This month, my new bionic knees celebrate their first birthday. And over the last year, I've heard from several of my blog buddies who have or who love someone who has knee issues. And when I saw the May challenge, "Swim When You're Ready ~ A May Contest" with Carla Muss-Jacobs, herself a victim of knee surgery, as the sponsor, I decided to use this opportunity to share my story.
I was born with a "trick" knee, something most of the Kennedy siblings inherited from our father. The inside of my knee cap was flat, lacking a little groove that provides stability, so it would go out of joint very easily - at my prom, in Paris on a date with the Fabulous Frenchman, showing houses - you get the idea. To compensate, I walked in a way that put added stress on my good knee, and over the years I managed to wear it out as well.
My knees were totally shot.
For the past ten years, I'd been asking myself, "When is the best time to have my knees replaced?"
And the answer was pretty complicated.
Until recently, knee replacement could be extremely iffy. I'd been hearing horror stories of knee replacement that didn't work. And the life expectancy for a new set of knees was far shorter than my own, and meaning a possible second operation when I was in my 80's.
And I was afraid, plain and simple.
Forget that going up and down stairs showing houses was becoming extremely difficult. Forget that it became a matter of new knees or a new career. And forget that by not dealing with my knees, I was throwing other parts out of whack, like ankles.
But fear ruled. I have a strong aversion to hospitals, and I'd never been in a hospital overnight in my life. A woman I used to work with went to a hospital with a broken ankle and died of some bizarre infection she picked up there, so I was convinced that every germ in the place had my name on it. Then there was a friend who kept warning me about general anesthesia being really dangerous when you are over 50, which didn't help my frame of mind. And I didn't want to take many months off for what promised to be a daunting recovery.
There was also the issue of my particular set of knees. I was told that before I could have knee replacement, my left knee needed a complicated surgery with a three or so month recovery. Then they wanted to do the replacements one at a time six or so months apart. This would mean three exposures to scary, germy hospitals and general anesthesia, and about a year of marginal mobility. Oh, and don't forget pain.
Then Mark Zawadsky showed up at my settlement table buying my all-time favorite listing - Rosedale Cottage. His agent, an old friend from our Pardoe days, looked at me, then at Dr. Zawadsky, and suggested that this might be my lucky day in more ways than one.
"Pat," she said. "You have really crappy knees. Mark fixes really crappy knees. You two need to get to know one another."
There was a little complication - my insurance with Kaiser Permanente left me with my choice of only Kaiser orthopedic guys. And he suggested one doctor he'd heard was good, but bottom line, I dumped my old doctors, switched my health insurance and didn't look back.
I was ready.
I finally jumped into the deep end.
Dr. Zawadsky teaches knees at Georgetown's Medical School, so he is more than current with the state-of-the-art when it comes to knees. He is a gifted communicator, both to his students and his patients. He was able to explain exactly what was going on with my knees, as well as his renovation plan.
Oh, and did I mention the guy even has a sense of humor?
In a single 4-hour operation, he fixed my left knee by re-lining the kneecap with something that provided a groove I needed for stability - something I'd never heard of as an option until he suggested it. Then he replaced both knees at once. And he was able to do the whole thing with an epidural and something that sent me on a 4-hour vacation to Barbados - no scary general anesthesia. When they woke me up, there were a bunch of med students standing around looking impressed, with a smiling Dr. Zawadsky. All had gone well.
And all has gone well ever since.
The first month post-opp was daunting, with many days spent with young physical terrorists who helped me get up and running again. After about two weeks at the National Rehabilitation Hospital, they let me come home. They had me doing stairs, hobbling around with a walker, and within three weeks, I was able to get around, albeit carefully, on my own steam.
I had help from family, friends and neighbors, who fed me and walked Willie. And in seven weeks, I was showing houses again. After three months, the new knees were a lot easier to walk and climb stairs with than my old ones, and now, after a year they are just amazing.
But looking back, it seems that everything conspired to make me wait until Mark Zawadsky showed up. I'm beginning to appreciate how incredibly fortunate I have been and how grateful I am for a new lease on life. And when I finish this, I'm putting on my bathing suit and heading for my gym to swim a bunch of laps.
And the best time to have had my knees replaced? Oh, for me it was definitely a year ago!