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The Old Grey Mare Just Ain’t What She Used To Be

Tigger Montague

Two weeks ago, I slipped on a wet floor, and my left knee zigged when it should have zagged. I came to the ER with my knee the size of a cantaloupe, and left on crutches and a brace, meds, and strict instructions to stay prone with my knee elevated and iced for five days. Oh, and by the way, Ms. Montague, you need to see an orthopedic surgeon. My last knee surgery was 1978, and since that time I don’t think I’ve ever spent five days prone or spent one second anywhere near an orthopedic specialist.

When I got to the orthopedic surgeon’s I could bear a little weight on the knee with the help of the crutches, and the inflammation was down to the size of a doughnut. He went over my history (two knee surgeries: 1969, and 1978) and the procedure used, then showed me my radiographs and said:
“You are a 61 year old woman with a 91 one year old knee.” Thud. Sound of my consciousness hitting the proverbial pavement.

At the time of my first knee surgery I was sixteen years old, and the ninth person in the world to have this procedure done that included breaking my leg and anchoring my kneecap lower in the joint framework. The conclusion nine years later was that the knee surgery had been “botched” and needed to be done again. Hence the second surgery in 1978.

Over the years, my knee has gradually deteriorated. I remember running Lionheart for the FEI vet inspection at Devon, and Hilda Gurney was one of the members of the ground jury who said, “the horse is sounder than the handler”. I laughed about that at the time, but doing anything more than walking or riding was painful.

This spring I noticed how wobbly my left knee would get when I was pushing the wheelbarrow, or navigating uneven ground.
I thought maybe I just need to strengthen my quadriceps so began doing leg lifting exercises and walking out on the hills 30 minutes a day.

As the surgeon went over the radiographs with me, I saw clearly the deterioration of the joint and the malformation of the bone structure. I was entering a reality that had never been part of my thought-process.

The surgeon concluded that knee surgery was the last option because with the damage and trauma done, the joint structure may not support a knee replacement. We turned to a custom titanium cage-brace, management including rest, ice, heat, with perhaps a change in lifestyle (giving the knee more time daily to be non weight-bearing). So goodbye Jimmy Choo shoes and Manolo Blahniks’. Hello knee braces, and an appreciation of the simple act of walking, even though it resembles the irregular gait of an ancient crone.

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