September 25, 2021

Celebrating the Coolest Local Stuff

Knee Jerk Reactor – Part 1

By Jay Kerner

The boomer generation played hard. 

We were “born to run.”  We were “born to be wild.”  Now we’re all getting new knees and hips.

My original plan was to just let a few friends and family know about my own knee replacement surgery, but otherwise to shut the hell up about it.

Let’s face it, listening to other people’s health stuff is boring!

But what the hell have I been doing for the last 13 years in our Regular Joe paper, except sharing my stuff?  Not like I think my stuff is any more fascinating than anybody else’s, but common ground is a writer’s fertile field. 

So, I’ve shared my stuff, (such as it is!) column after column, and every once in a while, when the words line up just so, somebody else reads the words and says to themselves, “Yep, I know just how that feels”. 

That’s the idea, anyhoo.

But, as I was lying there in my pneumatic hospital bed, jostled this way and that by invisible pumps and motors, head swirling with pharmaceutical magic, I started making notes of things I wish I’d known before surgery, and realized it was all, story material.  For all the same reasons.

Having a procedure like this is sort of like buying a new car and suddenly seeing the same model everywhere you look.  To me, it seems everybody and their brother either has a new knee, or is getting one soon.  It’s a big ol’ kneezapalooza.

It’s an industry, is what it is. 

Like a recall on an automobile.  Hit a certain figure on the odometer and a light on the dash comes on. 

I figure a whole big bunch of us are in the same limping boats with many more lining up behind them.  I might as well put my J-Bird spin on it.  So, here goes. 

I put off my surgery.  For 21 years.  Originally because my doc said I was too young.  He warned that I’d wear out a new knee and have to go through it all over again.

Without thinking about it, I slowly and subconsciously altered the way I lived my life.  No more running.  No more jumping.  I became one of those douchey guys cruising the lot for a close parking space.

I had proven techniques for everyday tasks.  Here’s how I get in and out of the car.  Here’s how I go up and down stairs.  Tickets for a show?  OK, but I need to look at the seating chart for a spot on the aisle so I can stretch my leg out every little bit.

21 years was absolutely too long to put it off.  But, I was scared.

Not about the pain.  (Ok, a little bit about the pain.)  But by now I was pretty much used to pain.  Mostly I was scared about the pain meds.

They make me sick.  Like barfing till you’re completely empty, then dry-heaving for a while, before entering a longer phase where any smell, any sound, any idea in your head, might set you off again.

Then, you have the addiction factor.  It’s an epidemic and people way stronger than me have fallen prey to it from lesser amounts than this surgery would require.

Lastly, there’s the poop factor.  Sorry, but if we’re taking straight shit here, (and we are!) I worried about constipation.

This is an area where I’ve had no history of trouble.  If you wanted to label me a “Regular Joe,” I wouldn’t put up a fuss.

But I’ve watched both a close family member and a dear friend, curled up in agony, suffering from severe constipation, and I’ll tell you what, I think I’d rather be shot!

So, I put it off and put it off.

Meanwhile, as the pain level increased, so did my intake of ibuprophen.

Big fan of ibuprophen.  Ibuprophen helped me sleep.  Let me sit through school music programs and dance recitals.

Loved ibuprophen till it ate a hole in my belly.  Crap!

Got to the point where I started begging out of things.  Couldn’t do much physical at all.  Couldn’t even carry groceries in from the car.

It was time.  Past time! 

I made the call.

Here is where our stories may vary a little.  Most people facing knee replacement research the various docs in their area.  There are all kinds of resources available now.  They can also get plenty of referrals from family and friends.  And why wouldn’t you want to use the same guy that removed your weird cousin’s extra toe?

I didn’t have to go that route.  I have a genius Orthopedic Surgeon nephew right down the road in KC.  I’ve known him since birth.  I’ve wiped his butt.  Not recently, but still.

I figured there was no other doc out there, that would care about me and my outcome like he would.  And that would have been plenty enough for me.

But, I got a bonus.  Instead of starting his practice right away, this nephew was accepted to The Cleveland Clinic for a year’s fellowship.  They are pretty much recognized as the “joint masters of the universe” or something and he came back an “Ace”.

So, we’ve both known this was coming for years now.  He never pushed it.  He knew we’d get there.  Said the knee would ultimately decide for me. 

It did.  It sure did.

If there was a single incident, a straw that broke the camel’s knee, so to speak, it was my annual trip to the mall at knife point, to pick out a pair of “father’s day tennis shoes”.  Now, mind you, I haven’t hit, thrown or kicked a ball in years.  Run? Ha!  I couldn’t run for the bathroom.  Yet, every year she insists on a new pair.  Then, last year’s barely worn pair becomes my “lake shoes.”  Joining the two or three other, perfectly good pairs housing spider colonies in the back of my closet.

Anyways, I’d gimped my way through one store with several more to go, when she saw how bad I was scuffling and offered to go fetch me a wheel-chair.


I do not take decrepitude lightly.

I did let her go get the car and pick me up at the door. 

That was it for me.  Made the call.

So, now we had a date!  I had a pre-surgery exercise plan.  I had vitamins to take.

I was supposed to start pushing protein drinks.  Have you had many of those? 

I tried most of the various brands and flavors.  Not impressed. 

A lot of them taste like the milk left in the bowl when the cereal is gone.  And they’re pricey too.

But, then one day I was standing in front of the dairy case at the convenience store, trying to pick the least offensive, when I noticed that the little bottle of chocolate milk is now bragging about protein content.  Turns out it tops a lot of the yucky supplement brands.  Who knew?

The week before surgery, I had to attend a virtual “Joint School.”   Talk about disappointed! 

Assumed we’d be learning about alternative pain relief strategies.  Nope.  Instead, we dealt with walkers and toilet risers.  Like that. 

It was pretty much “What to expect when you’re expecting a new joint”.

A week out, I had to quit the ibuprophen.  This sucked!  Had no idea what life without it would feel like.  But I found out.  Yes, I found out!  So did anyone that wandered too close to my cage.  I was a grumpy bastard.  The Queen had hurled similar epithets my way over the last months but lovingly.  She didn’t really mean it. 

Now she did!

Finally, it’s the night before surgery.  I’m packed.  I’ve showered with the special soap. 

I’m lying in bed, knee throbbing, thinking the whole thing over.

In the morning, a kid I watched eat his own boogers was going to cut my leg open, chop out my knee joint and insert a mechanical contraption. 

I was going to be somewhere south of a Six Million Dollar Man.  Or an Inspector Gadget.  I’m gonna be a cyborg!  Keep the oil-can close, Tin Man.

The alarm went off just minutes after my head hit the pillow.  Or that’s how it felt.

So, here we go.  A journey that started a couple decades back on a gym floor would take a giant leap forward in a KC hospital. 

It’s “New Knee Day” for the kid.  Finally.