Personal Narrative: Undergoing Arthroscopic Knee Surgery
Surgery can cause significant anxiety. Through my experience, however, undergoing arthroscopic surgery is not scary at all. Since I’ve personally gone through four arthroscopic surgeries (yes: four) on my left knee, it seemed worthwhile to give a first-person account of what to expect before, during, and after the procedure.
I experienced my first knee “subluxation” in 7th grade. Patellar subluxation is when your kneecap pops out of place. But what does that mean exactly?
A person’s kneecap slides up and down a groove called the trochlea. When healthy, the kneecap is designed to fit in the center of the trochlear groove, sliding evenly within it. However, in my case, my kneecap is pulled towards the outside of the knee and slightly tilted out instead of laying flat in the trochlear groove. Because of this, my kneecap doesn’t “fit” perfectly, and is prone to popping outside the groove to the outside of my leg.
My orthopedist told me this was most likely a genetic structure of my knee. Additionally, my outside thigh muscles were tighter than my interior ones, further making a pull of my patella out of joint.
My fourth was the result of a minor foot tie-up while playing basketball. It was such, though, that the torque of my ankle caused my leg to bend in, forcing the patella to pop out. It immediately popped back in the groove, but became very swollen, painful, and the chance of cartilage damage was a possibility.
- Initial visit: I’ve worked with different physicians during my past surgeries. This one was new and happened to be one of the orthopedic doctors used at the Grand Slam tennis event the US Open. He started by carefully examining my knee’s movement to test its mobility, and get a sense externally of the damage.
- Tests: I then underwent an MRI. Now, many people get a lot of anxiety during MRIs. They feel confined, as if in a coffin, and the noises can be disturbing. But since I was in the machine legs first, and wearing earplugs, I actually found it relaxing. I even fell asleep!
- Follow-up: After examining my MRI “pictures,” my doctor discussed options, from as small as physical therapy, to as drastic as breaking the tibia bone and repositioning it so the patella could fit more accurately. We decided on a middle way. He’d perform and arthroscope, clean out any frayed cartiledge, and try to use internal sutures as an attempt to pull my patella inwards. Yes: another surgery.
The Day of The Surgery
- Eating: I couldn’t eat anything from midnight the night before until after the surgery, as a safeguard against possible reactions to the anesthesia. I followed their directions. Ok, I “may” have had one SMALL cup of coffee (so sue me!) and ultimately had no adverse effects with the anesthesia.
- Assurance: The doctors and nurses asked me repeatedly which knee they would be operating on. They used a marker to “X” the knee, just to be sure.
- Operation: The operating room “may” seem scary at first, but it’s really not. I met my anesthesiologist there for the first time, with various nurses in the room. They hooked me up to an I.V., and the anesthesiologist gave me the first of two medications intravenously. The second was to “put me under.” They asked me to count backward from 10. I think I got as far as 7 before I said, “whoa!” and was totally out.
During and After the Surgery
- Takin’ It Easy: When I went under I felt no anxiety. What helped was putting complete trust and faith in the doctors and nurses, and getting the chance to just zone out.
- Waking: After what I would call a “deep sleep,” I heard a nurse calling me awake. “Coming to” took a few minutes, but after opening my eyes, the medicine wore off without much time elapsed.
- Getting Used To It: I first noticed a heaviness in my left leg. It was encased with gauze, an ACE bandage, and finally a knee immobilizer that ran from the thigh down to the ankle. Though this felt confining at first, but I got used to it.
The Road to Recovery
- R.I.C.E.: R.I.C.E. stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. So that’s what I did. Since I had sutures, I was advised to take that week off to rest and limit my mobility. Oh well: I guess I’ll just have to watch more March Madness!
- What’s It Lookin’ Like?: In the follow-up appointment about two weeks later, my doctor cut off the gauze and prescribed six weeks of physical therapy.
- Painful, But Not the Bad Kind: At first, the swelling was so bad I couldn’t bend my leg at a very high degree. After that, it was then the sutures that became the painful next step. They had to be “broken” inside, and so I had to bend far enough in order for them to pop. I’m not going to lie: this hurt. But, once they did pop, my mobility increased rapidly.
Each therapy session ended with ice and what’s called “stim.” Stim – short for Electric Stimulation – is a device that sends electrical waves through nodes attached to your injured area. The electrical pulses scramble the pain messages your brain sends to your body which relieves the pain and gives a nice massage. It feels weird at first, but the pulsating waves became a very nice massage and cool-down. I would often ask for him to crank up the voltage!
Well, once PT was over, it was up to me, now. Fortunately, I already had an exercise regimen, and slowly my knee and its surrounding muscles strengthened.
Though my knee will never be “perfect,” I haven’t had another “scope” in 13 years. I’m hoping to keep that run going.
- Cluett, Jonathan. ‘What Is Patellar Subluxation and How Is It Treated?’. June 24, 2016. Accessed August 26, 2016. https://www.verywell.com/patellar-subluxation-2548746.