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Words from Winterbilt

A New Year….and a New Knee

Shannon Bohrer

(Jan, 2011) The holiday season is behind us but it would be nice if we could keep that positive holiday feeling the whole year. It seems that the holiday season is so short; or maybe it just seems that way as you get older. What makes the season so special is that we seem to focus on family and friends, which are what the holidays are all about. It has been said that the secret to keeping a positive attitude is to appreciate what we have and not focus on what we don’t have. Last year I had a bad knee and this year I have a new knee. I am very thankful for the knee but it’s not that I did not like my old knee. I did like it and I thought I treated it well, but sometimes things just wear out with age.

My decision to have an operation to get a new knee was not easy. Though I was still getting around at 63 years old, my mobility was diminishing and the pain was increasing. Knowing that having an operation would make me temporarily immobile was also a consideration. And weighing very heavily was the fact that I had never been in a hospital overnight. I had some minor procedures – in and out stuff – but I had never spent a night in a hospital.

After I decided on a doctor, the process was relatively easy. Pre-op requirements included attending a class on joint replacements at the hospital, which my wife and I attended together. After the class I commented to her that there were a lot of old people in the class. My wife looked at me and said, "Have you seen yourself talk lately?" Confused, I asked how could I see myself talk, to which she replied, "I said WALK, not talk." She then walked away shaking her head saying something about old people and steering -- I think that’s what she said?

The morning of the operation my wife and I arrived at the hospital very early and I was a little nervous. After I changed into a hospital gown, I sat on the edge of a gurney and a pre-op nurse stood in front of me. The pre-op nurse looked over my shoulder and told me the operating room nurse was there. She then whispered in my ear, "If I was going to have your operation, she would be the nurse I would want." I think my blood pressure returned to normal, at least what I would consider normal. As I found out later, my anxiety of being in the hospital was greatly reduced by the professional staff. The kindness, care and concern that seemed to be exhibited by everyone I had contact with put me at ease.

Several hours later I woke up with a new knee. I was on a rehab floor and my wife was there when I awoke. My new knee was already in pain, as I was told it would be. I had a pain pump that I was advised to use before the pain got too bad. While I was in bed a hospital employee came into my room and installed a mechanical apparatus to the left side of my bed. The nurse later came in and explained that the apparatus was a rehabilitation device. They strap your leg in this device and then turn it on. It seemed like a very simple idea; the device moves your leg back and forth and you just lay there. The nurse even commented that some patients fall asleep while in this machine. Maybe the nurse was new and was just repeating what she was told to say, but I did not expect the level of pain this machine could cause. The new knee was being extended and then contracted, and you could not escape the pain at both ends. The only way I could ever fall asleep in this RACK would be if my good leg was strapped in and the machine was turned off. The rehabilitation of my knee continued over the next several days, I had both physical and occupational rehabilitation and made good progress.

After leaving the hospital I had in-home therapy and the therapist gave me a list of exercises to perform. This short window of time would later be remembered as the nice days, followed by outpatient therapy. Two weeks after the operation I had a doctor’s appointment to take the staples out. I would estimate that there were at least one hundred staples; the incision resembled a zipper. I was then released to drive which allowed me to start outpatient therapy.

The outpatient therapy was effective almost immediately and I can attribute much of the effectiveness to Fraulein DePain. Ms. Fraulein would have my leg in her arms and she moved it in ways it never moved before, at least before the surgery. She would then say, "If it hurts let me know?" Of course, I had tears in my eyes and if I were to respond it would have been in a very high pitched voice. So, I would just grunt. However, sometimes grunting was not possible.

After several weeks my leg and knee seemed to be making great improvements and the pain was also reduced. Fraulein DePain apparently did not like this and added a new rehab exercise. You lay flat on a table, face down, with your leg hanging over the edge from just above the knee. Then she adds weights to your ankle. I was told the weight was 3 pounds, but I am sure it was close to 20 pounds. The good thing about this pain was that it made me forget all of the previous pain. She made me lay like this for about thirty minutes, even though she claimed it was only five minutes!

On a separate, but somewhat related subject, in the context of our war on terror I know there was considerable controversy about "enhanced interrogation techniques," such as water boarding. Personally, I think the more we stretch our values, the more we compromise our values. However, rehabilitation is not illegal. If we really had a high value target, offer them a knee replacement and then send them to Ms. Fraulein DePain for therapy. They would tell you anything…I know I would.

While it may sound as if I am complaining about the pain I have endured with my new knee, I am not. The pain was expected and will enable a full recovery. From my perspective, the fact that they could replace my knee is just short of a miracle. I am happy with my new knee and I was very pleased with the doctor, the hospital staff and the rehabilitation crew. All of these individuals care. They care about their fellow human beings and it showed. They are good people. To everyone involved with my surgery and rehabilitation – you did really well. Thank you.

This is not an experience that I would personally recommend, unless, of course you needed a new knee. However, going through this experience and working with these professionals has been a very positive experience. I am grateful and looking forward to the New Year with my new knee.

Read other articles by Shannon Bohrer