A baby boomer goes bionic

Published 3:06 pm Monday, March 21, 2011

By LAURA BROOKHART / Community Columnist

The headline on the March/April AARP magazine, “The New Knee Replacement Surgery — Maybe You Should Wait?” caught my eye. Hmm, better read this, I thought. The following morning I was scheduled for a full right knee replacement.

I wondered if they had ever just had a no-show at surgery time? For me the decision to have the procedure had already been anxiety producing. In the early 1980s, I had a ski accident that required me to be carried by stretcher down the mountain in Vail, Colo., and whisked back to Vanderbilt Hospital for a ligament repair. Those post-surgical weeks have remained in my memory as one of the most excruciatingly painful events of my life and years later, that left knee, which had never healed at its best, was still periodically painful and inhibited my ability to run or perform certain yoga postures. When it flared in 2007, the consulting orthopedist blithely told me “Yep, stage IV arthritis. Just call me when you are ready for a new knee.”

Over the past three years I self-rehabbed with my yoga practice — thank you Heartwood Yoga — and forgot about pain until last October, when my always-dependable right knee became symptomatic, making walking painful and stairs and kneeling impossible.

After an appointment with Dr. Mark Elkus, who continued me on Mobic and prescribed weeks of pool therapy and home exercises, I had improved just enough to be ripe for surgery.

Friends encouraged me to do it now reminding me it might best having it while younger, rather than waiting. Folks I queried were unanimously pleased with their results.

When I came out from anesthesia, the pain was indeed a clone of what I experienced years ago, and I gratefully began Dr. Elkus’s proactive pain management program.

I took two tiny side steps with my walker just a couple hours out of surgery and participated twice daily in St. Vincent’s physical therapy program with a wonderfully calm, young PT, Alisha, whom I could not persuade to come home with me afterwards.

Tears on my part were sympathetically acknowledged and I learned that taking medication doesn’t mean no pain, but manageable pain.

You can view online statistics showing that more boomers are choosing joint-replacement surgery and in 2010 a 61 percent increase in these surgeries among men and women ages 45 to 64 was noted. There are videos and info online for anyone who is thinking of exploring this procedure. The level of pain and the results will be individual to each person. I am on-schedule with my rehab and my friends — you know who you are — have supported me with their prayers, their cooking and chauffeuring, thoughtful gifts and caring beyond what I could have imagined. And Mother Nature is doing her part by springing into color.

Laura Brookhart can be reached by e-mail at labro16@yahoo.com.