I got the best present ever for Christmas this year. It came a little early but I already love it.
It’s a brand new titanium knee, given to me by Dr. Eugene Krauss of the Krauss Center for Joint Replacement in Riverhead. He was the fifth orthopedic surgeon that I saw and the first to find that I had tibial plateau necrosis, a dead bone.
For the two years since I had a meniscus repair surgery I pleaded for relief, the pain was so debilitating. It would always hurt more on Sunday nights and I would cry. And I’m not usually a crybaby. As tears ran down my cheeks, I would beg my husband to find me help. Besides getting me in to see all these doctors, the best he could do was keep the ice packs in rotation.
Some days I couldn’t even walk on it, other days it wasn’t so bad, but I always had a limp. I told one doctor that I was broken and nobody would fix me. I was like a doll that was missing a limb and thrown to the bottom of the toy chest, along with Elmo, the Cookie Monster, old Barbie dolls, and broken Matchbox cars.
The bone crumbled and fell into other parts of the knee before disintegrating. One doctor told me it was all in my head. Seriously? I walked in to his office with a cane. And, no rhyme intended, but I am somewhat vain. As a woman of a certain age, I’m fighting the aging thing on every level. The last thing I wanted people to see was me on a cane!
There have been many things I’ve imagined: Santa Claus, the ghost of my mother, and the Boogeyman under my bed, but never would I self-willingly inflict pain upon myself. That’s no fun, and I never thought I was that powerful.
I must say, though, that people are much nicer to you when you walk with a cane. I had doors opened and held for me, I was told to go to the head of the line at the pharmacy, and people moved out of my way, always casting me a look of sympathy.
Another doctor giggled when my knee didn’t jump as my reflexes were checked with that tiny gadget that looks like a hammer used by elves in Santa’s workshop. The doctor said I had a dead knee, which I didn’t realize at the time is something that could actually happen to a person, and then she giggled. Looking back, I wonder why that doctor didn’t help me more, or at the very least contact my surgeon to say, “You know, I think she’s got something there.”
I was told I had arthritis, edema, bursitis, and a severely bruised tibia, which was somewhat true — but it wasn’t bruised, it was dead, tongue hanging out of its cartilage dead, floppy dead, disintegrating dead, suffering a slow and painful death that was harder for me than it was for the bone.
A top New York surgeon who operated on me for another meniscus tear in February told me in June when I returned to see him because the pain was so bad that I should just keep riding the stationary bike until my thighs quivered. He said the pain would eventually go away. At this point I’d like to see his head quiver until it went away. He took an X-ray and said the knee looked fine. But shouldn’t a doctor of his reputation know that a necrosis does not show up on an X-ray? Surf the Internet like the rest of us, Doc.
My husband never lost faith that I would stage a comeback, even after I thought this was it, this would be my lot in life. The whole experience made me realize just how much he must love me. He did the grocery shopping, cooked all the meals, emptied the dishwasher when it was needed, and walked my dog, which was the job I missed the most. Instead of Mom always in the kitchen, the kids got used to seeing Dad bent over the stove and setting the dinner table.
Finally, I called Dr. Krauss for an appointment that took over two months to get. He ordered an MRI of the area beneath my knee where I was having the worst pain, and lo and behold, he found the dead bone. Apparently my blood got lazy and stopped flowing to the area and it killed it. During my worst days I told my husband that I felt like I was walking around on a broken, crushed knee and it turns out I was walking around on a broken, crushed knee.
I hope I’m not boring you with my knee story but to others who are suffering from chronic pain, I’d like to give you this gift: Don’t give up. There is a doctor out there who can help you. With my husband nudging me, I trudged to doctors in Southampton, Garden City, Manhattan, and, of course, East Hampton, before Dr. Krauss was recommended.
And so, Santa, I’d like to say thank you. I’d also like to thank all the people in Montauk who have helped me through this in so many little ways over the last two and half years. I can say with confidence that I think I am now fixed. I might even tie a bright red Christmas bow around my leg on Tuesday.
To the doctors who failed me miserably I say, Bah humbug to you. But to Dr. Krauss, who had compassion and looked a little deeper, I say thank you. And if I never visit a doctor’s office again Santa has delivered my Christmas wishes. And to my family I say, Mommy’s back. Now, get out of my kitchen!
Janis Hewitt is a senior writer for The Star.