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A new knee

According to the internet – that infallible font of truth and wisdom – approximately 800,000 total knee replacement surgeries are performed in the United States each year. My wife just made that number 800,001.

Getting a new knee isn’t as simple as taking your car into an automotive repair shop where some burly guy uses wrenches and power tools to remove and replace the affected part. Joint replacement surgery involves filling out numerous forms and dealing with all manner of medical personnel. Wrenches and power tools are still part of the picture, though.

My wife did her best to avoid this surgery. She tried all the conservative therapies, including the physical kind and the kind that involved stem cells. We finally had to face the fact that her factory parts had worn out.

When we reported to the surgical center the morning of my wife’s appointment, a receptionist gathered our information, issued my wife a plastic ID bracelet, and escorted us to the waiting area. Numerous other folks who were having procedures similar to my wife’s and their support persons were already there. Those who were about to go under the knife sat staring grimly off into space. Their support persons mostly stared at their phones. I was going to document this with a photo but was too busy Googling “How long does knee replacement surgery take?”

After a long wait, a member of the surgical team ushered us into a small exam room. The first thing she asked for was my wife’s name and birth date.

Shortly after that, an anesthesiologist came to discuss my wife’s anesthesia options, but not before asking for her name and birth date. This same info would be requested multiple times throughout the day. It made me wonder if obtaining a new knee under false pretenses is a thing.

We were visited by a phlebotomist, who drew enough blood from my wife’s arm to satiate several vampires. After that came a visit from a surgical nurse, followed by yet another anesthesia person. I was beginning to think there was a line of random people standing in the hallway who simply wanted to hear my wife recite her name and birth date.

We were finally visited by my wife’s orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Walker. It seems supremely appropriate that the guy who would improve my wife’s ability to walk would have that particular surname.

Dr. Walker exuded an aura of relaxed confidence. Someone who is saying nonverbally “Don’t worry, I got this,” is exactly what you want to see in a person who is about to make a major alteration to your musculoskeletal system.

One of the surgical nurses then came to escort my wife to the operating room. At an intersection in the hallway, the nurse said, “This is the hugs and kisses area. It’s your last chance to give your wife hugs and kisses before her surgery.”

We partook of the area’s designated activity. As I made my way back to the waiting area, I looked over my shoulder and caught a glimpse of my wife hobbling alongside the surgical nurse, the two of them chatting like long-lost chums who were doing some catching up.

I resumed my perch in the waiting area. Its population was greatly reduced from earlier that day. The room was hushed; the murmur of wall-mounted televisions tuned to afternoon variety shows was the main source of sound. Those who waited spent much of their time studying their phones. I Googled “How much does Ellen DeGeneres make per episode?” and discovered it was enough to pay for several knee replacement surgeries.

After an interminable wait – it was actually only a little more than an hour – my phone rang. Dr. Walker said everything had gone swimmingly, and my wife was in recovery.

This state-of-the-art titanium joint means my wife is now officially a bionic woman.

Following two hours in recovery, my wife was taken to a hospital room, and I was finally allowed to see her. She looked pretty good considering the circumstances. Her leg was swaddled in a bandage that would be the envy of an Egyptian mummy.

My wife’s nurses were efficient and attentive, often asking about pain levels. An anesthetic had been injected into a nerve at the front of her thigh, so my wife felt very little discomfort. Thank goodness for modern pharmaceuticals!

The first post-surgical meal consisted of a serving of Jell-O and a packet of animal crackers. My wife said it made her feel like a little girl again, which was fitting because she was on the threshold of a new beginning.

Jerry Nelson

About the Author: Jerry Nelson and his wife, Julie, live in Volga, South Dakota, on the farm Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded in the 1880s. Daily life on that farm provided fodder for a long-running weekly newspaper column, “Dear County Agent Guy,” which became a book of the same name. The book is available at and in bookstores nationwide.

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