Hindsight, they say, has 20/20 vision. This is perhaps true, and as I write this I am looking back over almost three months since my replacement. If I gained anything outside of a new ankle it is perspective. “Why did you wait so long before you had your op?” is a common question asked by an impatient family and a number of friends. The truth is I believe in the conventional wisdom of avoiding the surgeon’s knife for as long as possible. I believe it was the right approach, in the end it was my ankle that told me when I was ready.
Following an active sporting life, my horizon grew closer and closer. It was not an obvious thing at first, it was more like a slow creep. At best I could finish a marathon, in pain yes – but finish. At worst a walk from dining room to kitchen became a major decision. Over a protracted period, my life became smaller and the pain more pronounced. I was miserable enough to know when I was ready.
I didn’t want to rush into it, I saw a number of surgeons before I settled on my guy. From the reading, I knew this was going to be a long and finicky process. I looked for the surgeon who I felt best honoured the rigour. I made appointments with a few, I phoned around and in the end settled on an orthopaedic surgeon at the Linksfield Hospital in Johannesburg. Besides glowing recommendations, he was the only one who personally supervised the investigative x-rays. This interested and careful approach in the initial stages told me a lot about his attitude and that act was the clincher for me.
Before we got down to the business of setting a date he made me aware of a few home truths. The success rate, he told me, was around eighty percent. And I will never be able to run again, walk yes – but run, no. Furthermore, there was a possibility that I would not have a replacement but a fusion. The x-rays couldn’t tell the proper story and he wouldn’t know what was possible until he physically got in and assessed the actual damage. “So, upfront I will need your permission. If I can’t do the replacement, I will do a fusion.” He blinked and went on to explain. “I’ll have you on the table, open and anaesthetised. I’m not going to wake you up and get your signature then, let’s get that out of the way now.”
“How long will this ankle last?” I asked, trying to weigh the wisdom of this operation. “Truthfully, we are not really sure, the technology is changing all the time, but I recon you could get about 15 years out of it.”
So there you have it, an eighty percent success rate, a chance that I may have a fused ankle – not a replacement and possible 15 year’s usage. Worth it? Good odds? I will be almost 80 when maybe the ankle wears out… Hell yeah, good odds – let’s do it!