I'm not the kind of guy who complains about his health. To be honest, I'm blessed with having very little in the way of health issues beyond the occasional ache or pain. My blood pressure has trended a bit high since I began measuring it as an adult. I managed it pretty well by cutting out salt and doing cardio every day.
Finally 18 months ago, my current primary-care physician Doc Budelmann put me on a low-grade blood pressure medicine. And, that's the sum total of my ongoing health issues. Oh, other than the fact I'm packing 15 to 20 extra pounds. I know I need to lose some weight, but just can't muster the motivation and commitment to shed the extra baggage. After all, my Speedo days are far back in my rearview mirror. I'll eventually address the weight issue – maybe tomorrow or next week. Ah, crap, who am I kidding?
Collateral damage in building my new shed a couple of years ago, I hyperextended my left knee. As I finished caulking the last seam and climbed down the ladder for the last time, I thought I was on the bottom ladder rung, but was really on the second-to-the-last rung. I stepped off accordingly and my knee went out from under me. That was in November. I attended two more carmaker events that year and spent Christmas at my sister's using a cane. Getting back to about 80 percent required three or four months. Full recovery took another two or three. For the most part, I suffered in silence.
If I would simply follow my slacker tendencies and stop tackling repair and remodeling projects around the house, I might possibly avoid health problems all together. I say this because last September as I was working on the floor during my upstairs-bathroom remodel, I straightened up after squatting for a while and felt a sharp pain in the inside of my right knee. Man, this getting old stuff sucks, I thought.
Although the pain never completely ceased, when it did flare up over the ensuing weeks and months, it was more discomfort than pain. Sometime after the winter holidays, that changed. Discomfort turned into a steady ache. After sitting at my desk for an hour, I would have to hop three or four steps because my knee would explode in pain for the first few steps. As I would turn over in bed and torque the knee a bit, I'd get a flash of pain, waking me up. That would occur three or four times a night.
At my regular six-month checkup in February, I mentioned it to the doctor. Grabbing my foot, he worked my knee this way and that. When he twisted it in the direction that had me screaming for my mommy, he offered that I probably had a meniscus tear. “That doesn't sound promising,” I responded.
The long and short of it was, it wasn't going to heal itself. For the first time in my rather long life, I was faced with going to a specialist. I didn't have a clue how it all worked. A buddy of mine who has been on Medicare for some time, advised I could just find an orthopedist of some stripe and make an appointment. That didn't sound right, but I decided to follow his advice. I did a little research on the Internet and asked some friends for recommendations. I called my Medicare supplemental insurance company to make sure I could book a specialist on my own and was told I could.
The stage set, I called an orthopedic group attached to the same huge Greenville wellness organization as my primary doctor. It also operates a couple of well-regarded area hospitals and an urgent-care center or two. My initial appointment with the orthopedist lasted about two hours, of which, I spent all of 10 minutes with the doctor. X-rays occupied another 15 minutes. The rest of the time was spent filling out paperwork and texting friends on my phone. The outcome was an MRI scheduled the following week.
I have no idea how someone having an MRI for anything above the waste gets through the 45-minute-or-so ordeal. Only my legs protruded into the narrow tunnel, but the noise still overwhelmed the golden oldies pouring out of my headphones. They were no match for the clanging and banging coming from the MRI machine. By the time it was over, I had fessed up to being the shooter on the grassy knoll and provided three different locations for Jimmy Hoffa's remains.
Proving Doc Budelmann's original diagnosis correct, the MRI indicated I had a slight tear in the meniscus on the inside of my right knee. The orthopedist laid out my options as 1) periodic steroid shots or 2) surgery to cut away the damaged area. I'm not a fan of needles and even less so when they are big-honking needles that will be shoved into my knee. Besides, why not cure the problem rather than treat the symptom, right? Right. Right. Oh, God.....
Here's the thing, I'm 65 years old and have never had a real surgery. Never, not one. I've never even had a broken bone. I've had a total of maybe 24 stitches over the years. Most of those from a hand surgeon mending a severed ligament in my wrist the week before I returned for my sophomore year in college. It was performed in a hospital emergency room using local anesthesia. Only the fact that a surgeon stitched me up in any way qualifies it as a surgery. Nope, this would be my first real surgery.
Things have moved rapidly through this process. Less than three weeks passed from my first appointment with the orthopedist and last Wednesday's surgery. I barely had time to register what was happening. In the meantime, I attended some media events surrounding the New York auto show with all the walking such auto-show things entail. It was a teeth-gritting, eye-watering three days of limping around.
Scheduled as an outpatient surgery, I was to be at St. Francis Hospital some time on Wednesday. I wouldn't receive my final marching orders with the precise time until Tuesday afternoon. The hospital insisted someone not only be on hand to drive me home from surgery, but be available throughout the ordeal. Being single and free, unencumbered with family drama on a daily basis is wonderful until you need to find a volunteer to step up and basically take a day off work to fulfill the role of concerned family member. Not only does this require some serious acting chops, but often it's best to tap someone owing you a large sum of money. I have no such indebted friends.
I reached out to my friend Natalie. Thirty years my junior, she and her husband have become good friends over the past several years. They've adopted me into their family; I spend most holidays with them when I'm not with actual family. No good deed goes unpunished: I called Natalie.
We arrived at the outpatient center at St. Francis Hospital around 9:30 for my surgery scheduled for noon. Immediately called into the intake area, I was asked a series of about 20 questions regarding allergies, medical conditions and so forth. They were the same 20 questions asked of me on the phone by the hospital a couple of days earlier.
I hadn't asked much in way of questions leading up to my arrival for surgery. I figured, why bother? It is what it is. I had committed to have the surgery performed; I wasn't going to sweat the details. I arrived at the hospital pretty much convinced I would be receiving a local anesthetic and would be awake for the procedure. I didn't change my mind until faced with the anesthesiologist about an hour before the surgery. Suddenly I began thinking about all the things in my life that I had left unsaid and undone. All the questions about a living will didn't raise my spirits any either. The humanity.....
By 10:15, I was in pre-op where I was hooked up to an I.V. and told to don an open-in-the-back hospital gown. I'm not afraid to admit it: At 65, I have an old man's ass. Thirty years ago I would have welcomed the opportunity to flaunt my chiseled buttocks, but that train left the station about the same time the Clintons moved into the White House. Once garbed in appropriate attire, and lying in bed, three more people associated with the surgery separately asked me the same battery of questions. No, no, no, for the love of God, no, no..... I was also handed a sharpie to initial the body part to be operated on. I wished they had covered my ass as well as they were covering their own.
Poor Natalie was dragged into my room to keep me company and to listen to the orthopedist tick off the things to expect, as well as witnessing him also initialing my right knee. My God, hadn't she suffered enough? Finally, at 12:45, a couple of nurses arrived to wheel me into the operating room.
Once in the operating room, things really moved swiftly. After guiding me from the bed onto the operating table, my arms were stretched out straight and attached to some sort of boards. I looked as though I was auditioning for the Good Friday pageant. A nurse covered my nose and mouth with an oxygen mask as the anesthesiologist spoke in soothing tones as if he was trying to coax a jumper off a window ledge.
Hey! Is anesthesia the bestest thing ever or what! It's now what I want for my birthday this year! I have absolutely no recollection of going under or waking up. One second I was staring up at the nurse holding the mask on my face and the next second I was partially sitting up in bed looking out over the recovery ward. It was the best hour nap of my entire adult life. I want to have the other knee done and there's nothing wrong with it.
I had four prescriptions for assorted pain killers and other medicines. While I was in the operating room, Natalie ran to the drug store and dropped off the only two I wanted filled. One was for Oxycontin and the other for some sort of industrial strength stool softener. You can never have too much of either, I reasoned.
Roughly 30 minutes after I awoke in recovery, a nurse pushed me out to the curb, dumping me into Natalie's minivan. We stopped to pick up the prescriptions before she dropped me off at home. I spent the balance of the day in my recliner watching TV. Having stuff to do on Thursday, I was up and around. I never did partake of the Oxycontin The pain after surgery wasn't any worse than before.
It's now three days later and, as ordered, I'll unwrap my knee for the first time and change the dressing. I'm eager to see what things look like. I'll be on an airplane to Nashville for a Nissan event in two more days. I'll probably take my cane to help me navigate the airports; otherwise, I don't expect to need it.