Sunday, October 12, 2008

A date with Dr. Knee

Usually I can find some way to tag my doctors and other practitioners by the impression they make. The orthodontist was Dr. Pain, the ENT Dr. Sadist (what else can you call a man who says, "Step into my torture chamber here"?) I'm not sure what to call the latest character, an orthopedist. He didn't inflict pain or enjoy the thought, and he seemed genuinely kind. He has a lot of hair, but that doesn't really suit his specialty—the knee. So he, like my dentist, has ended up with a literal alias: Dr. Knee.

I knew from the address roughly where his office is, but didn't realize until the last minute at the Randolph bus stop that it's the building on the northwest corner of Michigan and Randolph with the solar energy collector roof shaped like a fountain pen nib. I'd never been inside the building except to visit a drugstore that used to be on the ground floor and the ATMs, so it was interesting to see a floor layout (geometrical, with lots of angles).

After completing reams of forms (including several questions about my mental stability—no, my knee has not driven me into the abyss of insanity), I was taken to exam room 4, the view from which is a Millennium Park fan's dream. As I waited I could see the Chicago Cultural Center’s green roof (now turning autumn colors); most of Millennium Park, with Cloud Gate (the "Bean") reflecting the mid-morning sun's rays; Shedd Aquarium plus Adler Planetarium at the end of the Museum Campus peninsula; and of course the sparkling blue and silver expanse of Lake Michigan. To the left lay the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, with the lawn structure resembling the intact metallic spine and ribs of an elongated dinosaur that died at rest in the park. Although I'm not fond of Millennium Park, I have to admit that it's beautiful in a very formal way when seen from above, and I felt healthier for the new perspective.

Dr. Knee appeared so I could confuse him with the date of my fall; I kept saying September when I meant August, and I caught my mistake only when he said, "So this happened only a couple of weeks ago?" I proceeded to repeat my error several times. Apparently the glare of the sun off Cloud Gate had gotten to me, and both of our heads were spinning.

Finally we straightened out what had happened, when, and with what NSAID it had been treated. I added, somewhat as an aside, that the affected left knee is painful when I walk down stairs, which got his attention more than the small amount of swelling left from the fall and the NSAID treatment.

After straightening, bending, and feeling my knew, none of which bothered me, he indicated that the pain on stairs was more of a long-term concern and that, if not dealt with now, it would result in more serious problems later. He sent me down the hall for X-rays. By now, with the UFE, two sets of dental X-rays, and a screening and a diagnostic mammogram within the past month, I wonder if I glow in the right lighting or click near certain instruments.

The technician took front, side, and top views. For the side view, he mounted the stool and demonstrated the correct position while I tried not to laugh and failed. It was a classic artist's model pose, one leg in front of the other like Mercury about to take off beautifully. I tried to repress another laugh as I imagined what I must look like, pant legs rolled up above the knee, an enormously fat Olympian captured on film mid-glide. The final view, from the top, required me to lie down with my knees bent and my fat thighs and ankles pressed tightly together. Owww.

Then it was back to the room with a view. The conclusions were simple: I have about 5 cc worth of prepatellar fluid, which to both of us is not worth worrying about in the absence of pain or infection. Physical therapy, which I signed up for beginning in early November, will strengthen the left knee and help to prevent or alleviate the future problems. He prescribed another month of meloxicam to help reduce the residual swelling. Of course he recommended weight loss. Apparently (even to me), my X-rays looked good except for some slight degeneration and loss of space probably due to weight—I won't deny it. I was surprised mostly to find that, after all they have been through, each of my knee caps is intact. I told him I walk as much as possible, and, although I'm not sure why, he pointed out that extreme sports, marathons, and the like (which he must be able to tell are not on my agenda) are not the best way to build strength in a weakened or injured knee. I'll remember that the next time I'm tempted to try a triathlon or climb a mountain.

So now I must give up my elderly woman crab walk down stairs. Coming up: finding out if physical therapy o a week knee is as painful as it is on a shoulder with impingement syndrome.

Dr. Knee ended by dictating his report as I stood there. The last orthopedist I'd gone to, Dr. Shoulder, also dictated a report, but not in front of me—I overheard him as I was checking out. Perhaps because I was right there, Dr. Knee was especially flattering, describing me as "young" and "somewhat overweight" (respective translations: "middle aged" and "extremely morbidly obese").

My knees are in relatively good shape, and I feel like I have been granted second, even third chances, numerous times to preserve my health. Today, Sunday, despite what could be the monthly visitor and the discomfort it brings (since the UFE, I haven't been quite sure if this qualifies as the monthly), I feel good and walked briskly (for me) to Bonjour this morning.

On Dr. Knee's advice, however, I bypassed today's Chicago Marathon. It's not good for my knee.


  1. With my first total replacement came the restriction I'd always wanted: no downhill skiing. I thanked the surgeon for finally giving me a good excuse.

    Glad your knee is going to be okay. As for the therapy on a knee vs a shoulder: oh yes, yes it can!

  2. I imagine it can, but my knee has never hurt nearly as much as both my shoulders (just as your shoulders were probably in better shape than your knees). When they were both inflamed, breathing caused searing pain that made me faint. I couldn't even lift my arms. I learned to have a lot of sympathy for athletes with torn rotator cuffs!

    Except for a couple of mild flareups, it hasn't been bad for years. The flareups remind me of how bad it once was . . .

    I'm looking forward to the PT. I see it as a chance to save what I have, at least for a while.

  3. I liked your description of the X-ray pose. I could really visualize the scene.

    My knee has had flareups, and I'd feel a brief sharp pain when stepping off a curb. No fall was involved and, thankfully, it went away after a few weeks.

    I hope your condition goes away without treatment, too.

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