors was out of the question. Left leg equals clutch and he couldn’t depress it for months. Even when he did he had to stand to do so. Unfortunately, he remembered the ‘shuttle’ on the backhoe so would disappear in that.
“The backhoe’s gone! Where’s dad now?”
The surgeon pushed for physiotherapy which, surprisingly, he went to. At the second appointment, the exercises snapped off a loop of the wire above his knee, making the broken ends more painful than the healing kneecap. The doctor wanted to remove it immediately. He refused, saying he had been laid up for too long already. No surgery yet. Each visit they argued about the wire removal. Each time he refused.
This past January all the wire was removed, leaving the pins and screw. Prior to entering the OR, though, he had a conversation with the anaesthesiologist, the same one from a year earlier and it cleared up some questions. She started by looking at him and exclaiming, “I remember you!” and grabbed his chart. “You are having a general anesthesia,” she told him. No alternative was offered this time and he discovered why.
Last year he had opted for a spinal anesthesia but once the knee was opened, the cleaning and repair took longer than expected. After almost four hours he started coming out of the anaesthetic. Trying to get off the table, it took everyone in the OR to hold him down while a second anaesthetic was administered. “You’re very strong for a small guy” the specialist said.
At every checkup, his doctor’s nurse, a fellow Williamstown-er (that’s our neck of the woods) and from a farm family, would tell him not to overdo it, allow it time to heal and that she knew farmers, etc. The surgeon would just look at her, not grasping the inherent meaning behind it all. But now it is apparent: farmers will rarely follow instructions or take it easy for long. They make lousy patients. The guy in the Tim Hortons ad, being enticed back to the barn with cups of coffee, is definitely in the minority.
After the final visit this past February, as our Number One farmer left the examining room, the surgeon turned and looked at him, shook his head and uttered, “Farmers!”
Now he understands too.