Nancy Saulnier’s four-decade career as a physical therapist put her face-to-face with many who benefited from total joint replacements. But when it came to her own excruciating knee pain — the result of osteoarthritis exacerbated by childhood polio — the Holliston resident kept putting off the surgery. Even though she knew in her heart the surgery would improve her life and restore the pleasure she found in everyday activities such as walking and shopping, she hesitated.
Two weeks after retiring in early 2012, Nancy finally had her right knee replaced at MetroWest Medical Center. The operation put her in good company, with more than 700,000 Americans undergoing total knee replacement surgery each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I wasn’t doing a lot of walking around, because it hurt,” recalls Nancy, now 70 and a grandmother of three. “It hurt to go to the grocery store and even to stand at the counter and cook dinner. My doctor told me I had absolutely no cartilage left in my knee, so I was grinding bone on bone.”
“[The pain] was intensely frustrating,” she adds, “and you don’t really realize what you’ve given up until you have it back.”
Nancy was impressed by MetroWest’s coordinated approach to total joint replacement. She and husband Paul — who would serve as her “coach” in the days after surgery — were encouraged to attend a class before the operation detailing the procedure and offering tips on how to prepare their home to make life easier and safer in the weeks ahead.
“We learned strengthening exercises to do prior to surgery and to do things like remove throw rugs around the house so I wouldn’t fall — things you don’t even think about,” she says. “We could also ask any questions we wanted. It was very comforting.”
Patients’ Camaraderie Eases Recovery
Nancy’s surgery, performed by MetroWest orthopedic surgeon Neil Herman, M.D., was synchronized with other patients also having total knee replacements at the medical center. For three days afterward, the group went through inpatient physical therapy together, cheering each other on during exercises designed to promote strength and flexibility in their new joints and help them conquer milestones such as climbing stairs.
“There was something about knowing we weren’t going through this alone that was comforting,” Nancy says. “We came home having done a lot of exercises and knowing how to continue them at home.”
After several weeks of outpatient physical therapy, Nancy was thrilled to discover she no longer suffered from any knee pain. She was able to share her joy at a “reunion” of MetroWest knee replacement patients held at the hospital a couple of months later.
“It was lots of fun to see everyone up on their feet with no canes, and with big smiles on their faces,” she says. “Once I realized I had no pain, I said to myself, ‘You fool, you should have done this sooner.’ You have to go through it to realize you’re crazy not to do this.”