A Tale of Two Knees - part one

Making my Mind Up

I knew I had mistimed the twist in my twisting back somersault and that my landing of the trampoline ten feet below me was not going to be good.  The nurse (male) in the casualty department was not sympathetic.  There was no external evidence of any injury and my claim that the bottom half of my right leg was acting independently from the rest of me was dismissed and so was I.

My coach was even less sympathetic when I called him the next day to say I would not be at the gym as my right knee was so swollen I could not get into my car let alone drive it.  “Walk then” he snapped, and the phone went dead.  I walked.  I understood his anger as it was just two months before an important competition and I had jeopardised the success of the entire University team.  I was given a programme of exercises to strengthen my legs.

Not only did I compete in the competition but I won and this established my faith in exercise over ‘rest’ which saw me through a variety of mishaps including tripping over a doormat at the University where I was a lecturer and falling down two flights of concrete steps in a Spanish resort at the start of my new career as a holiday rep.  I really loved working in travel and in particular leading skiing holidays but I was not in control of my own destiny.  At least private medical insurance meant I could decide when to have treatment.  A collision with a colour blind beginner on a black ski run (most difficult) intensified the problems with my right knee and as I was keen to finish the ski season I asked my doctor to recommend a specialist - one who skied.  Mr Ian Forster was understanding and performed an arthroscopy immediately to remove debris in my right knee.  True to his promise I was able to ski seven days later and I finished the ski season.  

But it was only a temporary solution and the re-construction of my right knee took place that June to give me time to get fit for the next season.  A knee replacement had been discussed but I resisted because I was too young (it was the best excuse I could come up with).  In theory I was not supposed to travel for three months but in practice, six weeks later (and hundreds of miles on an exercise bike) I was rambling across Zakynthos and even conquered a rocky promontory.   Life was good for the next two years.

I was on my way to Spain to lead a golf holiday when a freak accident at the airport damaged both knees.  The chair collapsed beneath me as I was sitting down to drink a cup of tea.  To avoid throwing the hot liquid over me I performed a sort of Cossack dance until I regained my balance.  The pain in my knees was considerable but I survived through the use of a golf buggy and some very imaginative excuses for not actually playing golf – the need to do paperwork and to contact my office urgently always work well.  More physiotherapy and frantic peddling on my exercise bike and I successfully completed my programme of walking, golfing and skiing holidays for the next two years but finally I had to concede that something had to be done and Mr Forster performed simultaneous arthroscopies on both knees removing all the rubbish that had accumulated in the joints.  Both were successful and I did not have any more problems until 2010.

By then I was settled in Hertfordshire and opted for treatment at Spire Bushey Hospital but it had to be someone who would be sympathetic regarding my love of skiing.  That was when I met Mr John Skinner who recommended an arthroscopy on both knees.  I appreciated his empathy with my life style and his willingness to let me decide which option I wanted to follow regarding my treatment.  The arthroscopies provided some relief and were followed by a series of injections which kept me going for another 3 years but I knew time was running out and I should consider a knee replacement.

In my mind a replacement represented a possible watershed in my life but research produced positive feedback and due to that and Mr Skinner’s assurance that it was my best chance of skiing the following season I decided to go ahead.  Decision made I went off to Jersey to replace a colleague who had been taking ill but I had not appreciated that I would be exploring the island on foot.  That same day my left knee began to protest and although I was convinced the pain would ‘go away’ it never did.  Our local guide’s peculiar approach to walking was not helping – he dawdled for the first two hours stopping at every public convenience (he must have had a bad experience with a woman) and then had to resort to frantic jogging to keep to our schedule.  Struggling to keep up I began to wonder about having both knees replaced.

I made some calls from Jersey before I changed my mind.  Bupa was delighted – two procedures for one anaesthetic and Sue, Mr Skinner’s lovely, efficient secretary, arranged everything.  I did not have time to dwell on the wisdom of this decision as I was too busy working – sightseeing in Italy and a visit to Bletchley Park.  If doubts did creep in the nagging pain in both knees was very persuasive.  I feared the general anaesthetic more than anything but was re-assured by a telephone call from the anaesthetist, Dr Val Taylor who also visited me before the operation took place.    

I prepared for my hospital stay the same way I did for the Inca Trail as I had viewed the prospect of four nights under canvas the same way I did a stay in hospital – sleep-free and uncomfortable.  I loaded all my favourite tracks on to my MP3 and packed my mini-speaker.  I knew exercise was important both before and after surgery and I had already contacted Herbert Trabanino, my physiotherapist at Spire Bushey, regarding the wisdom of tightening my thigh muscles and straightening my knees while still in the recovery room.  He was all for it which was just what I wanted to hear and exactly what I did and continued to do throughout the rest of the day – even managing to lift my leg off the bed as well. 

During the night I began drinking as much water as possible to avoid becoming de-hydrated.  When the nurse arrived to check on me she also decided re-hydration was in order and put me on a drip.  Neither of us informed the other regarding the action we had taken.  After a third skirmish with the bed pan I suggested she hooked the drip up to the bed pan and left me out of the equation.  Amused by my own wit I drifted off to sleep.

When I next opened my eyes it was daylight and the sun was streaming through my open window.  I was ready to take my first steps but I had to wait until all the accoutrements of Critical Clinical Care had been removed.  It was a quick progression from walking frame to crutches (two hours) and I was soon doing regular circuits of my room.  I was delighted that the intense pain I had suffered during the preceding three weeks had gone and my knees just felt tight and stiff.  I would have been happy to walk everywhere (on crutches) but a wheelchair was prescribed for visits to the hydrotherapy pool and the X-Ray department.  The porters were not used to someone having had both knees done at once and would raise one leg but left the other to manage in the normal bent position.  This was good practice towards achieving the 90 degree bend which I knew was necessary for the discharge I was plotting already.

Before I could go home I had to learn how to go up and down stairs on crutches and it was confusing being told to lead with my ‘bad’ leg when going downstairs as in theory both were ‘bad’ so I let them take turns being the leader.  Once I had conquered the stairs I was anxious to get home – everyone at the hospital had been encouraging and supportive and had looked after me very well but now the rest was up to me with help from Herbert.  I had agreed to lead a walking holiday in the Dolomite Mountains two months hence and I was determined I would be there.  

Click on the following link to read A Tale of Two Knees - part two

Click on the following link to read A Tale of Two Knees - part three

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