I cannot imagine walking without pain in a powerful stride or leaping on a log without hesitation. I do not remember those days. That is why I finally surrendered to the idea of a full knee replacement. Maybe you’ve been here too: watching with envy as a parent squats to hug her child or as an unbelievably-limber-for-her-age friend toes off her shoes, sits down, and pulls her knees up to her chest for a long chat.
My knees don’t work that way anymore. They buckle unexpectedly when I walk and complain all night. I am only 66, but I have lived for years on cortisone shots, acupuncture, and pain relievers. Humans are made of moving parts, and over time, parts of those parts wear away. According to my X-rays, I have no cartilage left in my knees, and osteoarthritis has moved in like an unwelcome guest to fill the vacuum.
And yet, I hesitated to commit to a knee replacement. It was question of invasion—a piece of metal becoming part of me—and cowardice. What if I go through all that pain and something goes wrong? My surgeon didn’t push it. “You’ll know when you’re ready,” he said.
When the knee goes, so does a realm of possibilities. Life shrinks. I stopped crawling on the floor to play with the grandkids. I continued with yoga but only after arming myself with a cushion for my knees. I still took vacations packed with walking; no lying on the beach for me. But I traveled with hiking boots, collapsible hiking poles, more pain relievers, and tubes of liniment that reminded me of my grandmother.
Then the pandemic hit. During lockdown, the cortisone shots were put on hold and my Amazon deliveries of pain killers increased. The only relief from being penned up in the house was taking a walk in the virus-cleansed air of nature. But as the months wore on, my walks grew shorter and shorter. The knees were too tired and achy.
When restrictions eased up in the fall, I eagerly made an appointment for cortisone. When the doctor asked how I was doing, I unexpectedly broke into tears. He passed me the tissues and said, “I think you’re ready.”
First Big Surprise
No cortisone. What? That’s right, you must stop steroid, or cortisone, injections for at least three months before surgery because steriod injections may increase your risk of infection after surgery. It felt like someone had tossed me in the middle of the ocean with the reassurance that a boat will return for me—eventually.
At this point in my life, given the shape my knees were in, three months seemed like forever. I wanted to have my surgery in January (to rehab during Minnesota’s cold, not-much-fun months), which meant no cortisone during my October visit. I hobbled home and began a round of appointments in preparation for the surgery: MRI, pre-op exam with my general practitioner, physical therapy to learn my rehab exercises and how to navigate on crutches, COVID test.
Second Big Surprise
I had a dental appointment scheduled for the week of surgery and called to reschedule since I would be in quarantine after my COVID test until the surgery. I was told that I needed to wait three to six months after surgery before having routine dental care. Apparently, there is worry that infection in my teeth will rush to my recovering knee. I may not be the world’s best flosser, but I do like my twice yearly cleanings.
The Wait Is Almost Over
On January 27, 2021, I will get a new knee. I am both scared and excited.
So many people have told me that once I have my knee replaced, I will wonder, “Why didn’t I do this earlier?” I hope that is the way it turns out.
When I told my three-year-old granddaughter that I was getting a new knee, she asked, “What are you going to do with the old one?” And suddenly I remembered being in the hospital after my tonsils were removed. The doctor came in and placed a bottle on the bedside table with my tonsils floating in liquid. To my five-year-old eyes, this was a tremendous souvenir. I don’t know what happened to that specimen, and I don’t plan to bring my old knee joint home in a bottle.
I want one souvenir from all of this: to hit the walking paths with joy again. Oh, I’d never thought I’d say this, and I wouldn’t mind seeing my dentist again.
I normally do not talk about my aches and pains. I figure most of you have your own woes to worry about. But several people have asked me to chronicle my experience because they are thinking of joint replacement for themselves. I hope these words help you. Look for further updates as the journey progresses.