If you think surgery is simple – think again

On the 12th of January I went in to have an arthroscopy on my right knee – a minor procedure

On the 12th of January I went in to have an arthroscopy on my right knee – a minor procedure – or so I thought. These last years I had been very active; skiing, cycling, swimming and hiking with occasional recurrent knee pain; it didn’t stop me, so I continued as usual.

Then on New Years Day, we decided to take a five-kilometre hike rather than cycle in a gale-force wind. Little did I know what an effect that hike would have. Within 24 hours my knee blew up like a balloon, twice the size of my other knee. An exercise of any note – even walking – became tough.

I saw an orthopaedic surgeon who already had the results of a previous MRI of the knee, and he indicated the only short-term solution was an arthroscopy to remove bits of cartilage and smooth out a torn area of the meniscus. It seemed pretty straight forward. The expectation was that I would be able to start doing light exercise after several days and then get back to swimming after two weeks.

All seemed fine for the first two days and then I began to experience something: severe pain. This pain was not in the knee joint but my thigh. Along with the pain, severe bruising of the leg became apparent. The surgery involved blowing up a tourniquet placed on the thigh to reduce blood in the knee joint during the surgery.

The pain was like no pain that I had experienced; relenting and most severe at night which made for many sleepless nights, even with the significant use of painkillers. Over the ensuing days, the bruising spread in and around the knee and even into the calf. The surgeon recommended another MRI but thankfully no joint damage was apparent. What I was experiencing was a type of crush syndrome from the compression of my thigh muscles during surgery. What I thought would be a minor nuisance, took on a life of its own.

This whole experience taught me three things:


The situation made me think back to patients that I had seen over the years in private practice and the experiences that they related to me. It’s very easy for health professionals to discount what patients are telling them. I was now living the experiences that many of my patients had related to me. Unless you live through something, you may not appreciate how real it is. I could now empathise with others who were having similar experiences.

Appreciating the Pain-Pleasure Principle

Because of the prescribed medication alcohol was contraindicated and so I abstained from even a glass of wine. Essentially, my whole lifestyle was affected. I was aware of the Pain-Pleasure Principle. The pleasure of having a glass of wine was no unimportant compared to the pain of other complications that alcohol could induce. The avoidance of pain entirely controlled my day-to-day activity. This unexpected adversity was a great learning moment for me.

Every Medical Procedure Has A Risk

Whether surgery or drugs, every medical intervention is fraught with danger. We are all as different on the inside as we are on the outside. What may be a blessing for one person, may be a curse for someone else.

I can remember many years ago my father went in for what should have been routine surgery. During the administration of his anesthetic, his heart developed an arrhythmia and the surgeon cancelled the procedure. It took some time to revive him, but ultimately he was okay.

There is no such thing as simple surgery. Anytime you cut into the body or submit to general anesthesia; you are entering a risk zone. There is some research indicating that a general anesthetic destroys some brain cells and increases the likelihood of dementia. Interestingly, I have no memory before a tonsillectomy at age seven.

While a surgical procedure may be vital, be aware of the risks. In most cases get a second opinion and give yourself greater certainty that you are pursuing the right decision.

Have you had surgery? What happened?

  1. I can sympathise. Back in June I had hip surgery. Medication was given to me for pain that I was allergic to. It was documented but no-one checked. No-one listened to me either. Four days it took them. I was forced out of bed and collapsed. I was treated badly because of it. Developed shingles because of the stress and then DVT. I kept telling them something was wrong but again they didn’t listen and said it was normal .The clot went to my lung. I lost four months of my life for a hip operation and nine months later have now one leg and foot bigger than the other.

    • Fran I really sympathise with you, we are a great pair. I think it’s time surgeons took the time to really listen to us when we tell them that something is wrong, we are usually right when it comes to knowing your own body. I hope your feeling better!

    • Thank you Trish. Yes I am, you too. I don’t think the swelling of the leg will ever go down. I had an appointment last week with the registrar. He was very abrupt and unsympathetic. Intereted in laying blame elsewhere. Doctors really do need to listen to patients.

    • Maybe we need to become a bit more like America and start suing some of these arrogant medical people, then maybe they will take more care and listen and read the charts better.

    • Susan Bell  

      This situation is why I am getting a tattoo. I have noticed Drs. and nurses do not read medical alert bracelets and only briefly look at charts. After my last operation I became horribly allergic to codeine and morphine has no effect at all. The tattoo will be just above my wrist where they cannot miss seeing it, giving my allergy status. When allergic to penicillin I had a wrist band on my wrist, a note above my bed and a note on the case notes, all saying allergy to penicillin. Yes I was given penicillin, went into shock and had to be revived with adrenalin. TRUST NO ONE

  2. Went in for a Hip replacement and during the surgery my hip was “accidentally ” broken … Six months later still in pain and keep being told it takes time to heal … Just had cortisone needle but still no help … Not happy 🙁

  3. Try surgery for cancer….scar from under my right armpit to half way cross my back, bottom part of my lung gone, along with the tumor, and next day they wanted me to get up and walk round the ward…..to them where to go and how to get there…lol….they left me alone…thought I was going to die. Turns out it was benign (whew) and rare. Solitary Fibrous Tumor.

  4. I went in for knee replacement and went into cardiac arrest and they had to abort the op and try again at a later date. You can imagine my fear rocking up a second time but all went well, PHEW!!!,,

    • Jackie I have had both of mine done, and not without problems however if that had happened to me I wouldn’t be brave enough to go back. I so glad all went well.

    • Thanks Trish, they did give me strong medication as soon as I entered the ward, I hadn’t even got changed and into bed!!!!!

  5. This why I always think that people who have cosmetic surgery for vanity’s sake are crazy.

  6. I can also sympathise, I had 2 full knee replacement surgeries within 6 months, although it is almost 12 months since my last surgery I am still in severe pain. I have consulted with my surgeon on 4 occasions, only to be told I was being impatient. Two weeks ago I experienced what I can only explain as an explosion in the back of my knee, when I saw my GP she sent me for an ultrasound because of the extreme swelling and pain, she was looking for a blood clot. Fortunately it was not a clot, however it was a ruptured Bakers Cyst which may have been able to avoid if I had that ultrasound earlier. My advice would be if you suspect something wrong then push for the necessary tests to rule out the nasties.

  7. Wow! How awful for you! I have never heard of this before! As it was being described,I immediately thought DVT! Do Hope all is well now.I am very fortunate never to have needed surgery,but I have a broken foot which hasn’t joined ,and nuts and bolts have been mentioned! It gives me the horrors,because I had a near death experience during a routine colonoscopy.

  8. I had this procedure done 9 mths ago and my pain level was high for the 2nd and 3rd days. By the 3rd day it was much better. I practice daily tai chi and this helped my recovery. I’m grateful hoe the surgery.

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