Knee Replacement: A Grandfather Weighs His Options

About Meheadshot-bonasia

My name is Phil Bonasia. I am 70 years old.

In those 70 years, I have been married and had four children and eleven grandchildren. Now, 70 years from my birth, 45 from my wedding, and nearly two from my knee replacement surgery, we’re all still living in Needham, a small town just outside of Boston. I’m a retired social worker, but now and even before my knee replacement surgery, I live to play basketball and tennis, and I also enjoy spectator sports of all kinds.

I am sharing my story with Better Medicine because I believe it may help others.

From 2009 to 2010, I underwent two complete knee replacements at Massachusetts General Hospital. In spite of my concerns at the idea of having surgery, my passion for participating in competitive sports motivated me to overcome my anxiety. I hoped that, with surgery, my capacity to compete that I had during my healthier and younger years would return.

About My Knee Pain Symptoms

By the time I decided on surgery, I didn’t have any more cartilage and could not compete in sports without significant bone-on-bone pain. For seven years I had struggled to sleep comfortably. But even as it felt like my body was betraying me, I was afraid to alter it with surgery. I couldn’t help but worry and wonder: What if it didn’t work? What if I still couldn’t function from day to day, much less play sports?

When I Knew It Was Time for a Knee Replacement

During a period of eight years, I saw several doctors, all of whom suggested replacement. When it came to the point that the pain was almost constant, about two years ago, doctor number 3 finally convinced me it was time. But of course, it wasn’t only Dr. 3 who brought me to this conclusion. I had been questioning replacement, trying to ignore the symptoms and considering less invasive options, for years. It was time because the doctor said the medication Synvisc would at best only temporarily put off the inevitable, because daily life was painful, and because I couldn’t do what I loved most. Replacement had gone from being the crazy, extreme option to being the only option that made sense. So on a warm June day in 2009, I got an initial assessment from my HMO and scheduled the surgery for December of that year.

Preparing for Knee Replacement Surgery

There were no real problems preparing for the surgery. I had retired in 2003 with a good medical plan—work, meals, insurance, and so forth were of no concern to me. Nevertheless, this did not calm my anxieties. Talking with my tennis friends about their own experiences, which were generally positive, helped, and my wife was a great comfort and very helpful, driving me to and from the hospital. We arranged for physical therapy, and for three months prior to the second replacement I went to a daily exercise program to strengthen my legs and tone up in general, which was quite helpful.

About My Surgery

I had a talk with the nurse about the surgery, from length of time to equipment to replacement parts and the need for physical therapy, either at home or at the rehab center. I would have follow-up appointments at six and 12 weeks with the surgeon. My wife was wonderfully supportive, spending all day at my side during the three full days I spent in the hospital. We talked with each other and with the staff, vetting more questions about the pain and controlling it, as well as the average length of recovery.

My Recovery

The first four weeks of recovery are a blur to me. I remember the pain meds, on which I was hopelessly dependent, and the sound of my own voice, moaning and complaining about the pain. The physical therapy was helpful and reassuring although the process seemed too slow. I’m still somewhat stiff and uncomfortable even now, but since I can play sports with less pain I’m fairly pleased.

About My Care Team

I had lots of help and attention from my family, friends, and physical therapist. The surgeon could have spent a bit more time describing symptoms and reassuring me—so much for bedside manner. My close tennis friends were a great help, both reassuring and encouraging.

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