Fitness

Sam’s sad knee saga: A struggling system meets the pandemic

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I’ve been seeing physiotherapists and sports medicine doctors about knee pain and function since my mid forties. I’m 57 now. It’s been a while.

Advanced knee osteoarthritis has ended my time as a soccer player first, then running, then CrossFit, then cross country skiing, and then Aikido. My sports world has narrowed considerably. I still lift weights and do yoga and ride my bike, but I can only walk short distances and I’m in pain a lot of the time. Lately it’s started to affect my sleep. Wordle helps. Thanks Wordle.

Years of physio, injections, canes, and braces later, in 2018, a sports medicine doctor recommended me for total knee replacement and referred me to an orthopedic surgeon. It was time.

Image description: A photo of Sam just outside Central Park. I’m wearing black leggings, sandals, a sleeveless black jumper and a purse over my shoulder. Also, a knee brace. I’m smiling and the sun is shining.

In August 2019 I went into the hospital and met with the surgeon and his assistant and talked about what the surgery involved, how much recovery I would need etc. Since then pretty much radio silence. There was the usual wait. In Canada it’s a year to 18 months depending on where you live. But then there was the pandemic.

Some friends had knee surgery during the pandemic. Why them and not me? I’m not sure. One had both knees replaced at the same time and while that sounds brutal it has a kind of economy of scale and risk that sounds attractive. Would I be eligible for double knee replacement? I have no idea.

Last summer in 2021 I reached out to the referring physician to check in. I started to have those kind of worries that arise in this sort of situation. Could they have the wrong number? Maybe they lost my file?

The sports doctor has a memorable name. It’s one of those names you can’t quite believe isn’t a joke. It’s “Getgood.” He’s Dr. Getgood at the Fowler Kennedy Clinic in London, Ontario. New xrays determined that now both knees need replacing. They can’t do any more injections because in case I do get called in for surgery that would make surgery not an option. You need to wait months between last injection and surgery.

The clinic said that the hospital kept operating on young athletes throughout the pandemic, less worries about covid I guess. Once things opened up again, there were hundreds of seniors with zero mobility who needed joint replacement. And I see why they need surgery before me. Still, being stuck in the middle and waiting isn’t much fun.

So here I am. As covid continues, the surgical backlog grows. American friends are puzzled. People keep think I’m putting off the surgery because I’m nervous. Not true. I mean, yes I’m very nervous but that’s not the issue.

I’m just waiting.

I’m learning about how waitlists are maintained.

I’m learning about Quebec’s two tier system.

I’m finding the opacity of the system frustrating. I’d like to know where am I on the current surgeon’s waiting list. I’d like to know what the criteria are. I feel like I could make better decisions about my life if I had more information.

Friends suggest I change waiting lists, change hospitals but I’m not sure. Does that mean I go back to the end of the line? Can you be on multiple surgeons’ waitlists? None of this is clear to me.

Through my family’s varied health crises, and we’ve had some dramatic ones, I’ve been proud of the Canadian health care system. But I’m not happy and I’m not proud of where we are right now.

Listen to this episode of The Current if you want to hear more.

“There are thousands of Canadians whose surgeries have been postponed because of the strain COVID-19 is putting on health-care. Matt Galloway talks about addressing this health-care issue, with Dr. Jean-François Joncas, an orthopedic surgeon and president of the Association d’orthopédie du Québec; and Dr. Danielle Martin, a family doctor and the chair of family and community medicine at the University of Toronto.”

At the moment I’m on an airplane. My first flight since the pandemic began. There’s a lot of standing and walking in airports. I’m starting to consider the mobile cart to the gate. I’m staying in the conference hotel to avoid walking too much and I’m telling friends who I’ll see here that I need to eat in or near the conference hotel or take taxis.

Update: It’s very pretty here and I’ve walked a fair bit so far.

Vancouver in bloom

There’s also a 24 hour Peloton Studio at the hotel and bike rental nearby. Don’t worry. I’ll keep moving on two wheels. There’s also a pool, a hot tub, and yoga. I’m a naturally cheerful, optimistic person but if you get the sense that this is starting to wear on me, you’d be right.

Dressed for travel 2022 style

The early mornings are nice here too.

Boats, water, and grey sky with sun just starting to rise

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