Meniscus Surgery - my experience
Knee Surgery – for torn meniscus
I had meniscus surgery last week. I’d been putting it off for a long time, but it got to the point where I had so much knee pain, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I was sent to the hospital for an MRI, which showed both menisci in my right knee were damaged. The medial meniscus was badly frayed, and the lateral meniscus had a long tear that went all the way around. When my family physician viewed the MRI report, she referred me to an orthopedic surgeon. I met with him just a couple of days later, and he strongly recommended knee surgery. He explained that he would smooth away the frayed parts of the medial meniscus and repair the lateral torn meniscus, if possible. If the meniscus tear couldn’t be sutured, he’d remove the damaged part. I agreed to the procedure and had him schedule the surgery as soon as possible, before I had the chance to change my mind. If you’re contemplating knee surgery and wondering what the procedure and recovery will be like, you might be interested in reading about my experience with meniscus surgery.
Knee Surgery - Pre-Op
On the day before my surgery was scheduled, I had to go to our local hospital for pre-op. I had to show my insurance card and sign papers first. After that, I met with a nurse who performed an EKG and took my blood pressure, my weight, and my height. I also had to answer a lot of questions about my health and my previous surgeries.
Next, I met with an anesthesiologist to discuss my choices. I begged for local anesthesia, but I was told this procedure would be too much for that. My only two options were general anesthesia and epidural anesthesia. I wasn’t too keen on the latter, so I reluctantly chose general. I was also allowed to request a specific anesthesiologist, so I asked for the one who had put me to sleep twice before.
The next and final step was to meet with my surgeon’s P.A. This provided me with a great chance to ask questions I’d thought of after first agreeing to the meniscus surgery. He was great about answering my questions and explaining things to me.
Meniscus Repair or Removal
Before going into surgery, I didn’t know if my meniscus would be repaired, or if the damaged parts would simply be removed. Part of the meniscus, known as the red zone, has the ability to heal because it has an adequate blood supply. Another part, however, called the white zone, receives very little blood, so it won’t heal. The P.A. explained that not everything can be seen clearly on an MRI, so my surgeon wouldn’t know for sure if he’d do a meniscus repair or a meniscectomy until he viewed it with the arthroscope.
From what I understand, a meniscus repair takes longer to heal, but it can be the best option in the long run. Meniscus surgery that removed the damaged part of the meniscus heals more quickly, but it can lead to knee osteoarthritis later. In young people, many orthopedic surgeons try to repair the meniscus, when possible. I’m older and already have knee arthritis, so that, along with the nature of my meniscus tear, leads me to believe that my surgery will involve removal instead of repair. I’m okay with that – I trust my orthopedic surgeon to make the right decision.
Meniscus Tear - Surgery Day
I arrived at the day surgery unit at 5:30 a.m. I was called back almost immediately to a small private room and was told to remove all my clothes and to put on a gown. I asked if I could keep my panties on, and the nurse said I could, but she added that when patients are put under general anesthesia, their bladder and/or bowel control is often lost. Luckily, I had brought along an extra pair of panties, so I got to keep mine on.
The gown they gave me was really cool – or warm. I had a control that allowed me to make the garment cool, cold, warm, or hot. The room was freezing, so I cranked the controls up to high heat, which kept me nice and toasty. The nurse took my temperature and blood pressure and asked me a few questions. She also started an IV. She tried to give me a sedative, but I didn’t want it.
She saw in the notes that I’d experienced extreme post-op nausea and vomiting in the past. She placed a scopolamine patch behind one ear. I also received famotidine (Pepcid) in my IV, which is supposed to help prevent nausea. At some point, Zofran was also added to my IV. It’s also for post-op nausea and vomiting.
A little before 7 a.m., my orthopedic surgeon came in to speak to me. He made sure which knee he was going to work on, and he initialed it with a marker. He told me the actual surgery itself should take 20-30 minutes. He explained that the torn meniscus would most likely have to be removed, and that he’d leave as much as he could. When he left, the nurse cleaned and sterilized my knee and the surrounding area.
A little past seven, I was wheeled into the operating room. Since I hadn’t taken the sedative, I was wide awake at the time. I had to scoot over from my hospital bed onto the operating table, which was like a cross. I asked them if they were going to crucify me. Someone put a mask on my face and told me to breathe deeply. I did, but I didn’t fall asleep nearly as quickly as I had for my other surgeries. I heard someone say, “She’s still not out.” Someone else responded with, “Yeah, she refused the pre-op sedative.” Then I was gone.
Here, I’m going to describe the meniscus surgery as it was explained to me. After I was asleep under general anesthesia, a sterile drape was placed on my knee, with part of the joint exposed. A small incision was made in the front center of the joint, and the arthroscope was inserted into the incision. An arthroscope is a device that includes a light and a camera. It also provides a route for fluids. The surgeon was able to get a good look at the joint with the light, and the image from the camera appeared on a screen.
The surgeon closely examined the torn meniscus and decided it couldn’t be repaired. Part of the meniscus, known as the white zone, doesn’t get enough blood flow to heal. Most of my tear fell into this category, so the damaged part was surgically removed. I didn’t have a tear in the other meniscus in that knee, but the disc was sort of “falling apart” around the edges, and that was causing me to have knee pain, too. He cut away the ragged edges and smoothed the surface. To insert the surgical tools required to do the work, another small incision was made.
Once all the cutting and smoothing were done, the arthroscope and tools were withdrawn, and the blood was wiped away. The incisions were closed with steri-strips. No sutures were used. The front of my leg was then bandaged with soft, thick bandages, and my knee was wrapped snugly in an Ace bandage. A cold therapy wrap was also placed on my leg.
I woke up in the recovery room with post-op nausea and vomiting - sicker than I’ve ever been in my life. I also felt as if my entire body was on fire. I heaved constantly but threw up only a little, as it had been hours since I’d had anything to eat or drink. Honestly, at the time, I would have paid someone to shoot me just to put me out of my misery. I heard a nurse ask, “Can we give her something else for nausea?” The answer I heard was “No. She’s already had the maximum. We can try a phenergan suppository though.” The next thing I knew, I was rolled over and the suppository was inserted. I didn’t care. I just wanted some relief. By the way, I wasn't experiencing any knee pain at all at the time.
I was in complete misery. I couldn’t get cool, and I was having wave after wave of nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. I was also restless, and I couldn’t be still. The nurses covered me in cool, wet cloths and turned some blowers on me. Nothing seemed to help. For some reason, I thought the scopolamine patch was causing some of my symptoms, so I had a nurse remove it. My mouth was very dry, so I asked for some soda and was given ginger ale.
The ginger ale on ice was wonderful. I drank a few sips, and after an hour or so of this hellish state, I began to feel better. The nausea, dizziness, and hot feeling diminished, and I was able to get up to go to the restroom, which was about thirty feet from my cubicle. I think that’s actually the first thought I’d given to my knee. It was wrapped tightly in an Ace bandage, and there was some sort of soft plastic sleeve on my leg, from thigh to ankle. I found out it was a cold therapy device. It was great! The wrap contains coils for water to pass through, and the device is attached to a cooler of ice and water. Anyway, I was able to limp to the bathroom with some help, and I was soon sent home – with my handy, dandy leg cooler.
I was sent home with hydrocodon, but I was afraid to take any. It often makes me nauseous, and I’d had plenty of that right after surgery. I decided I could deal with the pain better than I could deal with extreme nausea and vomiting. For knee pain relief, I took aspirin. I was also sent home with a list and diagrams of physical therapy exercises for knee surgery. I began doing a few quadriceps exercises, along with some sewing machine pedals. I was unable to perform most of the rest, however, because of knee pain.
Day 1 After Surgery: Thursday – The first day after surgery, I had a good bit of pain. When I sat in my recliner, with my knee elevated on a pillow and the ice water flowing over my leg, the pain wasn’t bad at all. I highly recommend cold therapy for knee pain relief! Any movement was painful, though, especially walking. I was using my walker. The worst pain came from getting up and down, from a chair or from the toilet. I won’t lie to you – the pain was pretty bad then. Walking with the walker really tired me out, and I tried to take a nap but couldn’t because the pain kept me awake. That night, however, I was able to sleep pretty well.
Day 2 After Surgery: Friday – When I woke up this morning, I had a lot less pain. As instructed, I removed my bandages and was able to take a shower without assistance. Also as instructed, I treated the incisions with hydrogen peroxide. I put on my hinged knee brace to try it out, and it really seemed to help. Please buy yourself a knee brace! I was elated to discover that I could walk without the walker! I’m still limping, but I am walking on my own. There’s still some swelling around my knee, but there is less, and the cold therapy really helps with this. I felt well enough to go to a friend’s home for dinner and to do some grocery shopping.
Day 3 After Surgery: Saturday – I think I overdid it yesterday. I’m actually in more pain today, especially on the inside of my thigh. It might be because I’ve been limping, so maybe I was using muscles that aren’t used to being stressed. The knee is still pretty swollen. I began my physical therapy exercises in earnest today, but some were painful. I used my circulating ice cuff for a while for cold therapy.
Day 4 Post Surgery: Sunday – I slept fine last night and awoke to a little less pain in the knee. I’m taking it easy today, hoping that will help my knee heal. I’m doing just a few leg exercises today.
Day 5 Post Surgery: Monday – The thigh pain is gone, and I don’t have much knee pain now, except for when I sit down and get up from a sitting position. When I walk, the knee feels stiff. I walked some today with my knee brace, and I did my physical therapy exercises. Today was the first time I could actually completely straighten my knee, so I think that’s a good sign.
Day 6 After Meniscus Surgery: Tuesday – I slept well last night. My knee pain is less today, but it’s still stiff. At this point, there’s only a little swelling around the knee. I hope the incisions have healed properly, as my steri-strips are looking pretty ragged!
Day 7 Post Knee Surgery: Wednesday - I removed the steri-strips today, as they were just hanging by a thread. One of the incisions began to bleed. I cleaned both incisions with hydrogen peroxide and placed Band-aids on them. One of the incisions is still a little painful – the one on the “point” of my knee. I see my orthopedic surgeon in the morning for my post-up visit.
Day 8: Post-Op visit with ortho doc - I got good news and bad news today. The good news is that my knee is healing well. The ortho group was surprised that I had so much range of motion. The bad news is that during the knee surgery, the surgeon found a "crater" at the end of my femur, and the meniscus surgery wouldn't address that. The only way to "fix" it is to have knee replacement. I'll discuss that with the doc in four weeks. Ugh. As you can imagine, I'm very disappointed.
Knee Pain - Knee Pain Relief
Knee pain can be very unpleasant. Even if you don't have a lot of pain but have stiffness, your mobility is going to compromised. I've experimented with several different types of knee pain relief over the years, including oral medications, therapies, and devices. I can tell you honestly that the most relief I've found has come from two sources: a knee brace and a cold therapy wrap.
I've tried several different knee braces, ranging from cheap stretchy braces to expensive, complicated models. The best knee brace I've found for my condition is the Donjoy deluxe hinged knee brace. It's comfortable to wear, it's easy to put on and take off, and it provides a lot of stability. The price is right, too. A good knee brace can cost hundreds of dollars, but the Donjoy knee brace I'm using now is priced at under $70. It comes in all sizes, too, so don't worry about your leg being too big. I have large legs, and the first brace I ordered was actually too big, so I had to send it back and exchange it for a smaller size. A brace will help keep your knee joint warm, too, and it provides support from your thigh and calf to help take some of the pressure off your knee.
I think I've already mentioned cold therapy for knee pain relief. If your knees are bothering you, please do yourself a favor and buy a cold therapy system! It's funny, but I've never cared much for cold therapy for my back pain, but for knee pain, it's awesome! The ice cold water seems to numb the pain, and it certainly reduces swelling. Using such a system will have your aching knees feeling better in just fifteen minutes or so - well, at least it did for me. It sure beats using ice packs and bags of frozen veggies!
If your orthopedic doctor has recommended meniscus surgery or some other type of knee surgery arthroscopy, please consider having the procedure done. It’s not bad at all. In fact, the worst part of the entire process for me, by far, was the post-op nausea and vomiting. Of course, your experience won’t be exactly like mine because there are several factors involved. Age, activity level, physical condition, and the extent of your surgery can all play a part in your recovery. Make sure you keep up with the physical therapy exercises suggested by your doctor. To give you some specifics, I’m fifty-four years old, female, and overweight. Two of my friends had the same surgery I had, and they were unable to put any weight at all on their affected legs for three days after surgery. On the other hand, my son-in-law bounced back more quickly from surgery for a torn meniscus. He was a college student at the time and played quarterback for his college football team. He was back on the practice field just two weeks after meniscus surgery!