Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Brand New Knee, To Have or Have Not

On November 11th of last year, I had a total knee replacement operation on my left leg. It was one of the best things that ever could have happened to me. I want to share the experience in case some of you are considering having the procedure and this information could help you with your decision. 

I had had a knee “problem” since in sometime in 1999. In 2008, the pain was so bad I asked my general practitioner for help. When she had an x-ray taken and told me there was nothing wrong with my knee, I should have asked for a referral to a specialist but didn’t. 

Finally in 2013, I had great insurance and tried again. My doctor’s nurse practitioner ordered an MRI and it revealed that my knee joint was bone-on-bone and the next step was a follow-up with an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Thomas Merchant, who turns out to have a spectacular reputation in Roseville, CA. 

Dr. Merchant went over the options with me, but the only one that sounded like a real option was the total knee replacement, and I was already prepared for that. He explained all the positives and negatives and gave me the percentages, but it only took me a moment to answer, “Let’s go for it!”

There was a three-month wait for the surgery, and it was very lucky I was already on the schedule, because one week prior to it my knee got stuck in a bent position. I had pieces of “bone and cartilage debris” in that area and apparently one got stuck between what was left of my knee cap. I could not put weight on my left leg and went on disability a week early. 

The day of the surgery finally came and I must admit I was a little nervous. I hadn’t faced what the surgery actually entailed, the cutting of bones and removal of the joint and cementing in of a new knee onto the raw bones. Suddenly visuals washed over me but I was successful in shoving the pictures back into to a recess of my mind and, thankfully, my anesthesiologist came to the rescue. 

I actually don’t remember recovery, just being in my hospital bed and quickly being attached to the CPM (continuous passive motion) machine. This wonderful piece of technology puts your leg through its paces automatically and for me it was a wonderful source of pain relief. When my knee was in motion my leg was in much less pain. 

Let’s talk about pain. Norco every four hours for the three days I was in the hospital and the five days I stayed with my mother was enough to keep me comfortable. I was off even Tylenol after just three weeks. So I would judge my pain to have been minimal for the extent of my surgery. 

The hospital staff had me up to go to the bathroom on the first day and, with the help of a physical therapist, walking the hallways twice a day for the next two days. I even had to climb a set of stairs before I was released from the hospital because my mother’s house has a set of stairs from the driveway into the house. I made it up them, no sweat. 

My 82-year-old mother was able to care for me for the next five days because no lifting was required. I could get up and down and to the bedroom or bathroom by myself. She literally fed me and fetched things I needed, and that was it.  I was even able to take a sitting shower, with my knee covered in Saran Wrap, before I went home to my tiny RV. 

The next two weeks were the toughest part of the whole thing because I drove myself to my two-week follow-up appointment and shopped for myself. Moving around the store with my walker or a motorized cart was not difficult, but more than once standing in line was excruciating. If you can get someone else to drive you or shop for you then do it.

I had home health nurses and one fantastic physical therapist, Phil Stoddard, visit me twice a week. The nurses were great, but it was Phil that inspired me to try my hardest to regain full range of my knee. I was working the title "Rock Star" and got it!

I was actually ready to return to work after six weeks – as a shuttle driver – but just as I was preparing for that my back went out from walking differently, I assume. Muscle relaxers solved that problem and eight weeks from the day my knee froze in place I was back at my job.  Although I got tired easily, the knee itself gave me no problems. 

Today, almost five months later, I can say this was a great decision. I feel 15 years younger. I’m able to do things I could before, like walk! Where, before, a trip to a big box store would cause me so much pain that I would need painkillers, now I have quit shopping for a close parking space. Life is good!

I’m now able to look forward to traveling the world, able to walk the steps of Machu Picchu or Rome without pause - except to catch my breath, of course!

Here are three pictures of my progress: the CPM machine, the incision immediately after surgery and the scar about two months after surgery. Today, my knee doesn’t look much different except that it is very slowly fading. 

I hope this post will help someone else make a decision as to whether it’s something that works for them. Please let me know!


  1. Kathy, it sounds like your surgery and recovery went very well. I am so very happy for you. My younger sister had a knee replacement about 15 or so years ago and let me tell you that the drill is different now than what it was back then. I am so very glad that they get patients up on day 1 to start moving. My sister's recovery went well but I think that it would have been better still if she'd been up on day 1 or day 2 at the latest. She was only in her 30s when she had the surgery so it isn't like she was fragile or anything, that is just the way things happened then.

    Again, I am so very glad that your knee replacement has been such a gift for you. Hugs!

    1. Thank you Ardee-Ann! I've heard a number of bad stories, but mostly good. I do think that having me walk right away was part of it and then having such excellent was a big part as well. Is sis doing well now - so many years later?

  2. Thanks for the info Kathy! I've told you before that I'm facing the same thing in maybe a year from now-- or sooner. I can still walk on the days my knee cooperates. I had all the cartilage removed from my knee over thirty years ago. I can still remember the dread and prolonging the operation and the wonders of pain free life after the operation. BTW it's my left knee that is bad.

    What type of knee did you get? It seems that it's just like going to the supermarket-- so many choices.

    I'm so happy for you and you've made me feel better knowing your operation was a great success.

  3. I hope you get yours done soon, Dannie - it will be a whole new world for you! All I know about the type I got is that it's an alloy knee - not titanium. I'm loving it!

    I'm so glad you got something out of this. I was hoping someone would.


  4. Thanks for the write-up, Kathy. This is a very affecting piece. It is also a good reminder of how even the most chronic pains can be relieved and ended. I think the biggest challenge in all this is how to ease oneself into the process of recovery – which can be trying sometimes, especially if that person has a very active lifestyle. Anyway, take care, and I hope that things get back to normal for you in no time.

    Agnes Lawson @ Pain Relief Experts

    1. Agnes - I JUST saw this - New Year's Eve - thanks for writing. I hope it helped someone.