When I told friends, colleagues, and parishioners I was contemplating a total knee replacement, the singular piece of consistent advice was, “Do the exercises! Keep up with the therapy!” The surgeon who was to do the deed gave me a booklet full of pre-operative exercises to do at least twice each day; that seemed doable and it was – twice a day for six weeks before surgery.
Since the surgery twelve days ago, I have been home-bound and visited every other day by a grandmotherly Jewish physical therapist (she is absolutely nothing like my pre-conceived notion of what a home-visit physical therapist would be). On each visit she monitors my vital signs – “72, strong and steady,” she says listening to my heart – watches me walk – “Good posture!” – and teaches me a new exercise to add to my regimen. I now have a repertoire of four isometric exercises to do while seated in my recliner, four more active movements to do while seated in a straight-back kitchen chair, two to do while lying flat on my bed, and one to do standing at the first step of our stairway.
My routine throughout a day is a round of exercises, walking, icing, walking, and resting. A session looks pretty much like this:
- About ten minutes of exercise selecting three of the non-recliner movements and doing four-to-six sets of each. These are basically slow-motion stretching and strengthening movements, e.g., straight-leg raises slowly lowered fighting gravity, or bending the knee a little bit more than is comfortable seeking to increase its flexibility. Then . . .
- A walk of about 300 paces around the first floor of our home, moving slowly and steadily taking care to plant my cane and to bend the both knees. “Don’t drag that foot,” my therapist says in my head. This takes another five or ten minutes depending on how much the dog and the cats get in the way. This is followed by . . .
- Thirty minutes with my knee and thigh wrapped in ice packs during which I do the recliner isometrics; tense the quadriceps on the surgical knee, hold, relax, repeat; tense the gluteus muscles, hold, relax, repeat; slowly flex the ankle in a gas-pedal-pumping motion twenty times; move the foot in a circle ten times, reverse, ten more circles. And then . . .
- Another 300 paces around the house.
After this approximate hour of activity, I rest for an hour and read or whatever . . . and then it all starts again.
I do this routine four or five times in the course of a day. My therapist told me that this is my work for the next few weeks . . . I am to do this from breakfast through dinner time, then take the evening off.
Mixed in with these exercises are my spiritual exercises. Each morning upon arising, I say the daily office of Morning Prayer out of the Book of Common Prayer. I have been in the habit of doing so since high school when it was required of the cadets corps at the military academy I attended. During college and afterward, I admit, I was rather sporadic in doing so, but since ordination it has been a regular practice.
It’s weird, frankly, reading what is supposed to be a congregational service, saying both the “calls” and the “responses,” saying “The Lord be with you” to myself and answering “And also with you.” But I think of myself saying this office in concert with other Anglicans, with monastics and congregations, with other priests and pious lay folk, all over the world. We are not each alone in our homes or our cells or our empty churches; we are a congregation of thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions.
At noon, there is the short individual devotion, and before my wife returns from her work, the office of Evening Prayer. At morning, noon, and evening, I am joined by others, the ones whom I remember in prayer: the old lady artist who sits alone in her home waiting to die and won’t let anyone visit (we talk by telephone every few weeks, but that’s the extent of pastoral care she will allow); the school teacher who always seems unhappy and annoyed with me but who signs a get-well card with peace signs and hearts; the family who left the church because of my gun-control politics but whose gun-toting, shooting-competitor daughters were among my favorite acolytes; so many others.
Recently I saw a video on the internet of a young British gymnast doing a tumbling run. I thought (and commented) that I would probably lose consciousness if I were to try that, from the g-forces of the spins if not from hitting my head on the floor. I know, though, that that young man is able to do that because of constant effort, exercise, and training, because of keeping a regimen of practice. I am holding him now as my role model as I painfully make my 300-pace way through the house, as I raise my leg and fight gravity slowly lowering it to the bed, as I say the daily offices and remember in prayer people both dear and troublesome.
My friends’ and parishioners’ advice is so applicable to both physical and spiritual well-being, to staying flexible and conscious: “Do the exercises! Keep it up!”
A reflection on practice offered by the Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio. Fr. Funston was not preaching during August and September, 2017, while recuperating from total knee replacement surgery and, from to time, offered reflections in place of sermons.