Big Shock: Surgery is Traumatic

surgery is traumaticThe fact that surgery is traumatic outside of the service provided goes largely unspoken. Personally I had three knee surgeries that I recovered from with little problem while my mother had a surgery that she basically never recovered from.

Fifteen years ago she went in for a spinal fusion surgery that must have nicked a nerve because she lost all strength in the muscles of her outer thighs that had never given her any problems before. She developed a trendelenburg gait, and fifteen years and a hip replacement later, she spends most of her time getting around with a walker or in an electric scooter.

My knee problems began about a year and a half into practicing ashtanga yoga. Some time before that I had tried my hand at running, getting up to about five miles a day before knee pain shut me down. There was no technique involved in either pursuit—I tied on some shoes or stepped barefoot on the mat and had at it.

After about a year and a half practicing yoga six days a week my left knee was suffering fairly excruciating pain that I was encouraged to work through. The injury that led to my first surgery, though set up by yoga, came during a softball game when, in classic fashion, I planted my left foot and twisted to the right to make a throw. My foot failed to pivot as my knee turned and I felt a mini explosion in the knee.

It swelled up pretty bad and I found myself in the office of a reputable orthopedist (the surgeon of choice for New York Rangers and I am a big hockey fan) who suggested an arthroscopic cleanout of the knee that in 90% of all cases involved less than two weeks of ice and rest before I would be up and around.

A pair of crutches were handed to woozy me post surgery as I found out that I was one of the 10% who didn’t fare so well.

The meniscus is cartilage in the knee that provides a cushion between the shin and the thigh. Most meniscus surgery involves cleaning out loose pieces of cartilage that are frayed or torn. In my case the entire meniscus had been ripped off of its mooring and the doctor choose to sew it back on which was a much more involved procedure. It left me on crutches for six weeks and in physical therapy for months before I could practice again.

Two more surgeries followed—one on the right knee and a second one on the left before I was finally finished and pain free. The only thing that ever reminds me of my surgeries is after going for a skate on my rollerblades. My left knee usually throbs for about ten to fifteen minutes after a skate.

In retrospect while the first surgery was absolutely necessary, I think I could have gotten away with avoiding the second and third. I say this because more than ten years later I have helped numerous people avoid meniscus surgeries of their own.

My first surgery was in 1997 before meniscus surgeries became ridiculously ubiquitous and popular. By the early 2000’s it seemed that everyone was having their knee scoped— athletes and lay people alike.

Now, as I mostly work with people in pain, I come across more than my share who have had numerous surgeries. Some to good effect—and in more than a few cases— to no effect or some that were made worse. Today I talked with someone whose son recently had hip impingement repair, a surgery that barely existed before Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees had it performed in 2009. The surgery did nothing for his hip pain andleft him hobbled in other ways.

Over the holidays I saw two people who had hip surgeries that did not help their problems, one of whom felt that while their hip pain was somewhat alleviated, back pain had arrived that was not previously present. At the same time plenty of clients have no regrets about the surgery that chose to have.

This entire rather long preamble is to return to the opening concept that surgery is traumatic and can have consequences outside of the intended purpose. Any time we allow someone or something into the body we will be affected. Sometime the results will be positive, sometime benign, and unfortunately sometimes things can get worse in a big way.

After writing this and searching for the pcture above, I found an article saying that 25% of people who have had major surgery suffer from post operative PTSD. I won’t link to it here since I have no idea if it is accurate but I’ll have more on this in the near future.


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