Lately, I've been getting a lot of mileage from a bag of frozen peas, usually during the dark of night. No, not as a snack but as relief for a swollen knee. It's 3:20 am and the pain woke me up again, so here I sit in my big comfy chair, leg thrown over the arm with a bag of Birds Eye sweet peas perched on my knee. It's really quite effective, as long as I don't eat them.
Two years ago, an orthopedic surgeon delivered the stunning news that total knee replacement surgery was the best treatment option for me. Really, I thought? This might be a good time to haul out my inner health care advocate and ask some questions. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Tell me about the surgery. What kind of material is used, how long does it last, what's the recovery time, etc...?
OS: Mumble, mumble, mumble. We don't know how long it lasts. Recovery varies from person to person, blah, blah, blah.
Me: I'm sorry, you don't know how long the artificial knee will last, not even an educated guess?
OS: Well...maybe 30 years.
Me: 30 years? So you're telling me that in my mid to late 70's it will need to be replaced again?
OS: Something like that.
Me: What other treatment options are available, especially considering that I'm one of the millions of Americans who is uninsured?
OS: You don't have insurance? [he calls the nurse in and mumbles something to her, she leaves the room quickly]
Me: No, so what are my options?
OS: There's a new medication, here's a pamphlet that explains how it works, but it's expensive and I don't think in a case like yours it's going to be very effective.
Me: A case like mine?
OS: Yes, you have an advanced case of osteoarthritis. We could try a cortisone injection and it will either give you temporary relief or your body will reject it, like an allergic reaction, which will aggravate your knee even more.
At this point, I'm staring off into space considering my options when the nurse comes back in and hands the doctor something. He starts poking hard around my knee cap with his thumb. The pain brings me into focus and as I'm asking him, "What are the side effects of a cortisone injection?" he jams a huge needle in my knee.
Although it was reprehensible for him to treat me without my permission, that cortisone injection did the trick and for two years, I've been mostly symptom and pain free, until now.
So, tomorrow it's off to the clinic with the hope a doctor will jam a big needle in my knee and fill it with cortisone. In the meantime, I adjust the thawing bag of peas, swallow some ibuprofen and ponder what it's going to take for this country to create a workable health care program for everyone.