The nurse was at my door, but I couldn’t even answer. I had been crying all morning, and when the doorbell rang for the third time, I knew I had to let her in or she’d leave. Once inside, she checked my vitals, but even though I was now in the presence of another person, I couldn’t stop my tears. She then proceeded to help me do the exercises I was supposed to do daily to strengthen my knee, and though I followed her instructions, I bawled through it all.
“I’m sorry. I cry constantly, but I really can’t give you a reason for it,” I told her.
The nurse was concerned and called her supervisor, who recommended that I go to the hospital.
I didn’t want to go.
That was fine, she said; she would have people from the hospital come see me since I lived very close by.
The nurse left and returned a short while later. This time when I answered the door, she was accompanied by a social worker with a yellow legal pad in her hand, and…a cop. I invited them in.
“Why is there a policeman with you?”
“When patients have symptoms like you have, it’s often because they are withdrawing from medication, and they become violent. We were afraid. That’s why we brought a policeman along.”
Afraid of me?
After a career as a biologist and science teacher, Esther had recently retired. She and her husband moved to Lakewood, where their three youngest children live.
“I have two degrees in biology,” she told me. “After college I worked in one of the city labs, where I tested water and air for impurities. After teaching in two colleges, I spent the rest of my career teaching in heimishe schools. Teaching was my best experience, and I didn’t want to leave.”
In May of 2015, Esther’s knee buckled under her.
“It just gave way. It was very painful to walk. I needed a full knee replacement, and the surgery was scheduled for August 13.”
The surgery was painful and Esther was given oxycodone in the hospital, which dulled the pain and helped her sleep. After her release, she went to a rehab center.
“The first night there was very difficult, so they gave me oxycodone every four hours. Just one pill. The next day, the doctor who deals with all the new patients came to meet me. I told him, ‘I still have a lot of pain, and it keeps me up at night.’ So he increased my dose of oxycodone.”
Knee-surgery patients need to use the new knee immediately. They’re put on their feet the day after surgery. In the rehab center, Esther had to learn to walk again. She had to move her leg in different positions, standing and sitting, and pedal on a bicycle. Another exercise involved putting weights on her ankles and lifting her legs.
“The further you are from surgery, the more exercises and bending you need to do, or you won’t regain flexibility. The rehab technician did all these exercises with me. He had the best intentions, but it was all so painful. No problem—I’d just take my oxycodone before going to my exercise sessions.”
At the end of ten days in the rehab center, Esther was taking two additional oxycodone pills every day in order to diminish the pain and get through the exercises.
When her pain still did not subside once she was home, Esther called her surgeon on more than one occasion. But no one ever came to the phone. Usually, after a day or two, one of the nurses or a physician’s assistant would call her back. And when Esther described how she was feeling, the PA would simply increase her dose of oxycodone.