Independence is something most of us take for granted. We can do every-day things, like make a cup of tea, drive to the shop or take the dog for a walk when it suits us (and our other commitments). When this independence is taken away, the impact is quite challenging.

I recently spent a week in hospital having knee replacement surgery. The night before the surgery, I really (emotionally) struggled with changing from my regular clothes into pyjamas. Not a big deal, many might think, but I knew once I did that, I was looking at six days where I couldn’t walk out the door for fresh air, hop in the car for a bag of chips or even decide when I would go to bed.

What I was really struggling with was the knowledge that it was also the start of several weeks of relying on others for almost everything. It hit me really hard and I’m writing this because, when I spoke to other patients, many shared this feeling saying, “Oh, I thought I was being silly,” and “I thought no one else felt like this.”


That first night, I eventually got into the pyjamas and the next morning I had surgery which left me, temporarily, as helpless as a baby. How and when I sat up, when I ate, drank or even went to the loo, was now out of my control. Oh, and there was pain!

Thankfully I was soon out of bed and trying to navigate with a zimmer frame. Those first few tentative trips as far as the door of the ward, and then progressing to once around the nurses station, were as painful as they were liberating. I would pass by other patients and we would give a nod or a grimace depending on when we last had pain relief.

“Are you hip or knee?”

“I’m hoping to go twice around the nurse’s station today.”

And then, before you know it, we were on crutches and the corridor was our oyster. I met women from all over who were working, retired, carers, mothers, grandmothers, artists and musicians; all trying desperately to regain our independence. We swapped physio stories and proudly exclaimed our knee could bend to 80 degrees. As we got more comfortable with each other, we talked about our fears of coping, of falling, of infections, long term problems post surgery and of being dependent. We were all women who, just a few short days ago, lived independent lives and now had to both ask and accept help from others.

Normal clothes

Putting on my normal clothes again was a major achievement. Bar the fact I was on crutches and wearing very sexy compression stockings, I felt half normal.

Then six days after, I walked unaided in the door. Breege, my knightess in shining SUV, helped me, my new knee and the shiny crutches into her car. Home at last to my daughter, Aishling, who had the fire lit and a decent cup of tea in front of me in minutes. Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin.

A few days in and I’m getting the hang of the crutches, but struggling with my limitations. I can make a cup of tea, but can’t carry it anywhere. I can sit here and type this column, but I can’t bring the laptop to another room.

I’m well aware that this is short-term for me, and how lucky I am to have people in my life who want to help. There are thousands who don’t have what I have and live with challenges every day. I honestly don’t know how they do it.

There will probably be a time in all of our lives when we have to give up our independence. It’s not easy, but asking and taking help when offered is the only way to go. To all who shuffled the corridors with me, I hope you are making a full recovery. Here’s to dancing like no one is watching in a few months.

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