I’ve always been an active individual. Orthopedic surgeons typically have an aura of being active and strong, and I’ve always tried to set a good example for my patients. I’ve lifted weights for years, and I enjoy horseback riding and cycling with my wife, Peggy.
But in 2020, I started to slow down and noticed I couldn’t walk more than a quarter of a mile on our daily walks.
Through the years, I’ve often heard my orthopedic patients call what they are experiencing “discomfort” rather than “pain.” We learn to live with it, and even ignore it. And that was what happened in my situation.
I credit my daughter with snapping me out of the delusion that what I was experiencing was normal aging. While she was home for Thanksgiving in 2020, she watched as I walked our property and put items away in our barn. I couldn’t even carry a piece of lawn furniture without holding onto something.
She looked at me and said, “Dad, when did you get old?”
Her statement caught me off-guard, and I knew I had to do something. The following Monday, I scheduled an X-ray to see what was going on with my joints.
The X-ray showed I had bone-on-bone arthritis in my knees and hips. How could I have let this go on for so long? As an orthopedic surgeon, shouldn’t I have known better?
It’s amazing how even doctors can overlook our health deterioration while simultaneously treating others for the same problems. But as the saying goes, “it’s easy to look for the splinter in someone else’s eye and miss the log in our own.”
I was ready to make a change, and by December 2020, I was scheduled for a double hip replacement. After the surgery, I grew an inch taller and was able to stand up straight again.
A few months later, I underwent total knee replacement surgery on both of my knees. Once again, I grew an inch taller and was back to my pre-arthritis height.
After my surgeries, I wanted to push myself to be the best I could be. If the doctors, nurses and therapists were going to invest in me, it was my job to set a good example for myself and my own patients.
We often don’t realize that many people in the world lack the opportunities to receive treatment like we do. I’ve done medical mission trips in parts of the world where patients don’t have access to surgical procedures, so I knew if God was giving me this chance, I needed to use it to the fullest.
I worked hard in therapy and recovered quickly. And it was worth it—the difference between my life before and after my replacements is like night and day.
Before my surgery, I didn’t fully appreciate what it meant to walk down a hill or stairs pain-free. Riding in a car for more than a couple hours left me in intense pain, and getting on a horse was a huge challenge.
Now I can walk down the stairs like everyone else. I can ride in the car for hours without any discomfort. And to make things even better, I feel like John Wayne getting on a horse again!
I’m so grateful for this experience and how it has changed me as a surgeon. It has instilled a deeper level of empathy for my patients and what they are going through. It has also made me appreciate how, even though our joints may be hurting, exercise is so important to help slow the damage and aid in the healing process.
If you’re on the fence about getting a joint replacement and you’re in pain, the best advice I have is to do it. It may seem scary, but it will change your life infinitely for the better.