Resolution For “Bionic” Knees

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I seldom make New Year’s resolutions, but 2015 is one of those rare moments I’m thinking (and stepping) outside the box.

Let’s backtrack several years prior to my needing total knee replacement surgery:

In the early 1990‘s, I slipped and fell on black ice while walking home from work one evening. Black ice is generally difficult to spot – more so at night – so you could almost imagine the spill I took when one of my feet hit a patch of it. I fell forward, landing on the sidewalk with both knees, and experienced pain I’d never wish on Satan.

Luckily, a passing Good Samaritan saw what happened and took me to the nearest emergency room. Nothing was broken, but both knees were bruised to the point of being almost black. I spent the next few weeks either wearing opaque tights with skirts or slacks in order to hide my knees’ horrific appearance until the bruises faded. It hurt to stand for long periods of time, but I gritted my teeth and dealt with it best I could.

I went to an orthopedic clinic a few years later after I started experiencing stiffness and pain in the mornings and after long work shifts. Several x-ray views showed I had Grade III degenerative joint disease, commonly known as osteoarthritis. (You can find additional information on the four stages of OA at this link).

I don’t know how much effect the fall on ice had on my condition, but heredity, jobs requiring regular bending of the knees and lengthy standing, my constantly-fluctuating weight, and just getting older were key factors. My appointment went downhill when the doctor wanted to perform knee replacements immediately without discussing other options. I refused and left the clinic, never to return.

Fast forward to Summer 2006. I’d been running errands when the left knee “went out,” causing me to lose my balance and fall in a parking lot. I wasn’t really hurt aside from minor knee injuries, a lot of bruises, and wounded pride.

That fateful fall led me to my current orthopedist. He doesn’t do joint replacement surgery on anyone under a specific age (except in most critical situations), but offered a plethora of non-invasive treatments ranging from specific exercises to cortisone and Synvisc injections.

All aforementioned treatments worked – at least for a certain period of time. The orthopedist warned me that I would eventually need knee replacements, but only after all other alternatives were exhausted.

Despite another fall after tripping over one of my cats in 2011 and occasional twinges of stiffness and pain, I continued to do well to the point I may be able to avoid joint replacements altogether, but such was not the case.

I started noticing sensations of “catching” and as bones were ready poke through the skin of my right knee in early October while walking home. I presumed the past injection had worn off and returned for another, but the cortisone didn’t have the effect it once did.

Turns out my knees were worse instead of better (see x-ray at top of this post).

By December 3, I’d had enough. Both orthopedist and I agreed surgery was the next step and a date set after the New Year to operate on my right knee. New x-rays were taken and paperwork started for insurance.

My insurance carrier tended to dawdle on decisions based on my past experiences dealing with them, so it came as a shock when I received a letter of approval from the insurance carrier in less than a week.

The next steps were several pre-op tests and a joint replacement workshop that other patients and I were encouraged to attend. We met several members of the “team” (physical therapist, pharmacist, nurses, anesthesiologist, respiratory therapist, etc.), heard testimony from a patient who had successful knee replacement surgery, learned what to expect before, during, and after surgery, and key adjustments to be made at home prior to surgery, among other topics.

I also took liberty of doing some online research on my particular procedure that included watching this video on actual knee replacement surgery (You may want to pass on watching if you have a weak stomach), talking to others who have joint replacements, joining a couple Facebook groups, and reading everything possible on the latest techniques. Better to be over prepared than not prepared at all.

Meanwhile, I spent time having the bathroom set up with a shower stool, bathtub rail, and a hand-held shower, a few things moved around the bedroom, stopped aspirin therapy, began taking probiotics, had dental and eye exams, arranging transportation to and from the hospital, and hiring a new sitter for the cats. All that remain are having my apartment thoroughly cleaned, some laundry, and packing a few things I’ll need while in the hospital, which all will be done this coming weekend.

Am I nervous about this surgery? Yes, but am also looking forward to days without constant morning stiffness, embarrassing sounds of cracking joints, being stuck with needles every 6-8 weeks, and the restoration of a higher quality of life. The pleasant thoughts of not losing my independence by ending up almost immobile the way my mother did in her later years also motivates me toward the final goal.

Now it’s time to do the nightly session of pre-op exercises; they’re essential in helping step up recovery time once surgery is done. This is just the beginning of the long journey to new knees.

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