OrthoEdge: Retired ER nurse regains active lifestyle after double knee replacement

Al Neely was on the front line in the ER for 40 years as a Registered Nurse. In the fast-paced environment of a hospital emergency room, Al had to think quickly to assess situations, collaborate with the medical team to provide care, and communicate candidly but compassionately with patients and their families in extremely emotional situations. It was a challenging job that Al loved.

When Al retired at the age of 67 it wasn’t because he didn’t find fulfillment in his job anymore. Over the last few years of his career, pain in his knees and back started to slow him down. He thought that retirement would allow his body to rest and help him recuperate from his years of physically demanding work in the ER. His goal was to be able to resume an active lifestyle and get back to the past times that he enjoyed like golfing and working in his yard.

Pain and inactivity sink into weight gain and depression

Al rested but his knees and back didn’t get better. In fact, they got worse. To manage the pain, he went to physical therapy and found relief from medicine injected into the troublesome joints. He got to the point, however, when the medications didn’t do anything. Daily life was painful as he maneuvered up and down the steps in his house. Al noticed that he spent more time resting than he was being active. His decreased mobility led to weight gain, and then he found himself struggling with depression.

Surgery for this ER nurse was foreign territory

Al held off on having surgery as long as he could, but the time came for him to face the fact that surgery was his only answer. With both his knees and his back causing problems, he decided that it would be best to get his right knee replaced first, to help him recover from back surgery later. As a nurse in the medical field for so long, you would think that undergoing any type of medical treatment would not be a big deal, but for this veteran nurse it was foreign territory.

“It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a nurse and what specialty you were in. When it comes to yourself, you have a lot of doubts,” Al said. “Now it’s you laying on the cart.”

Patient’s experiences guided his choices for surgeon and surgery location

He consulted with Dr. Kyle Swanson at The Orthopaedic and Fracture Clinic (OFC) in Mankato.  Al was very familiar with OFC from his 17 years working in the ER of a Mankato hospital. He even remembers meeting Dr. Swanson on the young doctor’s first day there.

”I’ve always tended to think of The Orthopaedic and Fracture Clinic as top notch in terms of their techniques and their outcomes,” said Al. “I had no qualms about going with Dr. Swanson.”

When it came time to schedule Al’s total knee replacement, Al had the choice to have the surgery in Mankato or at River’s Edge Hospital in St. Peter. He chose River’s Edge, not because he had spent his last seven years of employment there before retirement, but because he knew they could really deliver on patient satisfaction.

Joint Camp at River’s Edge Hospital eases pre-surgery anxieties

Pre-surgery protocol by Al’s healthcare insurance required four months of physical therapy (PT) to gain as much strength as possible to aid recovery. Al did this round of PT at OFC. During this time he also went to River’s Edge Hospital for Joint Camp, an orientation program for surgery patients.

Among the topics addressed at Joint Camp was a discussion about anesthesia. Al had always been hesitant to have surgery with general anesthesia so when he discovered that he had the option of a spinal anesthetic, he felt a whole lot better. Additionally, learning that River’s Edge has a hospitalist on site 24/7 also gave Al comfort and confidence that the hospital staff would be able to react quickly if his post-surgery recovery needed a change in doctor’s orders.

Former nurse is overwhelmed by caring attitude of staff

Going to the hospital as a patient instead of an employee was a new experience for Al. He had relationships with the staff as co-workers, but they didn’t know him as a patient. Overwhelmed by their caring attitude, Al felt that all of the medical staff were cognizant of how their care made a difference in his response to therapies. One Physical Therapist even changed her day off so that she could continue working with Al during his post-surgery recovery. The night nurses were terrific.

“When you’re in the hospital and you’re in pain, everything seems to get worse at night. That’s just the way it is,” said Al. “[The night nurses] were very good at spending time and making sure that everything was done according to your needs and assessing what they had done to make sure that their interactions were appropriate.”

Unexpected setback accelerates second knee replacement

Al was discharged from the hospital and progressing with PT when 2 weeks into his recovery he encountered a very unexpected setback. While walking out to his mailbox with the assistance of a walker, he stepped off the curb and injured his left knee to the point of collapse. Now he needed another knee replacement.

Al had to wait a month before moving forward with a second surgery and he again encountered the pre-surgery protocol of four weeks of PT. This time, it didn’t make sense because of his recent surgery on his other knee. He consulted with The Orthopaedic and Fracture Clinic Physical Therapist, Jon Ellingsworth, who gathered the assessment information that insurance needed to approve the surgery right away.

Recovery means regained mobility and active lifestyle

The care was just as good for Al for his second knee replacement as it was for the first. Now that Al has fully recovered from his knee surgeries, he can manage the steps in his home just fine. He can walk and putter in his yard and go shopping with his wife.

“My knees are doing great!” said Al. “I knew that River’s Edge was the place that would really deliver on patient satisfaction.”