On Mended Knee

Today’s post comes to you live from the twin bed in my living room where I have spent the better part of the past three weeks since being discharged from the hospital following the replacement of my right knee. Yes, to my surprise and delight I finally found a surgeon who was willing to take on the challenge of repairing the knee that has plagued me in some form or fashion since about the time Herb Brooks was preparing to make history by leading the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team to victory over the Russians at Lake Placid. For the readers who were not alive then or who didn’t follow the Olympics, and for you who don’t follow hockey–heathens!–that was a VERY long time ago.

To give you a bit more perspective, when I first started having problems with my knee, Ronald Reagan was in the white house, I could still rock a size 10 pair of Calvins, and I was still spending every waking weekend moment practicing jumps spins, and lunges at every indoor and outdoor skating rink in the western suburbs of Minneapolis. In other words, I have lived with a bad knee for three times as long as I was alive before I first injured it–which, incidentally, was while I was practicing spins, jumps, and lunges at Braemar Arena in Edina.

I continued to abuse the knee for the next two decades by playing tennis and volleyball, and taking part in virtually any and every high impact activity available to me at the time. It was as if I were literally daring the leg to fail. In the meantime, my muscles learned to compensate for my damaged tendons, cartilage, and ligaments, which allowed me to walk, garden, do aerobics, etc. in such a way that no one knew how much pain I was in or how close the joint was to giving out and leaving me in a heap on the floor. Over the past five years it finally got so bad that I could no longer ride a bike, climb the stairs without holding onto two walls and/or railings, or even sit down without sticking my bad leg out in front of me as if spitefully planning to trip the next able bodied person to come my way.

Today, however, I can walk up and down stairs like a normal person and at a gradually increasing rate of speed, can pick things up off the floor by–wait for it–squatting with knees bent rather than bending at the waist, and can ride my elliptical trainer without passing out from pain. In fact, apart from some residual tenderness at the site of the incision and the discomfort I am experiencing as my hamstring, quadriceps, and hip flexor stretch to accommodate my new and vastly improved range of motion, I feel no pain at all.

Sadly, all these great changes almost didn’t happen. This is because the first two surgeons I spoke to–one compassionate but aloof and the other dismissive and condescending–refused to help me. Both said I needed to lose 25 pounds before they would take my case, and referred me to another surgeon who would help me achieve my weight loss goals via gastric bypass. With all due respect to those for whom this was an option, I had to decline.

“Thanks, but no thanks, fellas,” I said. Because I have a metabolic condition that won’t be improved by reducing the size of my stomach, but by increasing my level of activity–which I would not be able to do unless and until I get a new knee.

Down but not out, I eventually took the advice of my lovely friend and neighbor, Carol, and scheduled an appointment with Dr.Jeffrey McLaughlin at the Kennedy Center for the Hip and Knee. Dr. McLaughlin uses a state of the art method of knee replacement that works regardless of the patient’s age, weight, or strength. Not only that, but the surgery takes only 35 minutes–as opposed to the three hours it would take with the traditional methods employed by Doctors Condescending and Aloof–the hospital stay averages 2 days vice 8, and full recovery averages 6 to 12 months vice 18 to 24. In short, this was a better deal. A no brainer, in fact.

And so, I went for it and, after less than 4 weeks, I already function better than I did the day before I checked into the hospital on June 30th. I am also sixteen pounds lighter–no doubt the result of the 4 hours of physical therapy I do each day, the effort it took to get around the house with a walker for three weeks, and the number of trips I have to take moving things from one place to another this week since I can only carry so many things with my free had while using my fancy new cane.

Make no mistake: these past 4 weeks have not been a walk in the park, a day at the beach, or anything remotely easy or pleasant; but all that inconvenience, pain, and physical therapy have paid off. So much so, in fact, that my left knee–which itself is in pretty rough shape due to degenerative arthritis and having to take up the slack for the right one for thirty years–is now begging for the same treatment.

Given how well things went with the right knee, I will definitely be back at the Kennedy Center as soon as my right leg has recovered enough to support the left one. And, as soon as I am physically able, I plan to schedule appointments with Dr. Aloof and Dr. Condescending, so I can thank them for turning me away. For had they not turned me down, like the gal who settles for the first guy who asks her out, I would likely have settled for less than stellar care, and would never have known there were other, BETTER fish in the sea.

P.S. The title of this post comes from the discharge packet provided by the Kennedy Center, whose employees are nothing short of brilliant.


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