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Creative Ways to Occupy Yourself After Orthopedic Surgery

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Having endured four major orthopedic reconstructions in the past 10 years, I’ll hedge a bet and say I’ve got a pretty good idea of what to expect from foot/knee surgery recovery.

Generally, that’s not much. There’s a lot of laying around, moving from the couch to the bed to the chair to the couch again, struggling to get in the shower, getting to the chair again, getting antsy from being stuck inside…(repeat for a week or longer).


Here are some tips from an “ortho-porn star” on how to make your recovery as intellectual, creative and relaxing as possible.

– Discover obscure music

Visit or search Spotify for “deep tracks” and “songs you’ve never heard.” There is more to the 90s than the Foo Fighters and way more to the 60s than Motown. A lot of this music
may also sound better on painkillers. There’s only one way to find out. You may be a huge Brenda Lee fan when it’s all over.

– Get a cat (0r foster one)

According to “Scientific American,” “Cats purr during both inhalation and exhalation with a consistent pattern and frequency between 25 and 150 Hertz. Various investigators have shown that sound frequencies in this range can improve bone density and promote healing.”  A kitty on your lap or snuggled at your feet helps your self-esteem, which can often be fragile after major surgery.  Fostering a homeless cat through a rescue is a great way to have a cat without a full-time commitment – the rescue provides the litter, food and the supplies – all you need is a space for kitty to lay its head for a while until the rescue finds it a forever home. Petfinder is a great way to find rescues in your area.

– Learn card magic and will teach you everything from a “false shuffle” to a bona-fide David Blaine card trick. Since you’re stuck in the prone position, card tricks are a great skill to learn, especially since it could earn you a free beer once you’re ambulatory; making your crutches disappear may prove a bit more difficult.

– Podcasts

Distract yourself with a good story. Some of my favorites:

“Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast” (interviews with Old Hollywood TV and film stars, as well as A-list comedians)

“My Dad Wrote a Porno” (NSFW; gut-bustingly funny)

“Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People” (exactly what the title suggests)

“Sawbones” (medical mysteries)

– Play ukelele

It is always time for Aloha! For $60 you can get a quality uke, tuner, case and “how to play” books. Ukes are easy to play, especially laying down or reclining. Once you‘re up and about and can play Radiohead’s “Creep,” you’ll be the life of any BBQ and an instant hit with little kids. Cheap plastic leis also look great wrapped around knee braces and I have a theory that mai-tais make your ACL heal quicker.*

*As my surgeon has yet to tell me that mai-tai’s aren’t good for
ACL graft healing, I’m sticking to my theory.

– Learn sign language

Signing is not just essential for communicating with the deaf, but studies have shown babies and toddlers are able to parse sign language before they are able to speak. At least a million people in the US and Canada use ASL to communicate. Learn ASL for free here and follow Nyle DiMarco (deaf model and activist) on Twitter and Instagram for a “word of the day” – and some amazing eye candy.

– Get new hair

Many hair stylists will come to your home and do everything from a trim to a double process color. The absolute perfect time to dye your hair a wild shade of purple is in the privacy of your own home while you’re laid up from surgery. A haircut (or color) will make you feel human – and having someone wash your hair for you when you feel – and look – like post-surgical sludge is a revelation. Have a few friends over and make it a group event – you’ll probably get a discount.

– Throw a party

Call it “Crutches and Cocktails” and invite all your friends. Say you are doing nothing for this party and preparing nothing, and everyone has to bring something to drink and entertain you – and you won’t be cleaning up, either. Order pizzas and bust out your mad uke skills and card tricks. You can lay right there in the middle of the action and have your friends bring you mai-tais. Then you can prank-call your surgeon’s answering service and leave messages as R. Thuritis or Gene Poole. He’ll love that.

I welcome every day recovering from surgery, because it means my body is fixed. Every twinge and ache and spasm means my body is working to make itself whole again. But it’s all too easy to get depressed after surgery. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor about taking an antidepressant during your recovery. Orthopedic surgery is taxing on your body and mind, and depression will negatively affect your healing.

You owe it to yourself to use all the tools you can to make yourself whole.  The surgery may be over, but the hard work has just begun.

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Thinkstock photo via criene.

Originally published: July 6, 2017
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