What you knee-d to know

Five years ago, I went to my GP complaining of pain in my right knee.

He sent me away for X-rays, told me my knee wasn’t great – osteoarthritis – but advised me to put off surgery for as long as I could.

Five years later, aged 65, I hobbled back. I told the same GP that my much-loved weekly game of golf was agony by the time I got to the 18th – and not because of my dodgy putting.

Golf aside, there were other reasons I was back in the doc’s surgery. My wife loves walking and wanted to travel the world seeing things on foot. She wanted me to share this with her, but I couldn’t.

“But the worst thing,” I said to my GP, “is that a throbbing pain is keeping me awake at night.”

I’d tried various brands of painkillers and anti-inflammatories, but this wasn’t something I could do for the next 10 or 20 years.

The following week I was off to see an orthopedic surgeon and was booked in for a knee replacement (TKR) two weeks after that.

I knew a bit about what to expect. I had two good mates who’d had knee replacements and they were enjoying life again after years of complaining.

For me, it was a no-brainer – a couple of uncomfortable months in return for freedom of movement.

My research determined that, while this was major surgery, it had a very high success rate – in excess of 90 per cent. In 2014–15, there were 52,039 hospitalisations for knee replacements in Australia – 600,000 last year in the US.

According to US figures, 90 per cent of people who have a knee replacement experience a lot less pain. Most are able to perform daily activities and stay active, and this was certainly the case with some of my golfing mates who’d had knee and hip replacements.

So off to hospital I went. Surgery was booked for a Wednesday afternoon and I was home on the Saturday, armed with boxes of drugs to help with pain, blood thinning, constipation and nausea. I was a walking pharmacy.

My leg was wrapped in a compression stocking to help prevent clots and ease the swelling, while the actual wound was bandaged with a simple adhesive strip running the vertical length of the cut.

I’d been given some advice by a physio on exercises to aid recovery, and I’ve been reasonably diligent with this.

As I write this, I’m three weeks post surgery. I can walk without crutches, but I’m wobbly. I’ve been told the knee is strong, yet I can’t help but feel vulnerable and weak and I regularly feel that I’m hyper-extending the knee.

There’s some numbness in my upper thigh and occasional stabs of pain in and around the knee, but at no time could I say that the pain has been extreme.  

Every day has seen slight improvement. For example, on day six I managed to get out of bed fairly normally.

I can get in and out of the car, albeit with some difficulty, but I’ve been told I can’t drive until I’m totally off medication and can walk without aid. I’ve achieved the latter, but I’m still taking mild painkillers at night to ensure a comfortable night’s sleep.

And I’m already concerned about the other leg and wondering whether it will require a knee replacement, because I’m not sure I can go through this again, certainly not for a while.

It’s giving me some discomfort, perhaps because it’s doing extra work.

Cost-wise, I’m about $1500 out of pocket, despite having top-level private health insurance. But that’s another story.

Whether I’ve made the right decision to replace my hard-working knee with a prosthetic only time will tell. The experience of others says yes, but it’s not easy.

If you’re in the market, be mentally prepared for discomfort, numerous mental and physical challenges, boredom, some pain and an inability to do so many simple things without extreme care. But keep the focus on the long-term view – a pain-free round of golf, a long walk with friends …

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Written by YourLifeChoices Writers

YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.

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