I started having problems with my left knee in 2012. For no apparent reason, it would make a clicking noise before giving way, causing me to fall over. The first time it happened, I was in class as my profession is a teacher. When I stood up to talk to a pupil, I heard that “click” and before I could catch myself, I had fallen. The students were shocked. I was very embarrassed. A few weeks later, I was walking to class when I fell over in the school field and got mud all over myself. At home, there were times when I would hear the “click” and lose my balance. I managed to steady myself each time. At first, I put my falls down to clumsiness. But by 2013, I was falling several times a day so I went to see an orthopedic surgeon.
A visit to the first doctor
After an X-ray, the doctor said my knee-cap was worn out and had to be replaced with a plastic one in a procedure that would require me to be under general anaesthesia. He said I should have the operation as soon as possible, adding, “What if you fell down while crossing the road one day?” He gave the diagnosis very matter-of-factly, and he gave me an appointment for the operation in a month’s time. I felt like crying.
Although I would only have to pay 20 per cent of the ward charges because I was under the pension scheme, I did not want to have the operation as I was worried about the pain and the recovery time. I would have to walk with a cane for a few months after the operation. I did not want to be perceived as an elderly woman with limited mobility either.
Friends who had gone through the same procedure told me that the artificial knee would last for only about 10 years. I could not help wondering if the doctor’s diagnosis was right, and if there were alternatives. I felt confused and overwhelmed, and decided to get another opinion. Through a friend, I went to see an orthopedic surgeon at another hospital.
A better alternative
The second doctor recommended keyhole surgery to fix my kneecap, which he said was out of alignment, probably because of a fall in the past. The procedure would be much simpler – without having to remove my kneecap. And because only a small incision would be made, the recovery period would be very short. I was so relieved to hear that I would not need a major operation.
The doctor gave me confidence and I felt comfortable with his suggestion, so I decided to go for keyhole surgery. The operation went smoothly. I felt only slight pain when I was transferred from the stretcher onto the bed. I stayed in hospital overnight for observation. The bandages were removed the next day.
A physiotherapist taught me how to walk without straining the knee, and I did not have to use a walking aid. By the time I returned home the next day, I was able to walk without pain. My son was surprised at how mobile I was. I did the exercises the physiotherapist taught me for a month, and recovered fully.
I even travelled to Norway with my sisters a month after the surgery. We walked a lot and climbed a long flight of steps up a mountain. Today, I have no problems with my knee or with walking long distances. I exercise regularly, and brisk-walk 4km twice a week.
The removal of a kneecap is a major surgical procedure that one should go through only if it is absolutely necessary. A second – or even a third – opinion is a good idea before opting for a major procedure, as it will have a big impact on your life, such as a lot of pain or even immobility.
It is important to find a doctor in whom one has trust and confidence. I was really glad I sought a second opinion. It was not an easy decision to make, and it would have been even harder if I had had a life-threatening condition.
If anyone is facing the same dilemma, all I can say is this: Talk to your family members, seek help from professionals, and think long and hard about it before making your decision.
From Madam Eng, an experienced teacher in a local school