Altar Call - Opelika-Auburn News
Walter Albritton
April 30, 2000

Wife's complete knee replacement is unique experience

Two weeks before Easter my wife surrendered her left knee to the surgeon's knife in the operating room at East Alabama Medical Center. So for the past three weeks we have had a rather interesting time together.

We were both surprised that it was she who agreed to this surgery first rather than me. My knees have been begging me for help for five years, but I have procrastinated. To be honest, I had heard that the recovery therapy was very painful and I am Mr. Chicken when it comes to pain. I decided I would get me a walking stick or just hop on down the bunny trail of life like good old Walter Brennan did for years. I figured if I waited long enough they would come up with a pill that would cure my knees without surgery.

But when my wife began to have so much pain that she could hardly walk, she decided that surgery would be better than spending the rest of her life in a wheelchair. Since this surgery is becoming rather popular, I want to share a few things we have learned since April 10.

First, it is absolutely true that the recovery therapy is extremely painful. More painful, my wife tells me, than she ever imagined. For the first week or so, we both wondered if she had made a mistake to have the surgery. A few friends who had a knee replaced told us that they had very little pain. Our doctor's response: "They had a bad case of amnesia."

Second, the East Alabama Medical Center is a first class operation. Our experience with every single employee was most positive. We were treated with gentleness, caring, and respect. The professionalism of the EAMC staff was admirable in every respect

Third, the work of the surgeon, Dr. Jim Whatley, and his staff was excellent. Jim is a good friend but it was his reputation as an orthopedic surgeon that prompted us to choose him for this delicate surgery. We could not have been more pleased. Jim not only checked on my wife each day she was in the hospital, but the morning after her first night back home, he called to see how she had rested during the night.

Fourth, the pain of the first week does not last forever! After two weeks my wife began to experience very little pain, except in response to therapy. This was welcome relief.

Fifth, physical therapists are both "mean" and wonderful. My wife was both honest and teasing when she spoke of her therapists as "mean." We discovered that they are wonderful people whose work requires that they hurt their patients in order to accomplish their work. So it is necessary to grit your teeth and bear up under the pain of therapy that your new knee will work well in the future. Not easy, but quite necessary. We had a lot of fun kidding these very skilled technicians of their trade. Their work, it seems, is as important as that of the surgeon.

Sixth, recovery appears to be directly related to the painful therapy. The lesson, then, is simple: Endure the pain if you want to quickly regain the use of your leg.

Now in her third week following surgery, my wife is walking gingerly but nicely even without using the walker. She turned down my offer of a cane. "Save it for yourself," she said; "you'll need it when you get your knees replaced."

Seventh, friends are a great treasure! While Dean was in the hospital for 10 days, one of my neighbors insisted on bringing me supper every night. What a guy! Since Dean came home from the hospital, many of the women of our church have brought delicious food to share with us. How they knew I was such a terrible cook I will never know. But obviously they have been determined to save Dean from my cooking, and they have succeeded gloriously!

So what do we think about knee replacement surgery? So far, so good. As her recovery continues, it appears my wife made the right decision. Mr. Chicken is doing a lot of thinking. He may have to change his mind. Hopping down the bunny trail like Walter Brennan may not be the best option after all. We'll see.... Keep the scalpel sharp, Jim, I'm pondering.