The Bolster from H-E-Double Toothpicks

In my previous post, I said having a total knee replacement isn’t as much fun as it sounds.

A month after surgery, my opinion hasn’t changed.

I did spend two weeks in inpatient rehab, a topic I shall write about later. Today I take a different path.

Before surgery, I bought a bolster, The little booklet about exercise said I would need one, and that I could fashion one out of a pillow and some blankets. I tried that and it proved a disaster, so I turned to Amazon.

In the hospital, a physical therapist said it’s important to use it, as the little exercise book instructed, to stretch the ligaments in my new-knee leg. I should use it for as much as an hour at a stretch.

At the inpatient facility, I used it, put my heels on it, lay down, and let my knees hang down without support.

I didn’t like it. It hurt. My knees already hyperextend—I was forty before I learned other people didn’t lock their knees when standing—and a physical therapist at the inpatient place told me not to extend the ligaments. He said I would have to learn to walk with the knees slightly bent. The demonstration looked like a chimpanzee, and I had no confidence that I could learn to walk differently at my age (which I’m sure is fifteen, except for the elderly knees), but I happily set the bolster aside.

A couple of days later, I saw the surgeon and told him what the PT had said. He said he goes with the patient’s natural anatomy, which in my case is hyperextension, so extend those ligaments.


Anyway, a several nights ago I got out the bolster, got in bed, turned out the light, and vowed to stretch my ligaments for twenty minutes. It hurt like you-know-what and then some. I made it for fifteen minutes before I cratered. Removing my feet from the bolster hurt more than hanging my legs from it. The whole thing hurt worse than the pain I experienced after surgery.

The next night I got out the bolster, put my heels on it, and as one of my aunts used to say, writhed in excruciating pain. Then I had an idea: when I have a CT scan, I mentally recite John Milton’s sonnet “On His Blindness.” It makes holding my breath while sliding back and forth in a tube easy, because I always get hung up on line ten and spend a lot of time trying to remember it and make it scan and rhyme. Thinking about that takes my mind off holding my breath for what seems like thirty minutes at a time.

Maybe poetry would dull the pain of hanging my knees over a chasm. Tired of Milton, I opted for Edward Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat.”

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea
   In a beautiful pea-green boat:
They took some honey, and plenty of money
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
   And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy, O Pussy, my love,
   What a beautiful Pussy you are,
            You are,
            You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”

  Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl,
   How charmingly sweet you sing!
Oh! let us be married; too long we have tarried,
   But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the bong-tree grows;
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood,
   With a ring at the end of his nose,
            His nose,
            His nose,
   With a ring at the end of his nose.

“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
   Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
   By the turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince and slices of quince,
   Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
   They danced by the light of the moon,
            The moon,
            The moon,
   They danced by the light of the moon.

I could recite that poem from memory when I was two years old. People don’t believe that, but I have a tape recorder in my head, and I heard it read so many times that it stuck. It’s not a poem I would choose to memorize as an adult.

Anyway, I recited it over and over, and it did distract me from the pain, until David suggested I recite Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” instead. I started it and was horrified to find that I’ve forgotten some of the words. I remember “chortle” and “frumious bandersnatch” and “vorpal”, but some words have escaped.

So I moved on to “The Walrus and the Carpenter” and was simply crushed when I remembered only the first five verses, and later research showed I’d left out verse three. And I used to know the whole thing. My cousin Linda, who lived in California but spent summers in Texas, and I walked up and down the concourse at the San Antonio airport every August, reciting the poem together while waiting for her plane to arrive. Continental was always late.

We had memorized the poem independently, neither knowing the other was learning it. We were odd teenagers. I won’t comment on our current conditions.

Not long after memorizing the poem, I was delighted to find a political cartoon with Lyndon Johnson portrayed as the Carpenter and Everett Dirksen portrayed as the Walrus. The caption read, “The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of many things; of cloture votes and civil rights and Martin Luther Kings.”

If I hadn’t paid close attention to the poem, that cartoon would have gone right over my head. So there’s another reason to study literature.

By the time I’d recited more bits I did remember, sort of—

O Oysters, come and walk with us!’   
The Walrus did beseech.
A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each.’

But four young Oysters hurried up,
      All ___________________:
Their _____ were brushed, their _____ ______,
      Their shoes were clean and neat —
And this was odd, because, you know,
      They hadn’t any feet.
Four other Oysters followed them,
      And yet another four;
And ________________________________,
      And more, and more, and more —
All _______ through the ______ waves,
      And scrambling to the shore.
—twenty minutes had passed. I eased my feet off the bolster, moaning with every move. David put the bolster away. I pulled the covers over my feet. Sometimes when I get tangled up in poetry, it keeps running through my head and I can’t sleep. Since I’d already done ankle pumps, leg lifts, and heel slides, however, I was tired enough to forget Owls, Pussy-Cats, Jabberwocks, Walruses, Carpenters, Oysters, Lyndon Johnson, and Everett Dirksen. I passed out.
The next day I had my first outpatient appointment with a physical therapist. I gave him a rundown on my naturally hyperextended knees, the surgery, the many PTs I’d met, the instruction to learn to walk like a chimpanzee, what the surgeon said, and the bolster from hell. I also mentioned the knee sometimes threatens to hyperextend now more than I think it should.
He said he was between the chimpanzee and the surgeon and thought I’d lengthened the ligaments enough, so I should stop using the bolster.
I decided we’re going to get along just fine.
Images were taken from Wikipedia. They’re all in the public domain.
In case anyone doesn’t know, I have published stories in Austin Mystery Writers’ anthologies Murder on Wheels and Lone Star Lawless and in Kaye George’s Day of the Dark. I also have a very short story in the online magazine Mysterical-E. In addition, I have a novella, Stabbed, written with co-author Manning Wolfe. The books are available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. To find the story on Mysterical-E, click on the link.