Do the Research!

For the last almost-year, I’ve experienced an incredible amount of bad doctoring. And frankly, some of it has been my fault. I didn’t do the research, at least not adequately. After spending years as a journalist (daily/weekly newspapers, educational writing, and copyeditor for a medical journal), I knew better.

My latest journey into the shadow of medical uncertainty began last summer when the pain from my deteriorating knee joint became so bad that I had to resort to crutches to get around. Anyone who knew me before last year knows I am not a crutches sort of person. I remember a friend, who would watch me every morning from her high-rise condo at Gulf Shores as I walked the beach, remarking once that I walked beautifully. That’s a pretty neat thing to hear when you’re a miniscule 5’2”, do not have long legs, and just turned 40. Until a year or so ago her words were still accurate.

But, I digress. After what I thought was adequate research (a friend and the Internet), I made an appointment last June with a knee surgeon in a big city, and the surgery for the knee replacement was set for early October.

I didn’t ask my family doctor for a referral because he had x-rayed my knee in May, with the diagnosis that I still had a lot of cartilage and didn’t need knee replacement surgery yet. His solution was to put me on higher doses of pain medicine. I never filled the Rx. What I didn’t know until later was that his office did not know the method necessary to reveal if there is or is not cartilage left. FYI, the correct method is to have the patient stand only on the affected leg, bearing all the weight on it while the x-ray is taken. The fact that he didn’t know the correct method was beyond disconcerting, especially since I had been in pain for months and could hear a grinding sound when I walked!

With the surgery scheduled for Oct. 4, I concentrated on getting through the summer—not an easy task by any means. My summer consisted of planning the logistics for and overseeing our annual church convention, making sure a group of elementary-aged, pastors’ kids had a great time at a three-day pastors’ conference, playing with my energetic, almost 2-year-old grandson, helping out with service club projects, and watching my garden go to the weeds since I couldn’t get down the hill to tend it. The icing on the cake was our annual vacation in Ludington in early September, which was not real vacation-like since I couldn’t walk anywhere without crutches, much less out to the lighthouse or down the beautiful winding trails at the state park. (Get the picture?)

On Oct. 4, this enthusiastic patient came out of surgery ready to heal. I won’t go into detail about the hospital experience (it was scary because of what did happen!) or the rehabilitative care (it was scary because of what did not happen!). After working with an amazing, local physical therapist three times a week for more than three months, both of us knew that something about my knee was not right. Range of motion was not where it should have been, and swelling around the implant continued.

The surgeon continued to see me every couple of months, but it wasn’t until April that he casually mentioned there might be a problem with part of the implant—that it might have been trimmed too much, causing it to wobble—and that I should come back in the fall if the swelling continued. Suffice it to say, I now have a referral from an internist to a sports medicine surgeon, who is well known for replacing the joints of ex-football players.

I won’t go into detail about the other medical challenges I’ve been dealing with during this time, like withdrawal from getting off a well-advertised drug for fibromyalgia, which I never should have been on in the first place. And then there was the gastroenterologist who removed two polyps from my colon in April but did not retrieve them for testing!  (His office called to tell me everything was fine and to come back in five years! Undiagnosed cancer could kill me in five years!) They evidently didn’t think I would read the paperwork from the procedure. I have a consult appointment in a couple weeks with a gastroenterologist associated with a respected practice in a large city; and yes, I will have to repeat the colonoscopy. (Oh, fun!)

SO, here I am again, with the summer stretching out before me, just having gone through withdrawal from Cymbalta (don’t even ask), my garden mercifully planted by a young couple, and a knee that balloons from the simple act of walking to the back of Sam’s Club and prevents me from being the Nanny I want to be to my grandsons.

My advice to everyone who reads this is Do the research! and never believe for one minute there will ever be a better medical advocate for you than you!

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