Living with Osteoarthritis: Joint Replacements, Joint Pain and Faith

Pattye Snyder Health Guide



    I used to think I was a little different from many people, but as I "mature" (i.e. get older), I find that I'm terminally average, and that's fine with me.


    My first osteoarthritis surgery was for a joint replacement at the base of my big toe about 12 years ago. At the time, I thought "well, we got THAT fixed -- won't have anymore surgeries." Little did I know that I would have four more joint replacement surgeries with at least three more in my "forecast." Instead of thinking "poor me," I'm incredibly grateful that these surgeries are possible and I can go on to live a reasonably active life. In fact with my second hip, the surgeon told me that it should last 35 years -- it may outlive me!

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    With Osteoarthritis, You Have to Think Positive

    I've found that anything can happen and you have to want something badly enough and be willing to work toward it. My passions for Africa and Mt. Kilimanjaro have been "there" for a long time. I DID set a goal to return for my 65th birthday. It is a dream of mine that is actually coming true after a lot of hard work (not only on my part, but with the help of my family and some awesome friends).


    Many of the challenges I've faced so far have been met with solutions from knowledgeable people. After having a steel plate put in my right ankle, I discovered that it hurt to wear tennis shoes -- but my local shoe repairman, on hearing my problem, immediately sewed the left side of the tongue to the shoe so it won't shift -- thus taking the pressure off my ankle! He also put in a low pad in my left shoe on the recommendation of my orthopedist to make my legs closer to the same length! With a reduction in my little limp, my back is also benefiting.


    I've returned to taking Meloxicam (Mobic), one of the few prescriptions that has helped me (when the company developed a generic for it a couple of years ago, I found no benefit and told my doctor I'd rather tolerate the pain. She now insists I take the original.).


    With the help of a trainer at our workout facility, I'm increasing my water exercising by walking in the Lazy River, a "path" in the pool that decreases the amount of stress on your joints and increases the effectiveness of your exercise (a bonus: 1/2 mile in the water is supposed to be the same as 1 mile on land!). I'm also returning to "bicycling" in the warm water arthritis pool. I wear a floatbelt, stay vertical, and slowly do a bicycling movement for a certain period of time. Land-based exercise focuses on working on my balance and strengthening my legs as well as upper body. I know that bicycling is good, but I can't tolerate a regular bike due to my hip replacements. We've found though, I can get much of the same benefits on the recumbent bikes.


    For those thinking "but I can't afford a trainer," because of my limited funds, my trainer and I work out only in 30-minute segments once a week. Then I have plenty of new things to do for the week until we meet again. She seldom repeats an exercise so I have a mental library of things I can do (and will never get bored).


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    As my osteoarthritis progresses (remember, I STILL don't know why they call it "progress"), I will be facing more surgeries after I return from Africa. I have developed arthritic spurs in my lower back (Gee, I used to love horseback riding, and spurs had a whole different meaning then!).

    At this point, I'm unwilling to have surgery for that problem, but both knees will probably have to be replaced. I hate to tie my shoes because of the grinding/crunching knee pain many are familiar with! My right shoulder is also very involved and will need repair. I also am slated for cataract surgery in the Fall.

    Wow, at this rate, I sound almost like a car that has too much mileage and is on its proverbial last leg!


    Despite the looming need for more replacement surgery, I WILL be succeeding with my immediate goals. As mentioned before, I've found that you have to really want it badly enough, but also be realistic. If I could, I would take the seven days to do the entire climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro. It's not so much a tough climb, but LONG and up to a very high altitude (over 19,000 feet), so it takes frequent overnight stays for the body to acclimate. I've accepted that I'm not up to this. I AM being realistic, but I have modified what I can and WILL do. I've found a guide, Philip, who understands my challenges and has a specially made jeep to take me up part of the way!!!


    All the while, I've learned a great deal in preparing for this mission -- my work in Africa. I've been studying the culture and learning a new language (Swahili). With all that, I've found there always has to be a "way." I'm realistic about my physical limitations, but I've also become very good about asking for help. At times (particularly when my osteoarthritis is being extra nasty), I've been really frustrated. But I've also learned to rethink, regroup, ask questions, and find new solutions.


    So, I DO BELIEVE. I know that things will work out, and in spite of a lot of pain at times, I am in a position to fulfill my dreams and help the people of Tanzania. For me, osteoarthritis is a diagnosis, NOT a life sentence!!

Published On: April 14, 2008