Doctors in my life…

Healers have been in my inner circle since childhood…my maternal grandmother, Florence Frances who was a nurse at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington DC, would share her country roots by sharing her stories about herbs, food and guidance as medicine. Her stories were prompted by my curious nature and insistence on reading medical text and reference books in our house.

I developed a pattern of acquiring knowledge and then almost immediately would share or apply it, with myself or others. At this stage of my wellness awareness, my young advice first went to my mother who would send me to the store to buy her Pall Mall cigarettes (with a note). It wasn’t the economics that alarmed me, as they were 50¢/pack at the time, but the health implications. I wanted my mother to stop smoking so desperately that I developed an allergic reaction to cigarette smoke.

Sometimes I hid her cigarettes until she threatened me with a spanking and after having a couple of ping-pong paddles break on my behind, I gave the hiding strategy up.

My mother, Fannie Olethia Smith Jones Conrad, confided that she new they were bad for her in the long run, but couldn’t stop…she tried filter versions, homespun hypnosis and the like, but it took years for her to quit when she knew better all along.

My parents were avid supporters of my thirst for information and encouraged me to dream and pursue knowledge as mom and the other family elders answered my questions to the best of their abilities…After fully digesting the World Book and Britannica encyclopedias, which my mother sold along with Avon products, I was marched to the local library at 5 where I got my first library card.

Health and wellness continued to be one of my areas of book focus until I was 8, when I concluded that I fully understood the complexities and nuances presented in the medical school books. I decided I didn’t have the patience to have to wait 20+ years to be proclaimed a holder of the knowledge—a Doctor…I veered off into other areas of book consumption, but remained an alchemist in the health area making test cases of myself and family members…Today I would advise my younger self to stay the course — just broaden the lens.

My father had arthritis, vericose veins and a slight hearing impairment due to an over dosage of aspirin by Army doctors to quiet a job-related shoulder injury. After his first joint replacement, I was determined to adjust my lifestyle to not follow his path on this particular journey…fast forward…

By the time he reach his 80’s, Dad had 3 hip, two shoulder and one knee replacement. At age 47, on September 11, 2001, I had my first knee replacement which became part of a journey of 18 knee surgeries. Thankfully I was guided on most of the knee journeys by Dr. Curtis Kiest, Chief of Orthopedics, Podiatry, Injury and Sports Medicine, Kaiser Permanente San Francisco.

After 10 years of bone-rubbing-bone, several arthroscopic surgeries and a high tibia osteotomy — in the middle of my first knee replacement surgery, I awakened to the sound of hammering and loud rock music…before they put me back to sleep I screamed, “dammit Curt, don’t you have any Jazz?”

The next day, full of vem and vigor, I did sit ups on the hospital room floor and was driving within 10 days…my machismo and ego wouldn’t let me rest, but while I was ready to write a book on “Knee replacements and the Healing Process,” I was silenced within a year with another bone-shaking reality…

My left foot collapsed within a year, requiring several bones to be fused…the book idea went out the window and I continued the journey of structural attention…by 2011, I had my right knee revised once and my left knee required 3 total replacements as the hardware became loose (2007, 2009 and 2011). The standard process of a total knee replacement (TKA) includes hot glue, which in 2007 and 2009 created micro fractures in my bone and ultimately loosened my hardware. In 2011, with special hardware that had nearly 13 inch shafts held in the tibia and femur with tantalum mesh. This process used NO hot glue and 90 days of no weight bearing paid off as the left knee has been stable ever since. NOTE: the right knee has been stable since the revision of 2005.

I returned to live on the east coast in 2014 to marry the love of my life whom I had known since the early 90's. While Carol began her professional career as a dancer, she was now a board-certified family medicine doctor and a specialist in Mind, Body Medicine….into our marriage came my structural journeys…in 2015 my left foot had deteriorated to a point where the ankle needed replacement. I was blessed to meet internationally acclaimed Dr. David Pedowitz of the Rothman Institute, in Philadelphia.

The recovery was far slower than predicted and included a journey with a rheumatologist. The question to answer was had my osteoarthritis now been joined by one of the forms of rheumatoid arthritis? The prescribed medication compromised my immune system and by Thanksgiving, I was hospitalized with pneumonia. I ended 2015 with commitment to no rheumatologic medications. I sought to rely on increasing my self-care, to bring my health care into balance.

In May of 2016, while visiting a Philly gas station, a car ran over my left foot…fortunately there was only soft tissue damage, but in August I was on my knee roller in a church parking lot and fell while picking up a backpack.

The net result of the fall was some of the screws from the 2003 fusion were broken and the prosthetics, which were expertly installed by Dr. Pedowitz, were smashed and ruined.

A 21st century surgical approach to repair was crafted by Dr. Pedowitz and his colleagues, which was centered on a fusion with a custom implant…

The implant was to replace the old hardware and be filled with crushed bone from my pelvis and femur, cadaver bone and stem cells, then crowned with a titanium shaft that would anchor it through my tibia…

…giving thanks for the blessings of modern technology, old school love & compassion, I am on the mend with a charge of no weight bearing on my left foot for 90 days, and I now have two goals:

  1. To dance with my wife, Dr. Carol Penn, on her birthday this December.
  2. To schedule vacations vs. surgeries as we go forward (NOTE: This goal was co-created with my wife).

Keep your eyes on the prize and know that a doctor in your life can be life saving and your spirit must be willing to overcome your ego…In this way you can make the changes to course-correct your health journeys.

Hug A Mug Of Joy!

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