No Holds Barred: A Rite of Passage

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Pre-op with beauty queen nurses Kristen and Jamie.

I get that after 65, body part replacement becomes a normal rite of passage. From joints to tissues to sex organs. Everything reaches an expiration date and surgery becomes the way out or at least a pathway back to living and moving.

At 76, I am one of those who never had surgery. I still have my tonsils. Maybe some wisdom teeth are gone, but other than that going under the knife hasn’t happened. But now all my years of overdoing hiking and yoga has left me without cartilage and suddenly a limited range of motion. And here I thought Uber exercise would keep me alive and kicking. Instead, it threw me to the curb — but hey, it was a hell of a ride. Advil became my daily vitamin.

The idea of getting “opened up” (even for facework) has terrified me. I remember my dad going into a five-day dementia from bad anesthesia 30 years ago after a hip replacement. That rarely happens now, but it stuck with me. I did experience a run-of-the-mill cataract procedure five years ago that left me woozy and “off” for six months. From that PTSD moment on, I considered myself a “wild card” in the medical world. What people describe as a “no brainer” procedure becomes a “big brain loss” For me. Even when my dermatologist merely burns off mild pre-cancer spots on my skin, it takes a month for me to heal.

“Being active is not just about exercise — it takes a different kind of muscle to stand up for what you believe.” — Jane (the warrior)

I kept thinking about Jane Fonda (at 86 still high kicking as a political activist) admitting she had her pelvis mounted on her mantle. Get this: she’s had both hips, both knees, and a shoulder replaced — and maybe a broken ankle or two. And let’s face it, Jane was an original with her famous “Jane Fonda workouts.”

Didn’t we all do 150 “no pain, no gain!” leg lifts in those leg warmers in 1982. But Jane went onto breast implants and a few facelifts and recently came out saying “no more face work. I don’t want to look distorted!” (Madonna, are you listening?). She further admitted, “and I am not proud of the fact that I had one.”

Jane is a big believer in movement for health and has stated her joint replacements weren’t a result of her workouts but from osteoporosis which ran in her family. I thought we all got slammed with osteo after 70.

Recently Fonda admitted to having bouts of skin and breast cancer and recently completed a round of chemo for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. You’ve got to hand it to Jane! She is a great warrior and is now putting her body back on the line by getting arrested frequently in her protests over the climate crisis.

Jane is clearly the ultimate in physical and mental bravery. Meanwhile I have to go to urgent care for an ingrown toenail, and I have no activist’s statement other than “stop the pain.” My history is consumed with fear (and not about getting old — that is a given), but surviving it is another deal. I hear with every surgery (especially after 80) you can take a hit.

Jane just last week!

So, I had to get over all this surgical anxiety and consider what is called “a simple procedure” for a torn knee meniscus (which I kept calling torn hibiscus) “repair.” I actually considered taking a psychedelic like Ayahuasca as a pre-op treatment to break my terror. But I was too scared to even go THAT route.

Dr. David Bailie and the patient from hell.

My orthopedic surgeon was the very popular David S. Bailie with Arizona Institute for Sports, Knees and Shoulders who took me on. I went to him for a bone-on-bone shoulder issue which he felt we could wait on as I still had mobility and didn’t look like a brontosaurus … yet.

I was grateful for his “wait and see” approach, but also with his sports medicine background he wants me up and out. He actually understood my surgical fear and loathing but assured me the torn meniscus would be an easy “entry” surgery to do with less downtime and bang for the buck. In other words — maybe the meniscus repair would get me over my paralyzing dread and onto bigger and better replacements. I decided to pull the trigger.

I had no idea the complexity of scheduling. I had to clear my calendar for three weeks and make sure Mercury wasn’t retrograde. Meanwhile since COVID, surgeons are booked months out in advance. So it’s a balancing act to just get it all lined up.

For eight days I had to get off all vitamins, THC topical creams, herbal echinacea pills, fish oil, and most of all my favorite anti-inflammatory pills and Excedrin. It seems surgical “bleed outs” used to be common and dangerous. People now have to stop all blood thinners. This was the rumored reason around Kanye West’s mother’s death after she went under the knife for a tummy tuck and breast reduction.

No, not the Chinese spy balloon — just laparoscopic photos of my meniscus.

So, a week without my arsenal of OTC pills was tough enough. Then the night before the procedure no water from midnight on. I kept thinking dehydration would land me in a panic attack but luckily, I made it to the SurgCenter Camelback which distracted me. It looked like a spa. I remember my cataracts were done in a “clinic” that resembled a mash unit in Afghanistan. I was lined up in a gurney gridlock with twenty other patients in a tented area.

This time I was the only patient in a waiting room, but I didn’t have to sit and wait and fill out a book of pre-op questions. Immediately I was taken in by two nurses, Jamie and Kristen, who looked like beauty queens. They kept assuring me this would be a “no brainer” (oh no, there’s that blow-off phrase) and they braceletted me with colorful bands saying “allergy alert” and “fall risk.” Loved that. They prepped me perfectly with decent patter and then high fived me as Doctor Bailie arrived to reassure me that I would survive and jollied me over the post-op phase.

Dr. Bailie Magic marking on the “right” left knee before surgery.
Surgery “jewels” mixed with mine!

By the time the anesthesiologist entered I was somewhat “settled.” But I warned him: “No dementia or vomiting allowed” as this was my virgin voyage, and he could be the one to crash land me forever. He kept his eyes down and stated, “Just an anti-nauseant and Propofol and Fentanyl and you will be fine.”

I was excited to experience the latest “hot” drug Fentanyl … and of course Michael Jackson’s notorious drug of choice (which at the overdose level killed him). I signed off and got wheeled in somewhere and vaguely remember them asking me what music I liked. Thank God no one said, “Count down from 10 to 1.” I remember feeling a bit of a party atmosphere, but who knows if that was real.

Getting put out by anesthesiologist Dr. Loh. He seemed dressed as a ninja or was that the drugs?!

Of course, the next second I was awake and back in my cubicle. I felt instantly clear headed (no brain fog), not a sign of nausea and I think massively relieved and surprisingly hopeful.

I was euphoric for at least four days after and wondered if the Propofol/Fentanyl cocktail was the Ayahuasca I needed to vanish my anxiety.

Post Op relief! (and still high from Fentanyl and Propofol).

Aside from the medical bracelets, I think the Don Joy Ice Man machine became the greatest swag of the experience. Forget the cane.

So far, everything Doctor Bailie told me kind of came true. No opioids needed. If anything, I had enough acid reflux from the nonstop Advil to stop my pre-surgery addiction. When I saw Doctor Bailie at my post-op exam, I gave him a Valentine congratulating him on being the first surgeon to give me my first procedure.

With Dr. Bailie during my post surgical office visit.

Bring on the shoulder and hips.

Jane Fonda has nothing on me!

Recuperating with two pain relievers, Sunshine and Don Joy Ice Man machine!

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