Barbara Perry’s knees started causing her pain 30 years before she received her first total knee replacement. Here Barbara shares why she waited so long, and offers her advice to others considering this life-changing operation.

Before Surgery

Describe the progression of your knee issues leading up to surgery. How long did you wait to decide on the surgery? Whose advice did you consider in making your decision? 

I have had knee pain since 1980. I first saw my surgeon around 1999 and received cortisone injections on a regular basis. Over time, these became less effective. He told me that I would know when to do the knee replacements based on my quality of life.

I finally decided to have the right knee done in 2010 because I couldn’t stand up and prepare dinner without being in constant pain and crying the whole time. I only went by my feelings, my husband’s advice, and my doctor’s. I had my left knee done in 2011.

Tell us your age, describe your health, and talk about any feelings you had as the date of your surgery approached. What were your top two fears?

I am now 61. I am in pretty good health but am overweight and am trying to lose weight. I was very stressed out prior to my first knee replacement because I didn’t really know what to expect, even though my doctor had prepared me and had answered all my questions.

My top two fears were that I would not be able to fully straighten my knee (I had heard from some that it had happened to people they knew) and that it would take too long for me to recover. I was very calm and relaxed going into my second knee replacement a year later.

How did you select the surgeon who performed your surgery? What made the experience with your surgeon positive or negative? Did you have a role in selecting the hospital where your surgery was performed?

I simply went to the surgeon to whom my primary care physician referred me, since he is a very respected orthopedic surgeon and was in my network for insurance coverage.

My surgeon was always very honest and upbeat when talking to me so I can’t say there were any negatives in my experience with him. I had to use the hospital where he practiced and did research it to know that it was and is a very good hospital.

Were you interested in learning about, or did you research, the type of knee implant your doctor selected for you?

I did not research the type of replacement implant my doctor selected. He simply explained it to me and answered my questions about how long it might last. I considered him the expert and was not going to second-guess him.

Did the financial implications, if any, of your surgery and/or recovery impact your decisions? Did you research the costs involved prior to surgery?

I did not even consider the financial implications since I have a very good health care plan as a retired military person. The main costs to me were the co-pays for my physical therapy.

After Surgery

Describe the post-surgical pain and/or any complications you experienced and how you managed them. What was most effective in helping you with your recovery? 

After the first surgery, my pain was rather severe, especially with physical therapy starting the day after surgery. I was on pain medications, which helped, but I found that the ice packs were a real Godsend.

Describe the most challenging part of your rehabilitation. What was your experience with physical therapy like, and how critical did you find it to be? What role did you have in selecting your physical therapist or clinic?

The most challenging part of rehab was in trying to get the final degrees of bend in my knees and in going down stairs. You have to push yourself and work through the pain to do all the required physical therapy exercises, or else you will have poor results. Therapy, therapy, therapy! Get your knee straight first, and then work on getting the maximum bend possible.

I had been to the physical therapy clinic before and knew the staff so I was glad to go there again. They were so professional and very friendly, too.

How long did it take you to become fully active again? How long has it been since your surgery and are you happy with your current activity level?

With my first knee replacement, I would say it took about six months. I gradually went back to work and did mostly desk jobs. I believe it took longer with the first knee since I still had a bad left knee and just did not feel very stable. With my second knee, I was fully active in about three months or a little longer.

It has been two years since my right knee was done and one year for the left. I am very happy with my current activity level. I never wanted to run a marathon or play a lot of sports—I just wanted to be able to work, do things around my home, walk my dogs, walk on the beach, [and] just do everyday things without constant pain and tears.

What does it feel like to have an artificial knee? Compare how you feel now with how you felt before your knee replacement.

I feel great now compared to how I felt before the knee replacements. You always know that these are not your natural knees. There is a slight bit of permanent numbness on the outsides of both knees, but you get to where you don’t really notice it.

Was there anything you wished you were better prepared for prior to the surgery? In retrospect, is there anything you would change?

I prepared myself very well with my first surgery by writing down every question I had and then either calling the surgery coordinator with my questions or emailing her. Get every question answered.

When preparing for the hospital, put each day’s clothing in Ziploc bags and mark them for [each] day. Put your toiletries in a bag and mark where you want [them kept]. Also, take a backscratcher! Most people get itchy when taking pain meds like Percocet.

I also took small gifts for the nursing staff and they really appreciated it. Just a simple way of saying thanks to them for all their attention to my needs and me.

If you offered advice to someone else considering knee replacement, what would it be? 

Get it done as soon as you feel you are ready. Make the decision with your surgeon and ask a lot of questions of him or her. Don’t be scared off by the negatives you might hear from others.

It seemed to me that whenever someone found out that I was considering having knee replacement surgery, all they wanted to do was tell me about the stories of failures, never the success stories. Block that out and go into your surgery with a positive attitude and the willingness to do the hard work of physical therapy to get you back to your best.