Monday, December 3, 2007

I Have Someone Else's Knees

It’s no big secret that as people age, stuff begins to break. In my case, my knees are suffering from osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is described as follows:

    “Osteoarthritis usually occurs as individuals age and in those whose joints have become worn down by excessive use.”
Excessive use? I have a desk job! This isn’t fair! The kind of guy who gets osteoarthritis should be a wealthy retired athlete who spent his youth abusing his body winning trophies and having sex with hot cheerleaders, not a guy like me.

I can’t stand for more than a half hour, or walk the length of a mall without having to sit down to let the throbbing pain subside. My doctor tells me I’m too young for knee replacement surgery, and adds, “You’re nowhere near the pain threshold where you’d be a candidate for knee surgery anyway.” I can’t imagine it getting much worse, and I have a pretty vivid imagination.

However, there is a treatment he asked me to consider. It consists of three injections in each knee of a drug called Synvisc. These injections are given a week apart. There’s an alternate drug called Hyalgan, which requires five injections in each knee. These injections have to be repeated at intervals of 6 – 8 months. I’m not squeamish about injections, but I don’t like them, particularly when they have to be given in unusual locations such as the buttocks, the toes, under the fingernail or up into the roof of the mouth (I’ve had all of those, and they’re no picnic).

So I considered the treatment, and considered it some more. Then I reconsidered. Then I forgot about it. In the meantime, we planned a trip to New England that will involve a lot of standing around, climbing stairs, and might actually include skiing. So I called the doctor and made an appointment, three weeks before we leave.

The nurse took my blood pressure, which I always enjoy, because I have really good blood pressure. They always compliment me on my numbers, which are meaningless to me. One overweight male nurse actually said, “120 over 60. That’s terrific. I envy you, sir.”

I made the foolish assumption that I’d get both knees treated each week for the three weeks, and be prancing around like a young deer during our trip. When the doctor arrived in the examining room, he told me we’d be doing one knee only. This is because different people react differently to the medication. He wants to know if the treatment is effective for one knee before he treats the other knee. If I don’t show improvement, he’ll change to Hyalgan. So I could potentially receive 13 knee injections on this first round of treatment. But this also means that for our trip, I’ll probably have only one good knee.

He removed a syringe the size of a sewer pipe from the packaging and attached a horse needle as I watched. I’m sure my blood pressure shot up to the point where nobody would envy me. “Will this hurt?” I asked. “That’s so subjective,” he replied. “I can’t really predict your response.” What a crock, I thought. He told me that he had given hundreds of these injections.

Next, he sprayed some “freezing compound” on my knee and jabbed the horse needle under my kneecap. Yes, it hurt like hell. He withdrew about half a cup of yellowish fluid, then removed the syringe, leaving the needle inserted in my flesh. He attached a syringe with the drug, and injected it. “You may experience some pain for the next 24 hours because the knee will become inflamed,” he told me. “But that should subside.”

I have another injection scheduled next week, and another after that. Then we go on the trip, and I get to do this at least three more times in the other knee when we return.

It’s possible you don’t have bad knees, but instead suffer from high blood pressure. If so, you probably take a pill with a few sips of water once a day to treat it. I envy you, sir.

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