Why I’m a Cripple

Today I went to the orthopedic surgeon to find out what options I have to repair (or relieve) my left knee. It’s not totally gone; I can walk a couple miles and I can ride a bike. I can’t go down stairs (or up, really). I spent all winter riding an AirdyneΒ  and building up the muscles in my legs, hoping that would fix the problem, and I’m a LOT better than I was when I moved here a year ago.


My X-ray showed a knee that was severely out of alignment. The picture explained why it’s difficult for me to walk and why that leg is bowed and shorter than the other. It’s also bone-on-bone.

The doctor was great and helpful and funny and took his time. He said that because of the deformity in my knee, I could never regain muscle mass in that leg, not ever. He told me that the injury I had in 1992 tore my ACL and the ligament on the outside of the knee (inside side of my leg) that holds the joints in place. He asked if I’d had surgery, and I explained that as I had no insurance, the hospital refused to operate and instead treated it “conservatively” with a brace and crutches. For 3 months…

Point is, it never healed. I was careful. I didn’t put my weight on it. I did the exercises I was supposed to. I even got acupuncture (great pain relief). I rode a mountain bike instead of hiking for months afterward.

The doctor told me it would not have healed without surgery.

I came home from the doctor with a weird set of emotions boiling inside. Anger. Chances are I’d have osteo-arthrtis ANYWAY, but I might not be as physically deformed from it. I had a feeling of betrayal. Why would a hospital do something to a patient that they KNOW won’t help them long term? I haven’t been able to really USE that knee for more than 10 years. Anger, again, that a decision like that was made over MONEY and, what’s worse, and more absurd, my brother, as an indigent, would have been OFFERED surgery. He had two hip replacements. Fear, because I’ve already had joint surgery (hip resurfacing) and I know how fun it is.

And, ultimately, a kind of relief at knowing the truth and having made the decision.

A new knee, next month.

More on this to follow, no doubt. I’d love to hear from anyone who’s had a knee replacement.

15 thoughts on “Why I’m a Cripple

  1. Your story, unfortunately, has been repeated everywhere in a number of different ways. When my brother was 30 he broke his elbow playing softball. He also tore a ligament in his arm. Through that injury they discovered he was suffering kidney failure, and he was put on Medicaid. But it wouldn’t cover the ligament tear because it was a pre-existing condition. So he has gone through life with a crooked elbow in his dominant arm, and because of the kidney problems he figured he still came out ahead.

    Obamacare doesn’t fix this problem. The only way to avoid it is single-payer. ‘Nuff politicking.

    I hope you like your new knee. Hiking will be hard, but I know you’ll figure something out. Your indomitable will is a force to be reckoned with. And your dogs will look mournfully at you if you don’t do your best, which is unfair, but is what they do.

    • That’s good to know! I need both knees, but as the right one is working find right now and is not painful, even the doc thinks it’s unwise to mess with it. But the left one will get worse and will be a lot more complicated down the road so… πŸ™‚

  2. Do all those pre-surgical exercises. Do all those post-surgical exercises. Get ready for an experience, like no other. But it will be worth it all. (Read my “Making Lists from a Sick Bed.”) Thanks.

    • I just read your post – I got a new hip in 2007. The pain I experienced as I waited for an accurate diagnosis (years because my doctor was an idiot) was far worse than anything I experienced after that surgery. At this point, my knee doesn’t hurt. My doc says it will. It’s already slid way out of alignment. I can walk 2 miles and I ride a stationary bike 10 miles or so whenever the puppy gives me the chance. Instead of that, these days, I’m walking her. We go about a mile on each walk and we walk twice a day. I couldn’t do this last year when I moved here. Spending the winter/spring/summer with the stationary bike changed my life for the better. I used to be an athlete and all this damage is the result, I guess. The doctor suspects genetics but I don’t recall any of my relatives having arthritis… The puppy — who is a giant breed — will grow up to be great company for someone who can hike and I want to be that person. I can’t see spending the rest of my life surrounded by these mountains and unable to walk in them with my dog. At this point — what I’ve learned in my retirement a year in — what I love (have loved) in my life most is wandering in nature with a good dog. And now I have the best dog I’ve ever had. She’s smart, loyal, friendly, gentle, low-key, generous, resourceful and she loves me the way only a couple of my 20+ dogs in my life have been smart enough to do. So…the pain of the surgery is (I hope and pray) going to lead to the ease of the pain in my soul/heart from not being able to hike. I don’t have to run or climb mountains, but I want to go on an average trail with my dog and the doc says that will definitely be possible. πŸ™‚ It’s so funny because I thought when I retired I’d want to finally become a great writer or a great artist but I just want to go hiking.

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