The mostly humorous ramblings of my day to day existence.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

You Just Need a New Knee!

Six words that made me sweat, and squirm in my seat.
For months I had been back and forth to the Veterans Administration hospital about my aching knee. I wrecked it 20 years ago while on active duty in Grand Forks, North Dakota. I remember hobbling around on crutches for some time after that, it seemed to be ok after a healing, but these things have a way of biting you in the butt later.
After years of my knee just hurting it finally started to lock up, I couldn’t straighten it out, ibuprofen and foamy knee braces weren’t going to help this time. I drove up to Portland’s VA hospital with an appointment, not really knowing what to expect this time. I knew my knee was messed up, but that was about the extent of my knowledge.
I checked in and was told I was seeing the head of orthopedic surgery, “this is a new twist” I thought to myself.
I wondered what that was all about. A few minutes later a doctor looking to be in his late 50s came out and told me to come on back. We headed back to his little room, I sat down, and the doctor introduced himself. He had the mannerisms of a country doctor and sounded a bit like Bones from the first Star Trek.
He got right to the point. “I’ve looked over all of the charts and X-rays, and you just need a new knee” he said matter-of-factly.
It took me a few moments to pick my jaw up off of the floor and I started to sweat. “Holly Crap!” I thought to myself.
“Really?” I said quietly. It was one of the rare times where I was at a loss for words.
The doctor started showing me pictures of new knees, X-rays of my own mess of a knee, and talked generally what would have to be done. Ultimately it was up to me as to whether I would have the procedure or not.
The doctor told me that he only used the Mercedes parts, which was reassuring because if he had said Cadillac parts I would have really started to sweat. After he was done explaining everything he paused and waited for me to respond. Well, I’ve never been one to let an opportunity to get away from me so I told him “Let’s do it”
The doctor looked surprised, I don’t think he was used to getting such a decisive answer at this point in the game, but I knew I had to get it fixed, I was kind of found of being able to walk, and “No Guts, No Glory” has always been one of my mottos.
A couple months went by and I got a call. They had a couple dates for the surgery I could choose from. I quickly called the master of scheduling (my trusty spouse) and we picked a date.
The day before the surgery we drove up to Portland, kids in tow, and stayed at a hotel. I did the fasting thing, took a shower the night before with the “secret soap” that was prescribed to me, then per instructions showered again in the early morning with the “secret soap”. My dad lived in Portland and picked me up at the wee hours of the morning and he drove me to the hospital. My wife and kids would meet me later before surgery.
I checked in at the appropriate place, they directed me to take yet another shower -with more “secret soap”- I then put on a gown. They pushed me around in a wheel chair until I finally landed in a pre-op bed. A very nice nurse painlessly stuck an IV in my wrist; she was very comforting and thanked me for my service. I was having a hard time keeping from being teary eyed for some reason when she said that.
Everything was happening quickly yet in slow motion, anyone who has ever spent time in the military understands the term “hurry up and wait” that’s what seemed to be going on, with a delay waiting for the last victim -I mean patient- to get done with his surgery. I just lay there waiting. My family came in to visit, and I assured everyone it was no big deal and that I would see them in a little while. The kids were on an adventure and got to spend some time at Grandpa’s house while dad got sliced and diced, and bionic parts installed.
After having a conversation with the anesthesiologist I decided to go for the spinal shot instead of the conventional general anesthesia. I was told I would sort of be awake for the procedure but I would be paralyzed from the waist down. I was assured they would be putting lots of happy juice in the IV so I would be mostly asleep for the procedure. I told them that I didn’t want to know what was going on, so if I woke up to please turn up the juice and put me back in happy sleepy land.
The time came, and they wheeled me into a very large room, it looked as if they could have done 20 surgeries in here at the same time. They must have turned on the sleepy drug knob because the next thing I knew I was sort of waking up. There was a blue curtain in front of me and I could feel some tugging. Light out again, and then I was being wheeled to another place. While being wheeled I was congratulating them on doing such a great job in my drug induced stupor.
After a few minutes I felt great! It was around lunchtime and I wished that I had a sandwich. The doctor finally came out to talk to me.
I greeted the surgeon with “Hi doc, how did it all look in there?”
“You’re one tough duuude” the doctor replied. “I took out a cup full of arthritic teeth.”
I guess that’s why things were catching; it was like sticking a screwdriver in the gears. I wasn’t exactly sure how to respond to the doctor except to thank him for fixing me up.
The next five days I spent recovering in the hospital. The feeling came back below the waist again, I started taking a lot of pain pills, and I got to eat gruel. I think I had one piece of fresh fruit in my entire stay which consisted of half an orange. Yeah I know budgets are tight but could they at least given me the whole orange!
Lunch one day consisted of some whitish past with a bean in it, one of the other patients lost it over that lunch, and the police were in the hallway talking to him. The doctors and nurses were great, but the head cook must have worked in a prison before coming to work for the VA. I wrote a few letters about the food, and hopefully it will be better if I ever need to go back there.
After coming home I spent 3 months in physical therapy. Physical Therapists are a strange breed and I made sure to take lots of pain pills before visiting Mr. Crunchy my assigned leg straightener. He really laid into my leg working to get it to bend again, scar tissue builds up after a surgery and it needs to be busted loose. He dutifully did his job of busting loose that scar tissue… Ouchy! Thank You Mr. Crunchy!
Three years later I’m doing well, my leg gets a bit sore from time to time, but it doesn’t lock up anymore. You really wouldn’t notice that I was full of metal pieces and plastic chunks unless you noticed the big scar. My leg used to be bent a little to the right and it’s now straight! I told this to the doctor, he simply smiled and replied “we like things to be straight around here.”

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