Call Me the Bionic Woman
I’m a proud bionic woman and not afraid to show my scars. In fact, during the year or so following my joint replacements I had to restrain myself from displaying the long lines denoting joint replacement. It had been a difficult journey and I was proud of my recovery!
Within just a year I had both my knees and hips replaced, starting when I was 15 years old (now more than 20 years ago!). The decision to undergo surgery was complicated by my age, but very necessary for relieving my pain and improving my mobility.
The original plan was to schedule more time between surgeries, but once my hip replacements were completed my recovery was severely hindered by my knees. All four joints were in terrible shape, with no cartilage left, bone on bone grinding, and severe pain and inflammation.
My only regret was that I couldn’t undergo the surgeries sooner. We had to wait until I stopped growing so that the joints would suit my adult size. It was a lot to go through in a short period of time, but I immediately felt so much better.
For me, the hips were so easy. I didn’t have any pain after the surgery and the dull ache that used to keep me up at night was gone. The physical therapy was fine, but we quickly learned that the pain and weakness of my knee joints would not allow me to do much. I couldn’t do much more than stand a little and walking was not possible.
The knee replacements were hard. My surgeon did them both in one day, but even with aggressive physical therapy I lost a great deal of motion due to scar tissue formation. About six months later, he performed surgery to remove scar tissue with the hopes that I would recover more range of motion. Unfortunately, it just grew back and we had to cope with the results.
For me the memories of recovery following knee surgeries dwell in pain. The physical therapy hurt, the incisions hurt, and the continuous motion machine hurt (and kept me up all night as it cycled my legs through the range of motion).
It took many months, but I was finally able to stand and take my first few steps. I started with a walker, then practiced without an aid. While I use a wheelchair most of the time, I can walk short distances on my own and treasure that bit of independence.
For me, joint replacement surgeries have resulted in an improvement in my quality of life by reducing my pain and discomfort. I did regain some mobility, but this was complicated by other joints (such as my ankles) that have made walking everything but short distances impossible.
When we decided for the joint replacement surgeries we were hoping for more. That they would improve my mobility and energy. But looking back, I really don’t think that was possible with the extent of RA damage I was living with. Decreasing my pain and maintaining my mobility to the best extent possible were good outcomes.
With more advanced joints and the ability to better treat RA damage (or prevent it), I think patients are in a better place than ever to benefit from joint replacements to maintain (or possibly improve) their quality of life. The best outcomes often come when the patient is in relatively good health and strength, as this gives you a leg up on the recovery.
If I were in those shoes now, I would definitely do it all over again. Perhaps someday I will consider other replacements (that is on top of the knee revision I was forced to have due to infection), but I’m now in a place where I am living a good life, managing the RA, and able to live with my joint pain. More surgeries seem unnecessary. For me, the deciding factor is: will the surgery help to improve my daily quality of life or at least maintain it?