A Knee to Remember

One random weekday evening,  I turned off the television before heading to bed.  As I was getting off the couch, I heard a horribly loud grinding sound – not the kind of sound like nails down a chalkboard but something similar to two pieces of sandpaper rubbing together.   I didn’t have the slightest idea where it came from or why it happened.  As I started walking away from the couch, I heard it again and realized this horrible sound was coming from my right knee. “Dammit.  Just what I need.” and “That’s the weirdest feeling ever.” simultaneously floated through my head.  There wasn’t any pain – just this weird crumbling noise coming from behind my knee.  I flexed a few more times, just to make sure I wasn’t imagining it or better yet, it would just go away.  Not the case.

Now, as some of you know, I worked in a very large trauma hospital.  I helped take care of a variety of patient types  (ER, ICU, cardiac, etc.), consequently migrating to administration.  I’m by no means an expert, but I understand some nuances of the health care culture.  I know for a fact that doctors and nurses (as well as the occasional crack addict) make the absolute worst patients.  They don’t take care of themselves – at all.  I don’t know why, it’s just the way it is.  And I have to say, I fell right in line with that statement.  Because I didn’t have any pain, I was going to ignore it and it would simply go away.  I would ignore it, my body would fix itself and that would be the end.  No big deal.

Three weeks later, I couldn’t walk more than four blocks without feeling like a gimp.

I made a doctor’s appointment with my PCP, who prescribed an MRI.  The MRI showed I had a torn meniscus, which meant I didn’t have any cushioning between my femur (thigh bone) and my tibia (shin bone).  You’d think this would explain the grinding.  Not the case.  The tests also showed the back side of my knee cap had the same surface texture as a gravel road.  How the hell either one of these things happened is beyond me.

Now to the good stuff.

I obviously needed to get this repaired, so I visited an orthopedic surgeon.  He told me the meniscus repair is one of the simplest and common procedures (good to know he’s done this a few times before) and could be done with same day surgery.  The grinding could be smoothed out a bit but could never be 100% removed.  I’d be in and out within about three hours.  The pain would go away but I’d have the grinding most likely for life.  Ugh.

Surgery day was upon me.  With all the time I had spent working with patients, reassuring them that “everything was going to be fine”, “the procedures were done time and time again” (which they were), and “there was nothing to be worried about”, I was pretty damn nervous being the patient.  I can definitely empathize with people who’ve never done this before.  It’s scary.  You have no control.  And, no matter what all the hospital staff in the world tell you how it’s going to be, you still don’t know how it will affect you.

So, to fill you in, here’s the way the procedure went down.  First off, I wasn’t intubated or anything.  I was given general anesthetic via an IV.  And let me tell you, Propofol (yes, the one that killed Michael Jackson) is some damn cool stuff.  A bit scary too.  After getting on the operating table, the anesthesiologist injected a small amount through my IV.  She let me know, “you’ll feel a little burning.”  I felt it, but it wasn’t burning.  It was more of a tingling sensation, like a brain freeze without the cold and the accompanying headache.  The sensation traveled through my hand, up my arm and into my brain.  Nervously, I shut my eyes.  I didn’t know what to expect.  Then I was out.  Next thing I know, I was in the recovery room with an 18″ ace wrap around my leg.  That was it.  So freaking awesome.

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Recovery time is minimal.  I’ll be on crutches for a couple of days.  Got a script for some pain medication and an anti-inflammatory.   I should be walking within a couple of days but doubt I’ll be running a half marathon anytime soon.

I guess the biggest take-away from this is that surgery with anesthesia (no matter how large or small) is nerve racking.  You literally hand over all of your bodily functions to the operating staff.  When you’re under, there’s nothing you can do.  I’m not saying that to scare you…it’s just the truth.  The upside lies in the fact you’re not the only person who’s gone through the procedure.  Hundreds of thousands have had the same surgery you’ve had (or will have) and the methods have been tried over and over again.  My advice, if you ever have to do it, is get out of your own head.  It’s the best thing for you.

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