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17th November, 2010.

Well, I’ve had the operation I’ve waited nearly a year for; now it’s a waiting game to see whether it will help me regain some of my previous mobility.

 On the 14th December of last year I had a minor accident. I slipped on a manky old apple I’d neglected to clear away at the allotment. The next day I awoke to find that my knees had swollen up. It actually looks as if they’ve exploded. It’s very apparent that something that’s on the inside normally is now on the outside. Apparently, it’s my fat balls. When you’ve finished giggling at that, everyone has them, male and female alike, and they’re there to spread the weight of your body within your knees, and act as shock absorbers. The problem I found as I got up that morning and tried to walk around was that I couldn’t fully bend or straighten my knee. I could walk, but it made my legs ache like mad as I had already been suffering from an intermittent hamstring strain.

Three days later I managed to get an appointment with my GP, and he asked me if I’d twisted my knees. At first I didn’t remember about the accident, but later (that night) it came back to me.   

 I was sent for an x-ray to find out if there was anything else going on, and referred to the local hospital’s Musculoskeletal Assessment Unit. When the x-ray result came back, it wasn’t good news: I had arthritis in my right knee, although it was only at an early stage. I remember saying to my GP that that wasn’t going to help matters, as the person I was going to see would focus on that and ignore the accident.

 And that, of course, is exactly what happened. My GP thought there was probably a cartilage problem, which we wanted to focus on. The intention was for me to have an arthroscopy, in which a camera is inserted into the knee to see what is going on, and any possible surgical repairs are done at the same time. Instead, the doctor I saw (I’ll refer to him as Buggerlugs in future) said, “But you’ve got arthritis – don’t you want a new knee?” My reply was, “Actually, I’d rather like to get the old one working properly again.” I was definitely not amused, as it didn’t seem an appropriate response to early arthritis, and I’d waited for 6 weeks for the appointment. I was suffering; I’d already spent some time not being able to drive in order to rest my leg, and I’m the driver in our family.  

 When I told my GP about this he agreed that it was inappropriate for the stage of arthritis I had, not to mention unsatisfactory. But I then had to wait for the report to come in from Buggerlugs before I could be referred on elsewhere, and that took about 3 weeks, much longer than it should have. In the end I rang up and pestered them. When it did arrive, there was no mention of me having a new knee (not that I’m keen to have one, since if you fall over, you can’t get up again without someone to help you). All Buggerlugs said was that a conservative management would be best – in other words, he wasn’t going to do anything except give me exercises to do. 

 I was furious with the way I’d been treated, and decided to take drastic action. I’d had private physiotherapy from a local practitioner three years ago (just before I got interested in Transformers), paid for by my employer at the time. I decided to pay for some private sessions as I was sure it would help. Private medicine is fairly readily available in England, but it does cost: physio is about £45 for a 45-minute session. I did find it helpful, though, because I had ultrasound and deep massage on my hamstring, and over the 5 sessions I went for my walking improved gradually.  

 My GP referred me to a different hospital, at Huntingdon, which is about 16 – 20 miles down the A1 from Peterborough. I had my son there, and it is a very good hospital. He’d also re-referred me there before Christmas for a minor problem which required an operation – more on that later on.  But again, I had to wait for the appointment. Although we have a health service, and some of the doctors are very good, some aren’t, and you always have to wait for an appointment if you want to see a particular doctor. To see a consultant you have to wait about 6 – 8 weeks, so I feel as if I’ve spent the whole year in limbo!

 Eventually I had my appointment with the consultant, and he promptly sent me for 4 x-rays before I had my consultation. I was a bit angry, because I could see more focus on arthritis coming up on the horizon. However, he had a look at my knee, suggested an MRI scan, which was obviously a good idea, and then said that if there was anything that he could do when he had the result of that I’d be having an arthroscopy – keyhole surgery. I was relatively happy with that. The MRI scan would be in 2 – 3 weeks, I was informed, and I’d be notified of the date.

 Two weeks later, I’d heard nothing, and decided to ring the consultant’s secretary. She was helpful, but said that she didn’t know anything of an MRI scan for me. But when she had a look in my file, she discovered that there were two letters, which seemed to have got stuck together. She made the excuse that it took longer than the 2 – 3 weeks the consultant had mentioned to get an MRI scan organised, but I did wonder whether the second letter had been sent off before I phoned...

 Anyway, I went for the scan, that was fine. The consultant had by now referred me to our local hospital again for NHS physiotherapy. It took a while to get going as I was sent three appointments, all of which were then cancelled.  The final time I rang up about rearranging the appointment I pointed out that this kept happening and the receptionist moved me to a different practitioner. I was walking quite well thanks to the private treatment, but very slowly, and not very far. I felt tired all the time as well, and it was difficult to keep going with the Spanish course and the 2 computer courses I’d signed up for before Christmas. My new physio was a young guy, straight out of university. He was lovely, really supportive. (Mind you, so was the private physio lady I’d been going to.) 

A couple of weeks after the scan I received a letter from the consultant. He said that there wasn’t anything they could do for me, and it wouldn’t really help for me to have an arthroscopy as I had arthritis. I was spitting feathers, but also beginning to succumb to depression, as I felt as if I’d never be fit again. A year ago I was an active and relatively healthy person. Now there were lots of things I couldn’t do. The problem was that because I couldn’t get my knee to bend back far enough, I couldn’t get up out of a chair easily. So I had to push myself up with my hands, which were also becoming arthritic, and since the prolonged cold weather spell at Christmas I had had a recurrence of tenosynovitis in my wrists (I had it when I was pregnant with my son), and that in turn had affected my arm tendons, bringing back problems with my elbows and shoulders. I felt as if my whole body was affected by the problem in my knee. Every time I sat down for even half an hour in front of the computer I felt my joints and tendons seizing up when I tried to stand up. (These problems are likely to be ongoing, though at present I’m not getting them as I sit here – I suspect that’s something to do with the anaesthetic I had on Monday.)

On my next appointment with physio guy, I told him what had happened. He did a couple of tests on my knee and said he thought he wouldn’t be particularly able to help with my hamstring problem if I couldn’t bend or straighten my knee. But he also thought I had a torn meniscus, and told me to phone my consultant again. Arthritis or not, he thought that ought to be repaired. 

 So I rang up. When I mentioned the torn meniscus there was dead silence at the end of the line for a moment, then the secretary said, “I’ll just speak to [the consultant] for a moment.” She came back with an appointment for me to go in and see the consultant again.

At the appointment (another several weeks later) I got to see the scan results, though the consultant clicked through them so quickly that all I really noticed were some dark spots he told me were arthritis. (Physio guy had explained to me that arthritis is bone growth gone mad.) That was probably deliberate as he was obviously trying to put over his point of view. At the end of the consultation I explained that I was the driver in the family, and it was affecting my life very severely. I couldn’t be a proper mum to my 13-year-old son, who has Asperger Syndrome, and couldn’t do much about the house. However, he said that I would go on the SOS list – meaning, I was going to be discharged without further treatment, but could ring up at any time in the next 6 months if I was still having problems. In the waiting room I’d been chatting to two young lads who had sports injuries, and they asked me how I’d got on. I shook my head and said, “No, I didn’t. He’s not going to do anything, because of the arthritis.” They were shocked. A few days later, when I was in Peterborough for some reason, I told a lady I sat next to on one of the mall seats that if you have arthritis you’re treated as a second-class citizen. She seemed as shocked as I was. I’ve since realised that there isn’t really that much that they can do for osteoarthritis, although I have done some research on the internet and there are some exciting treatments coming up on the horizon – in several years’ time, though.

 As all this was going on, my Spanish class was coming towards the end of term and I had an appointment to sort out a minor (and more private) problem I’d had for several years. This also meant an operation, and I was convinced I was going to die under general anaesthetic. I’m still here, obviously, but did feel very pressured, especially as I’d enrolled for two computer courses. I’d already completed one of them, but the web design work had to be handed in before I went for my operation. I managed it by the skin of my teeth. (What a ridiculous saying that is – everyone knows there’s no skin on teeth!) And I have now received my certificates, thank you very much! Physio guy gave me some different exercises to do as he knew I’d have to lie down or stand up rather than sit after my upcoming op. I never managed to get on with them, but I did carry on with my previous ones as soon as I felt okay to do so. I had one more appointment with him, but it was several weeks off. I was by now quite depressed and felt that my life was over.    

 At my next appointment with my GP, I was somewhat surprised when he said, “Well, I see you’ve got your arthroscopy.” I was confused, actually. He was going on holiday the next week, so he suggested I ring up and find out what was happening, which I did. But first I rang the Patient Liaison section at the hospital, and got some advice from a helpful lady, who passed my concerns on to my consultant’s secretary. She organised a further appointment with my consultant and got him to write to me to explain the situation. Having been convinced that I wasn’t going to get any surgery, I wanted to know why he’d suddenly changed his mind, but apparently he’d spotted something on the MRI scan that he hadn’t seen before. 

 At my next physio appointment, I had another bombshell. Physio guy was moving on to a different department and was discharging me. He promised to write to my consultant and explain that this was because he hadn’t really been able to help me that much and didn’t feel I would benefit much from physiotherapy until I had had surgery to correct the problems in my knee.

 When I arrived at my next appointment with the consultant, husband in tow to act as a witness and for moral support, he told me he would do the arthroscopy and hopefully it would sort out my problems. Physio guy had referred me back to him as promised and I’m sure that had a major effect on how I got on that afternoon. But I have to say that I have found the consultant rather uncommunicative throughout the whole process, and didn’t, as a result, feel confident that he would act on the information passed to him. I was glad I had my husband with me. I asked a list of questions I’d taken with me, but didn’t feel I received relevant replies, and as a graduate with a science degree I regard myself as a person with a reasonable understanding of the functions of the body, and don’t therefore expect to be patronised.

 However, I’ve had the op. We had a scary moment this afternoon. I was told to remove the bandage after two days, and that under it I would find two small dressings which I mustn’t get wet, but which I could remove after another 5 days. It means I won’t be able to shower or wash my hair for a week – horrific when you like to have a daily shower! I duly started to remove the bandage, but found that there was a crust of old dried blood and that it was impossible to remove the cotton wool wadding underneath without soaking it off. Feeling somewhat fazed, I rang the Health Centre for advice and explained that I couldn’t go to them as I wasn’t allowed to drive for 1 – 2 weeks. So the receptionist rang the District Nurse and asked her to pop round to sort the problem out. She said it would have to be soaked off irrespective of not getting it wet, and had it sorted out and fresh dressings applied in a few minutes.

 Now I can start with the physio exercises I’ve been given, though I think I’m going to have to go carefully as the incisions don’t appear to have been stitched and were still bleeding slightly. We’ll see how I get on. I’ll report further anon.    



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