I write this from a bed in a skilled nursing facility, where I landed after being released from the hospital. I have no bone nor metal in my right knee and down to my shin, and I will be on a 24/7 antibiotic IV for at least six weeks. After that I’ll go off it for two weeks, provided the infection–which was simmering for at least 18 months and probably at least two years–is not in evidence. The doctors will check again after that and if the infection has not returned I’ll be given a new metal knee. In the meantime, I cannot bend my right leg or put any weight on it at all. I met another woman who had gone through the same thing about a year ago. The facility I am in has two other people in the same boat, and the therapists tell me they have seen others.
You have seen the pretty pictures–the happy people with their new knees riding bicycles and playing tennis. Doctors X-ray your leg and spend about five minutes looking at the X-rays before the nurse comes out and tells you your osteoarthritis has reached a condition such that you need a new knee. This is widespread and at times absurd; a friend told me that a 97-year-old neighbor of hers was told he needed a new knee. After studying the matter, he decided to continue to walk up and down the twelve steps to his condo with his arthritis and “return to his maker with his original equipment.”
Unlike him, I did not check the matter out. I wish I had. Why don’t those cheerful pictures warn you that a single fall on concrete or another hard surface can break your implant, leading to another surgery and more bone loss? Why aren’t you warned that a small cut or scrape that you might not even notice can lead to an infection like the one I had? I have been warned that if I get another infection the next step is amputation. I refuse to take that step. I am 72 years old. If it is time to pass the baton to someone else, so be it. I have fought a good fight; I have stayed the course; I am ready to return to the Lord.
Of course the majority of knee transplants go all right. My daughter’s has not given her any trouble, and the only problem with my left leg is a discoloration on my ankle. But I wanted to warn you about the possible serious consequences, so that you can take them into account in your planning. If I had known then what I know now, I would have been like that 97-year-old man: I would have gone on with my osteoarthritis, walking with a cane instead of risking landing in bed and a wheelchair for at least eight weeks. Be warned. It isn’t as risk-free as the surgeons would have you believe.