New joint: Knee replacement surgery can improve quality of life
By Josh West | Blount Memorial Hospital
Sharon Bercham remembers very well the day she first injured her knee.
“It was three years ago,” she said. “I was in the pool doing water aerobics. I twisted the wrong way and ended up tearing the meniscus in my knee. That brought me to an orthopedic surgeon. He X-rayed, did an MRI and ultimately told me that my knee was very arthritic. Of course, I didn’t want to do anything about it then because it wasn’t bothering me that much.”
But as time passed, Bercham’s pain got worse.
“It was very erratic. If I turned the wrong way, it could be terrible, but if I was walking straight-on, I could walk a couple of miles and it wouldn’t bother me at all,” she said. “It was my discomfort level, instability and my fear of falling that brought me to finally making the decision.”
That decision would lead her to another day she won’t soon forget: the day she had total knee replacement surgery at Blount Memorial Hospital. Not only was it a major surgical procedure for Bercham, but at age 69, it also was her first. She had witnessed her husband undergo some procedures, but had never been under the knife herself, which is why preparation became so important to her.
“You don’t take it lightly,” she said. “Mentally, I prepared myself when I committed to having the surgery. I had to go through the process in my head to decide that this was the time that I needed to do it. I also had been going to the Blount Memorial Wellness Center at Springbrook and doing a lot of exercises, a lot of upper-leg lifts and things like that to get prepared for surgery so that I could respond well to the therapy and get on with my life. My focus was to prepare myself for this.”
Blount Memorial patient care and joint replacement coordinator Tiffany Norton says many patients follow Bercham’s same path to surgery.
“Patients usually go for a long time, putting this off until the very last minute or until their quality of life and day-to-day activities are impacted in a negative way,” she explained. “The pain becomes such that it just becomes a necessity.”
Norton is among the many who help prepare patients like Bercham for what they’ll experience before, during and after surgery.
“Blount Memorial joint replacement patients have to first go through Joint School, which is a two-to-three hour class that explains the preoperative part of the surgery. We go through what they can expect while they’re here in the hospital, and then prepare them for what to expect when they are discharged. We also cover preparing their homes to create a safe environment for recovery. We talk about who needs to be present and when, and we help them get their equipment needs set up,” Norton said. “We try to have everything in place so that, once they do get home, they just have to focus on their rehabilitation, their physical therapy and being as safe as they can.”
Back to normal
For most patients, the surgery process means a few nights in the hospital and lots of outpatient physical therapy.
“They come in on the day of surgery, their average length of stay is three nights, and they go home on the fourth day,” Norton explained. “They have occupational therapy once a day while they’re in the hospital and physical therapy twice a day everyday while they’re here.”
For her part, Bercham says she’s feeling up to the task. “I’m not excited about it, but I’m willing to get through it and go home and get better,” she said. “The goal is to live a more normal life. I want to be able to walk as fast as I used to, to not have to use a heating pad every morning and to be able to turn any way I want. It sounds silly, but I have not been able to do that.”
Norton said, “This is a surgery that really and truly improves quality of life. This is not an emergent procedure. It’s planned and thought-out, but it truly can have a life-altering impact. That’s why I enjoy it.
“When you call patients and they tell you ‘I’m so much better now. I can’t believe I put it off as long as I did,’ that makes it all worthwhile,” she added.
Bercham said, “This is one of those things that you can make yourself better with. Not all surgeries make you better. Some might just delay an inevitable. This will make you better.” She laughed and added, “Maybe if I’m really lucky, I’ll even lose some weight.”