I have a wooden ski rack in my basement. Nicely finished, it is meant to display an assortment of alpine and Nordic skis used by our family over the years. We were always a skiing (and snowboarding) family.
Sadly for me, for many years my displayed alpine and telemark equipment have largely served as mementos of my downhill skiing past, due to worsening arthritis of my left knee.
It started for me on a beautiful March day in 1986 at Bristol Mountain Ski resort, in the Finger Lakes region of New York. As I recall, it was warm, sunny afternoon, and I was about to complete what had been a blissful day of corn-snow skiing. My partner and I were about to repair to the bar for a little “apres’ ski” action.
Skiing casually, I veered off to dip into a mogul field to play. Bad decision. I hit a bump wrong and heard a “pop” from my left knee after which I unceremoniously collapsed to the ground.
Laying there in the snow, waiting for the ski patrol, I already aware of the bad news: that I had ruptured my anterior cruciate ligament.
I was working as an emergency room physician at the time. So I understood something about the injury. This is not a wonderful event in 2016; thirty years ago it was nasty. Arthroscopic surgery was in its infancy, and at that time, open repair of the ligament required 6 months of recovery in a leg cast; it was generally reserved for serious athletes. I resigned myself to rehab, and waiting.
This worked out for a few years. I was able to keep skiing and cycling until about 1992 when the joint became unstable. By that time I was able to have the repair arthroscopically and for many years did well.
About 7-8 years ago, I began to have knee pain again. Though the ACL repair restored my knee stability, the joint function did not completely normalize, and after 15 or so years, my cartilage was all but gone.
I stopped downhill skiing about 6-7 ago due to pain. this was a blow. Cross country skiing was still doable, but painful at times.
Though I was evaluated by my orthopedist several times over the last decade, I waited on surgery for two reasons:
#1 was that the older you are at the time of knee replacement, the less likely you are to need a “revision” procedure during your lifetime. On my last visit, for better or for worse, my knee surgeon, and old friend David Kolessar, who is very conservative about these things, no longer thought I was “too young” (sigh).
#2 much like what happened with my ACL, I wondered what prosthesis or procedure advances might be in the offing. In particular, “stem cell” therapy is being offered as nonsurgical treatment, though not so far in cases where the joint is “bone on bone” as was mine. According to David, there have been advances in the durability of the polyethylene surface of the lower prosthesis in the last decade, as well as improvements in pain control, but knee replacement is, as he put it, “very mature technology”.
Particularly over the last 6 months or so I been having worsening problems with outdoor activities. So on October 5th I was wheeled into an operating room at Geisinger Hospital, and my left knee was “resurfaced” by Dr. Kolessar and his team. I took my first steps that same evening and was discharged in 48 hours.
In terms of the prosthesis, I didn’t choose the brand. I did ask if possible for a “ligament sparing” prosthesis (which was ultimately used), but the prosthesis you want is the one your surgeon is most comfortable using. I will say that at times when my pain has subsided (which is becoming more frequent), the knee action is smooth and already feels very similar to my native knee. The pain I am experiencing is in the surrounding tissues (which are forcibly displaced during the procedure) but no longer the “bone on bone” pain I enjoyed for so many years. In fact, at times I feel better standing and walking.
At a little over three weeks out, I am reasonably mobile and have been able to even take some short walks in the woods in pursuit of autumn photography. If I am uncomfortable, it is because I have overdone it, or gotten sloppy about taking my (non-narcotic) pain meds. I am undergoing rehab and am pretty excited about returning to outdoor pursuits.
I am eyeing up my ski rack with some interest once again.
I wonder if my boots still fit?
As always, clicking on an image lets you see it full size. Or, visit my Smugmug page for these and other images.
BTW, all of the images in this article were shot postoperatively.