by George Stephen Rapson
On October 11th, 2021, I had a total knee replacement at the Paley Orthopedic Institute in West Palm Beach. The highlights follow.
I had polio in 1949. My lower right leg and foot is atrophied. After many surgeries on both legs from ages five to fifteen, I could walk normally. Yay! The downside: as I aged, increased arthritis in the right foot and the left knee. By age fifty, my knee needed help. I had two arthroscopic procedures, one in 2000 and again in 2010. By 2020, walking was painful and biking impossible. This is even worse than it sounds because I use exercise to control my weight (never mind with “…what control?”). God forbid I eat less.
Back to the doctor, he said my knee was deformed and he’d not risk a poor outcome. In fact, three doctors, two in Boston and one in Jupiter, all said that. In Jupiter, it was Dr. Noble, with whom, for an appointment, I had waited six weeks. However, he referred me to Dr. Minas at Paley. All was forgiven, here’s why.
Dr. Minas came in with a full staff. There is nothing like a crowd all paying attention to you to make you feel important and well-taken care of. After perusing my X-Rays Dr. Minas said, “You have a crooked leg, we’ll straighten that out. This ankle bone is shifted, which is why your gait is not good. That will fix itself with the custom orthotic, which we’ll make from the CAT scan we’ll send you to get in a few minutes.”
I asked him how he could be so positive of a good outcome when three other capable surgeons were not. He didn’t find that question impertinent at all. He zipped across the room on his wheeled chair to the X-rays again. He pointed out what was wrong, why it was wrong, and what he was going to do about it. Say no more!
This was May 2021. Since Rosemary and I were returning to Massachusetts, surgery was scheduled for our return to Jupiter in October.
After clearance from my primary doctor that I probably won’t die on the table, after filling out of myriad forms, after surgery was placed on hold due to Covid, after surgery was then re-scheduled from the 7th to the 11th, after a Covid test three days before surgery, after many calls and emails with Dr. Minas’ able assistant, Ash Itinger, after showing up on surgery day, I am finally in that hospital gown with the back you can never close. Waiting in the prep room, I had to use the bathroom. Since my IV was already in, I pushed the wheeled pole along. The nurse called out, “You have to close the back of the gown!”
“I can’t seem to tie it,” I said.
“Oh, alright, let me do it,” she said, but nicely. Hospitals… check your modesty at the door.
The PA, Jeff, comes in to sign my left knee. Can’t be too careful. The best thing about this whole pre-op procedure is the warm blanket. I’m a hospital veteran from the old days; there were no warm blankets. I asked Jeff how many knee replacements Dr. Minas does a day. Six! I’m number two or three. Even doctors work on a production line.
Then off to the surgical suite at St. Mary’s. It’s cold, it’s bright, people bustling about, beeping machines, injections to my IV. Then…
George…? George…? are you awake? Hello! You’re all done. After regaining more consciousness, I am wheeled off to my private room. God Bless Medicare. I hope.
It’s one night in the hospital. I am well-cared for by a team of nurses. A physical therapist comes by around 8:00PM. She, and an assistant, greet me cheerily. I know trouble is brewing.
“Hi George, oh, I see it’s Steve, let’s see if you can get up and walk a bit.”
Really? But I did. Slowly, cautiously. No serious pain yet. We hobbled out to the hall, me with a walker, they holding me lightly on both arms. Down the hall to a flight stairs.
“Would you like to try the stairs?” She encourages. Again, really?
I’m game for anything they say I should do. There’s a railing on both sides, so up and down the stairs is not too hard. I feel like a champion of knee recovery.
Home the next day. Mrs. Rapson is a solicitous helper. Speaking of pain, here it comes. No kidding. I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs, but give me those oxycodone pills right now, please.
This is the part of knee replacement where you say, “Why did I ever do this?” For the next few weeks it’s ice, pills, PT, and struggles to get up and down. My drain broke, blood on the floor. Calls to the doctor. Is this bad? No so much… take out the needle and put a band-aid on it. Putting on socks and underwear yourself is a distant memory.
Again, Mrs. Rapson is patient with the patient. I just want to sit in this chair all day with my leg up.
No rest permitted, however. Dr. Minas, nurses, PT professionals, and knee replacement veterans all said the same thing: Do the PT, do it every day, all day. If you want the function back that made you have this operation in the first place, then do the PT.
I went to Synergy Health & Wellness in Jupiter three days a week. Lydia, Amy and Rob all worked on my knee. They hurt me. But they were nice while doing it. In a couple of months, things were better enough that I saw the light. I walked without a cane. I bought a bike trainer. Dr. Minas said, “The more you spin, the more you win.”
So I spinned. It hurt a lot. PT person, Amy, said, “Knee therapy is the one place where no pain, no gain is true.”
Rosemary and I returned north for the holidays. I continued with daily at-home PT and went to a new physical therapist.
Back in Jupiter after the New Year, I rode my bike: eight miles to Juno Pier and back.
Steve Rapson is a writer of songs and stories. He’s a concert guitarist with several CDs in release and the author of The Art of the SoloPerformer: A Field Guide to Stage & Podium. http://steverapson.com