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The Knee and Me

Millions of people have had total knee replacements. I didn't know I'd be next

Once my care giving was arranged, I requested a six-week medical leave from work, the time Dr. Johnson had suggested I take. I attended a pre-operation orientation at Johns Hopkins Bayview, where orthopedic nurses explained the fine details of things I needed to be aware of before surgery. They instructed me to visit my regular internist for a full physical, including blood work and chest X-rays. I also banked two units of my own blood at my local blood bank. These would be transported to Johns Hopkins to be used if needed.

Finally, the big day arrived. Accompanied by my daughter Erin, I reported to the hospital at six in the morning for a 7:30 a.m. surgery. While I was waiting to be wheeled into the operating room, I began to quietly cry. I'd been doing so well, stiff upper lip and all that, and I didn't have any second thoughts. But I couldn't stop the tears. Erin, who'd encouraged me for years to get my knee fixed, tried to soothe me. I kept telling her I was all right. These were tears of relief. Yes, I was anxious, but I knew that I was finally doing the right thing.

When I woke up in the recovery room four hours later, Dr. Johnson, still in his OR scrubs, was standing over me telling me everything had gone very well. He was pleased with the outcome, and now the rest was up to me. "You're going to be fine," he assured me.

I'm not going to tell you that the next three days in the hospital were easy. But they weren't anywhere near as bad as I had imagined all these years. An intravenous morphine pump put me in charge of just how much pain relief I needed. I was out of bed the second day and taking a few steps with the aid of a walker. The one thing I noticed when I stood for the first time after the surgery was that the deep excruciatingly painful bone ache that I had been suffering all these years was gone. Sure, the rest of my knee hurt like hell, but I hoped that pain would eventually go away as the wounds healed.

The next two weeks at home were the hardest. I was weak. I just wanted to sleep. And my right knee—swollen and punctuated with about 50 staples—felt like it didn't even belong to me. During that time a therapist came to my home to start a regular course of physical rehabilitation, which involved flexing and stretching the knee. These exercises are vital; otherwise the knee can completely lose its ability to bend. If this happens, I was told, I would need to be put under anesthesia again, and the knee would be manipulated to break up the excessive scar tissue.

At the third week, I started going to physical therapy at a clinic near my home. By that time I had given up using my walker and was getting around on two crutches, and eventually, just one. I still had pain, but each day I felt a little better, a little less fearful that I'd never get back to normal. I concentrated selfishly on just one person—me. I was determined to see this knee thing through. So I did my stretching and flexing exercises at home, and continued going to the rehab clinic three times a week. And I never missed a follow-up appointment with Dr. Johnson.

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