Friday, December 21, 2012

Yikes more surgery; Maybe retirement is now an option

I don’t know if the well-worn and often misused word irony is appropriate but something has to be in a dictionary to explain what happened today.

Look at this way: At 7:30 a.m. I finished up with the physical therapy that was linked to my Oct. 10 neck surgery.

Some 90 minutes later I was visiting with Dr. Steven Combs, a kindly orthopedic surgeon who knows a thing or two about knees, shoulders, that kind of stuff.

We each know that this visit was coming when first chatted a few months back.

Sooner or later I’d tackle him and make him say “uncle” by including me on his surgical to-do list.

I will say this, however, it was very refreshing to see Dr. Combs peel out of his pocket a well-worn pocket paper calendar instead of harnessing a cold-blooded electronic thingamajig.

Consulting his calendar Combs searched the openings in January.

"January 16,” he said as I followed his lead and explored the calendar found on my cell phone.

So January 16 it is, with the “it” being a total replacement of my left knee. That way I’ll have a matched set, the right one becoming artificial several years back by a former partner of Combs.

That step was easy enough. Actually, maybe not so easy.

The debate I had with myself and with several other doctors was either to replace the left knee or else have a neurosurgeon open up my lower back, chip away at the bony material clamping a no-longer-helpful titanium rod and reinstalling another one. For the third time, I hasten to add.

And as challenging and major a surgery a total knee replacement is, all of the doctors I had a pow-wow with said the lumbar rod replacement would/will be a heck of a lot more complicated, difficult and chock-full or greater risks.

So, I asked Combs, just what’s going to go on when I’m splayed atop a gurney at Lake Health’s Willoughby branch.

Don’t mind me but if you are of the squeamish sort you might want to skip this part and scroll to the story’s end.

I’ll have what Dr. Combs called a “mobile bearing” implant.

He’ll slice open a several-inch chunk of my left leg, slightly above and slightly below, the knee, and on the left side too.

Oh, yes, one other thing. I won’t feel a thing. Dr. Combs said I’ll probably be given something called a femoral artery something-or-another.

There are fewer post-op complications with that kind of knock-out procedure, Combs said.

Who am I to argue, so I said it was fine by me as long as I wasn’t awake.

After the soft tissue is rolled over and the femur, knee and tibia are exposed Combs will go to work installing the artificial construct.

This 1 1/2 to 2-hour process will require him and his team to drill a small hole into the stump of both the tibia and the femur bones.

He - and they, his team - will take the hinged artificial construct which is made from chrome-cobalt, insert the femoral half into its designated bone and the tibial tray into its respective stump.

Sandwiched between them will go a spacer made from ultra-high-density plastic.

Ditto for the patella button, a fancy name for what will become the knee cap.

Combs will then suture the wound and I’m set to go; going meaning that I’ll be wheeled to a surgical unit room for the next two to three days.

After that I’ll be wheeled to a rehabilitation room for the next seven to 10 days, Combs said.

Oh, almost forgot. With this sort of procedure they will have me up and walking (if walking is really the correct word) that evening with the aid of a personally detested walker.

Rehab won’t be much better. I swear after the first knee surgery I gathered that the only people Lake

Health hires for that sort of work are unemployed iron workers who enjoy nothing more than wrestling heavy objects and acting surprised when you cry out “that hurts!” to which they only diabolically laugh.

Once I’m home and for the next several days my wife will have to give me antibiotic injections, each to my stomach area.

She has experience so I’m not worried a bit. In fact, with the first knee replacement Bev did a better and less painful job than had the official needle-dealers.

Combs said I’ll be at home for four to six weeks, recovering under the ever vigilant eye of Bev and an occasional visiting nurse.

That will take me up to early March, I calculated.

“Perfect,” I thought. “I won’t miss all of the late-winter steelheading fishing season.”

I didn’t mention that part to Dr. Combs, of course, though I suspected he knew I was up to something when he said “no ice fishing.”

Yeah, yeah, so long as I can hobble alongside a creek before the steelhead vacate the rivers and before the male turkeys start gobbling I’ll be fine.

If it weren’t for that darn nasty lower back, of course.

And on a somewhat related topic. After I returned to work this morning I spoke with our human resources person who handed me some required long-term medical disability forms to complete.

I also requested details on what is needed to file retirement papers.

Now don’t get too excited. As I told Tricia Ambrose, our paper’s top editorial section gun, the way I figure it I’m only at Defcon Two, maybe Defcon Three. Tops.

It’s worth considering, this retirement thing, I figured.

As Tricia said - and she has been by far the best boss I’ve had - maybe Bev and I ought to enjoy a few years of at least moderately good health.

Makes sense. I’ll keep you posted.

Just don’t break out the champagne and party hats just yet.

The left knee may be a done deal but not my retirement.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twiter: @Fieldkorn

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