When you think of knee replacement surgery, you typically think of it being in older people who have worn out their knees over 60-70 years or more. However, younger people are having this surgery more than ever before. I am living proof of this because at age 41. (Wow! I don’t feel that old!) I had knee replacement surgery. Those of you who know me know that I have had knee problems for several years, dating back to high school and sports injuries.
I was not fortunate enough in high school to have an athletic trainer at my games to let me know when I needed to quit trying to play and seek medical attention, so I played for two years without an ACL. Most of you probably know right away that that is not a good thing to do. I tore the ACL in my other knee, and, at that time, found out that both were torn. I had reconstructions 11 months apart.
While recovering from the second of these reconstructions, I met Dr. Ken Bell and Joe Black, both of whom were very involved with athletics at Maryville College, where I was a student. I had the great aspiration that I was going to return from these surgeries to play intercollegiate basketball.
Keep in mind that this was almost 25 years ago. Very few athletes were returning from one surgery, little alone two. Joe convinced me it would not be an intelligent decision to subject my knee to that abuse. While I never played collegiate basketball, I did play softball and continued to be very active over the years since. I became a frequent visitor in Dr. Bell’s office, and a regular at the surgery center.
The knee replacement was my sixth surgery on that knee, and if you ask my surgeon, I was way past due for a new one. Dr. Bell performed four of those surgeries. Over the years, we talked frequently, both in the office and on the sidelines, about how the knee was holding up and what we needed to do about it. There were always those discussions about modifying my activities, which never lasted very long. Fortunately for me, Dr. Bell is a big proponent of staying active, so he never questioned my desire to continue with all of my activities -- even when it comes to the pick-up basketball I play twice a week.
Then there is my job as athletic trainer for the Alcoa Tornadoes. I am usually found in the thick of things on the field or the court, so my knee really needs to work pretty well for me to be there. For the last several years, many folks would comment that they didn’t know if I was going to make it to the player who was down. Or at the very least it hurt them to see me run, if you could call it that.
I am not ready to give up those Friday nights on the sidelines, and I am too young to retire anyway.
After many attempts to put the surgery off as long as possible, it became evident in May 2009 that we had done everything we could to prolong the inevitable. Dr. Bell said it was time; I only had to decide when was a good time to have it done.
We discussed recovery time and my need to be ready for football season and decided we would have to wait until football was over. That left me to make it through football season - 15 weeks of it. I had some great help from coaches, managers (Thanks, Roman), student trainers and even parents. Had it not been for them, I don’t think I would have made it.
We scheduled the surgery for Dec. 9, which was Dr. Bell’s first day in surgery after the state championship game. I did what I could to build my strength in preparation for the surgery. I attended “Joint School,” a great class offered by Blount Memorial Hospital that answers a lot of questions on what to expect from the surgery. I was by far the youngest attendee, but we all had bad left knees in common. Then all I had to do was wait for the day to arrive.
The hardest part for me was to come after the surgery, having the patience to make it through the healing process without overdoing it. I am blessed with having a great group of therapists to guide me through the process. The question I am frequently asked is: “Are you doing your own therapy?” I quickly answer no to this question. While I probably wouldn’t have the problem of not being hard enough on myself, I would definitely tend to overdo things. This can be just a detrimental to the healing process as not doing enough.
Rehab is going well, and I get closer to walking without a limp everyday. Dr. Bell told me just before taking me to the operating room that my only job now was to wear this knee out. I will give it my best shot. Though being a bit older and wiser than when I first hurt it, I will listen to my body and not push quite so much.
Don’t worry, I will continue to work and play hard. I will remain active. You will still see me on the sidelines at football games, and you may even see me on the basketball court again one day soon.
Make no mistake, this is a difficult surgery. Fortunately, I have an excellent surgeon in Dr. Bell, who allows me to push the limits a little bit. And, as I mentioned earlier, a great group of physical therapists who push me, encourage me and slow me down all at the perfect time. With the help of these folks, the process hasn’t been all that bad.