Addyman's CornerColumnists

They Say Knee-Replacement Surgery Is Something to Remember: Don’t Believe Them

By John Addyman

When I was a little boy, my mom would take me into Scranton, Pennsylvania, to see dear old Dr. Davis, whose job was to give me an allergy shot in my bottom.

“I have a needle for that,” he told my mom.

And he did. Problem was, my job was to do everything to escape that needle, which included climbing Dr. Davis’s bookshelf and desk. 

Since those early days, I’ve had a simple system for judging good days versus bad days.

A day with no needles is a good day.

But show me a needle — bad day.

It’s been a long time since I was a little boy, but needles are still around. This I found out in spades last winter when I got my knee replaced. Well, it didn’t actually get replaced, it was more modified and hot-rodded with new parts.  

And it was an experience. 

My editor thought so, anyway. 

“Do a story on getting your knee replaced!” he told me, much too enthusiastically.

“Take a long walk off a short pier,” I responded, enthusiastically.

But after months of incubating, here goes…

This story started in 1992 when I blew out my right ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in a corporate volleyball game. The Pennsylvania doctor who did the eventual surgery was a great guy. He told me the knee would be fine until I got arthritis in it, whenever that was. 

As it happened, that was last year. 

My New York doctor told me I had hit the daily double: “Do you want to do both knees or just the one?” he asked. 

When he could see the stunned look on my face, he told me my right knee was “bone on bone” and the left knee was getting there fast. We decided on replacing the right knee. I figured the left knee would hang on for a while.

I was wrong. When the time came to set a date for the surgery, my left knee was killing me.

The doctor was unphased.

“I have a needle for that,” he said. 

And he did. Two needles actually, one for each knee, and a very nice physician’s assistant who held my hand so my face did not hit the floor while another physician’s assistant gave me the shots. 

The cortisone shots lasted for a while, but then the doctor said, “Let’s get this done and stop fooling around with the shots.”

But I had to get cleared for the surgery, so I called my cardiologist, who had to sign off on everything. He said we could do an echocardiogram, which involves a treadmill. I told him the surgery was on my knee. 

“No problem,” he said. 

“I have a needle for that.”

And he did. I was given a nuclear stress test, which involved injecting radioactive dye into me. It was no fun. Later that night, I found myself checking to see if my chest was glowing.

I thought I was finished with the cardiologist but no, after I passed the nuclear thing, I needed an angiogram, which meant a trip to the hospital. 

“Will you do the test?” I asked him. “No, my colleague in Rochester does.”

“He has a needle for that.”

And indeed he did. He put that sucker in my arm and things went hot and cold in seconds, but then the rest was a piece of cake. “No blockage,” he told me.

Now I was ready for the big day. New knee, here I come. 

But first we had to do lab tests.

The phlebotomist asked me what I was having done. 

“New knee,” I told her.

“I have a needle for that,” she said. 

And she did. And she took a generous number of samples.

The big day came, and here I was, back at my hometown hospital.

“We have to get you hooked up for IVs,” the nurses said.

“Let me guess,” I started to say…

“No need,” they responded, “we have needles for that.”

And they did. There I was with things sticking in both arms with tubes dangling down. I had tape over the needle ports, but I was really pretty comfortable. The women were quick and expert.

Now it was time to meet the anesthesiologist. She was very nice. She recommended I get a “block” to make thing go easier. 

“I have a needle for that,” she said.

And I thought to myself, “I bet you do, and I bet it’s a foot long.” 

“I want to be out completely,” I told her. “Put some juice in the IV bag and let me fly to La-La land. No block.”

That’s all I remember. 

Apparently, I agreed to the block and to sweeten the deal the anesthesiologist primed me with something that helped me to relax — and forget — everything. She gave me a little squirt of Kickapoo Joy Juice in the IV and the world was a different place. I don’t remember the block. I don’t remember the surgery. I don’t remember being in the post-op recovery room. I don’t remember talking to my doctor after the surgery. I don’t remember being taken to my hospital room. I don’t remember if my wife was with me or not when I got to the room.

That night, the anesthesiologist came to visit me and I thanked her for sparing me from a lot of anxiety and pain. The following morning, a physician’s assistant visited before the crack of dawn and changed my dressing, gave me instructions, and a doctor in the practice spent time with me answering a lot of questions and putting me at ease.

And this month, I meet with the doctor to choose the date for the next knee surgery. 

I bet he has some needles for that.