Knee Replacement: An Active Retiree Looks at the Big Picture

About Meheadshot-alemian

My name is Bruce Alemian. As I write this in September 2011, my age is 67. I have been married to my wife, Claire, for 35 years and have a daughter from a previous marriage and two grandchildren. My wife and I make our home south of Boston, where we enjoy all that New England has to offer including the mountains, the ocean, the ever-changing seasons, and, when the mood strikes, forays into the city for dinners, sporting events, etc. My physical activity interests include gardening, downhill skiing, tennis, snowshoeing, and trail climbing. I am now retired from my years in the business community working in various entrepreneurial endeavors.

In November 1998, at age 54, I had two total knee replacements a week apart. These followed a total hip replacement, 5 months earlier. All of the surgeries were performed at Massachusetts General Hospital. Needless to say, in the years immediately preceding these replacements, my physical activity, and therefore much of my enjoyment, was severely limited. In fact, in the months before my surgeries, I found it quite disagreeable to walk a hundred feet and would think through my needs to ensure that I went up and down stairs no more than once daily.

Thirteen years ago, I was certain my skiing and tennis days were well in my past. But in the years since then, I have played hundreds of sets of tennis singles, and my wife and I have enjoyed the thrill and beauty of skiing the mountains on many occasions.

Of course, I am most careful not to put myself in situations of unnecessary risk. In skiing, for example, I ski only when the snow conditions are favorable, take easier trails than in earlier years, and stay out for only a few hours in the day.

Wherever I am and whatever I am doing, I listen to my body. If it tells me to stop doing something or perhaps to not even start something, I gladly conform. I’ve come to recognize those physical actions that are to be avoided when possible. For example, going from low to high (as in getting up off the floor/ground) is not as easy as it once was. I really learned that lesson in the first year after my surgeries when I was in a boat on a lake. My friend suggested we go for a swim, and all was fine—until it was time to climb back into the boat. One and done on that!

I am sharing my story with Better Medicine in hopes that the reader, perhaps facing similar surgery, will have some greater sense of the challenges and opportunities about to present themselves. Certainly each of us will have different interests and capabilities, and in surgery there is no guarantee. All I can share is what my experience has been, while wishing for others even greater success.

About My Knee Pain Symptoms

In my early twenties, I had an injury that resulted in having the cartilage removed in one knee. My legs were also bowlegged from birth. By the time I neared 50, and after many decades in various sports activities, I began to realize that my previously injured knee was bowing further and further out and there was increasing joint pain in both knees. At the same time, the severe bowing of my right leg seemed to be putting stress on the hip on that side.

The joint pain progressed from being acute primarily after physical activity to more continuous throughout the day and night. In time, at night the knee joint pain would be severe enough to wake me. Although my knees would have stiffened to the point where I would not want to flex them, I came to realize that by doing so the movement would, after an initial jolt, lessen the ongoing pain and I could get back to sleep.

Although I was not precisely certain how the progression of my joint disease would evolve, I generally understood through the years that there would be deterioration. As joint replacement capabilities became somewhat common, I certainly was aware of that possibility. Then on a brilliant winter’s day, having just skied off a chair lift on Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine, I began a short uphill ski traverse to reach the top of a trail. After a few minutes of climbing effort, I just had to stop and let the pain in my lower body subside. At that point I knew that joint replacement was something I needed to learn more about.

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