By Danna Downing
When I was growing up, some of my favorite older adults were “benched” way too soon due to years of hard physical labor at the farm, the home, and the workplace. For many, the loss of income, lack of sense of purpose and reduced inclusion in the community were devastating. Today, people my age have some amazing medical resources to extend and enrich longevity. However, taking such a step takes research, thought and planning.
I am now the proud owner of a spanking new knee, a miraculous invention of plastic and titanium that should propel me back into my active lifestyle. I also have new respect for how the human knee functions and how challenging life can be with a “bum” knee.
My saga began on February 23 in a parking lot where my knee completely locked up, leaving me stranded and in pain. Fortunately, I have good insurance and live in a community rich with excellent caregivers at all levels of the medical system. Just as fortunately, I live in a community filled with friends, family and neighbors who are generous with their time and support when someone they know is faced with a medical adventure such as joint replacement.
The knee is the largest joint in our bodies and moves like a hinge. When the knee is surrounded by healthy cartilage, the knee bones will move freely over each other allowing our knees to bend easily. As we age, cartilage and bone can become worn due to heavy use, inflammation, and/or injury, allowing the bones to rub together and cause pain. For some patients, simpler and temporary repairs can be made in younger years. My physician recommended a full replacement and carefully explained why. I was offered time to consider all the options and make a plan for the surgery. This was very important but did not protect us from surprises and lessons to be learned. To be honest, the post-operative pain was greater than expected and I wished I had asked more detailed questions as I met with all the key players before the surgery. Management of pain and swelling is really important and can affect the rate of recovery and the final outcome of the procedure. I also wished I had spent more time working with my home team to discuss each step of the process and what to expect. There was no anticipation of “what if“ scenarios that could affect our plans. “What if my home coach gets sick?” “Should I find more than one dog walker, just in case ?” “What if the recovery goes more slowly than planned? These important questions were not addressed.
To be clear, at 10 weeks post-surgery, I have no regrets and have been re-assured by my surgeon that I am absolutely on target for a good recovery if I continue to do prescribed exercises, stay active on the stationary bike and keep walking the dog. I was not prepared for how difficult it can be to ask for help and be able to communicate with all the medical providers and other helpers to take care of things.
If I were asked about my experiences and invited to offer personal advice, I would make several recommendations. Be sure to take advantage of every opportunity to understand your procedure and all the things you will need to do to be a good patient. You will receive many pieces of paper from different members of your support team. Look for contradictions and confusing information that needs to be clarified.
Study and consolidate the information into a quick guide to use during your recovery.
Be sure you understand the communication process for answering any critical post-operative questions in the most timely way.
If you have trouble navigating your provider’s health portal, get some assistance ahead of time.
Be prepared to dig down into your inner reserves for extra patience, tolerance, and creative ways to maintain a positive attitude. Never forget, your goals to add longevity and quality to your life are achievable and worthwhile.
If you are a friend or loved one standing on the sidelines, be quick to offer help. “What can I do to help?” is a magical gift and a direct way to get to the most important unmet needs at any moment. Thank you to all who helped our family make it through our adventures; you are appreciated more than you can ever know.