knee replacement


Dad was a jock.  After dinner, he would take his three daughters onto the baseball fields across the street, and hit pop ups into the air for us to catch.  He played tennis every day into his 83rd year.

When we complained of feeling sick, he would remind us, “You’re good stock.”

In his mind, like cattle we were bred with strong bones and heart.  There was no excuse for poor health.

Mother believed that, too.  The standard directive, if we complained of being under the weather on a school morning would be, “Get up and get dressed.”  We went to school.

Dad and Mother’s heritage of valuing good health is one of the reasons I made it through a medical crisis two years ago.  The nightmare was a ‘perfect storm’ of knee replacement surgery, pandemic induced isolation, and a wrong medication I had been taking as a treatment for anxiety.

I had my first panic attack when I was admitted to Labor and Delivery for my second child’s birth.  The prenatal classes had warned about that, so I wasn’t surprised.  Then, they became more frequent in my 30’s, appearing out of nowhere, when I traveled.  I began reading self help books on the subject.  They didn’t really help.

The people around you can’t tell you’re in misery because the symptoms are invisible.  You feeling like you have to go to the bathroom immediately. Armpits sweat.  Nausea rolls.  There’s no blood spurting.  “What’s the big deal?”  They say unhelpfully.   “Just stop it.”

When we moved to Florida, psychiatric doctors at University of South Florida did a thorough workup and labeled my condition “General Anxiety Disorder.”  They put me on an antidepressant and also Klonopin, to help with the Restless Leg Syndrome I also had.  Kill two birds with one stone.  That was in 2005.

But the anxiety around travel didn’t totally dissipate.   I wanted to enjoy life more.

In the next years, God gave me a gift: psychologist Dr. Mary Ann Frost.   She taught me fresh perspectives on living with my feelings.  Duane would go along on my visits.  As a person living with a person with anxiety, It was helpful for him, too.   Her ideas were practical.  “Buy an ugly cheap chair and sit it in your living room.  Every time you feel sad, you have to sit in that chair to think your sad thoughts.  It’s the only place where you can be sad.”  I got the point.  Experience feelings, but don’t let them be the master.

I chose ‘be healthy’ activities  to help with mood, and was walking, biking, and taking aerobic exercise classes.   Then chronic knee pain, from osteoarthritis, began making it difficult to continue.  In 2020, I had my first major surgery and had my right knee replaced.

I had been taking the Klonopin, for RLS, and mild anxiety, under my primary care doctor’s supervision, for almost 20 years.  Duane never could refill a prescription for me.  “It’s a controlled substance,”  he said.  That meant it was a serious medicine.  I knew it.

The anxiety over those years was never completely out of the picture.  Yet, like the T-shirts, ‘life was good.’  If anyone would ask me, “Are you depressed?” I would say, “Of course not.”  But I did worry about panic attacks, and did have them off and on.  I had sought out Dr. Frost to eliminate that segment of my life completely.  She knew I was on the klonopin but wished I wasn’t.

When I came home from the hospital, Duane quickly realized that the medicines I was given to relieve pain after surgery would not mix with the klonopin.  I had a miserable month; not from post op knee pain, but from drug withdrawal.  I have a new compassion for people who are thrown into jail to go ‘cold turkey.’

I woke up every morning asking Duane to take me to the hospital.

“I want to get hooked up to something to make me feel better,”  I pleaded.

Almost every night, as I sat on the sofa with my surgical knee propped up, I would have the shakes and panic.  This happened during the height of the pandemic.  Psychiatrists’ schedules were packed with patients fighting depression.  I’m not sure how I found or got in to see Dr. Darren Rothschild.  As a physician himself, Duane knew I needed professional help to know how to deal with the klonopin withdrawal.

At my first appointment, I found hope that I could feel better.  Dr. Rothschild was also realistic about the challenge it would be, since my brain had ‘adjusted’ to living on klonopin for so long.  He and Duane worked out a mathematically precise method for cutting back on it, over the next months.

“This will probably take a year,”  he said.  “That morning mental ‘darkness’ you’re feeling is actually the klonopin that’s not helping you anymore.”

I was motivated to be well.  To get my brain health back.  At the same time, I was scared.  I argued:

“I agree I want my brain to be better.  But klonopin has helped me have some control over anxiety.”

“The Klonopin is going to continue to wear down your brain function,”  Dr. Rothschild warned.  “I can give you another, safer medication to try, for dealing with the side effects of going off Klonopin.”

That sounded hopeful.  And there was more help.

“You need to see a psychologist to talk through more strategies for dealing with anxiety.  I have another recommendation:  a psychologist specially trained in desensitization, Dr. Zavrou.”

Whoa.  It seemed like I would be spending hours going to doctors.  However, I would rather do that than face panic by myself.  Duane was supportive, but couldn’t help me, like these specialists.   I made the appointments.

With a new antidepressant, and new medicine for the anxiety, and hours of therapy, over the next months, much of the panic subsided.  It did take almost a year before I was completely off the Klonopin.

“Some people never get off it,”  Dr. Rothschild told me.    He nudges, “Jill, someday I’d like you to believe that peace doesn’t come out of a pill bottle.”

I still take an antidepressant every day, and often consider Dr. Frosts’ words about facing life’s imperfections (‘Choose how to interpret events’).  I choose healthy habits.  I attend church every week and  read the Bible every day.   When I get discouraged beauty cheers me; a walk in nature, listening to classical music (Dad again) or looking through family pictures.   The  doctors taught me:  Get your daily exercise.  No caffeine.  Keep going, even if you’re feeling sick/anxious.

I wrote this because I want my friends and family to know that they’re not alone in the struggle for good health.  Another reason is that I believe the only way I was able to get off a strong medicine like Klonopin was with professional help.  I want to encourage anyone reading this that help is out there; reach out for it.   When I’m feeling weak or going back to old habits, I still hear Dr. Rothschild or Dr. Frost or Dr. Zavrou’s voices.  I sense their calm confidence.   Our health is worth it.

Dad would approve.


Every Christmas my Mother gave each of her daughters a “Choice Gleanings” devotional calendar. I still buy myself one every year, now that she’s in heaven with Jesus.

From January 27: “And I will give you the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places.” Isaiah 45:3 and “For you will light my candle: the LORD my God will enlighten my darkness.” Psalm 18:28 the note added, “… so do not fear dark places child of God, His presence will lighten your darkness and give you strength to go on.” another verse I have meditated on over the years , “When I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me.” Micah 7:8.

Those words resonate with me after knee replacement surgery twelve weeks ago.

My knee is healing quite nicely. Duane and i have been biking with our red recumbent tandem since week four post surgery. I’m walking well although can’t do more than a mile. I’m back at yoga classes.

But after the surgery, what I thought was a mild anxiety disorder ballooned, with help from worry about pain, about not doing enough to heal properly and having some drug reactions that caused me to lose my appetite and ten pounds.

I’d wake up at 5 in the morning, sweating, jittery and crying to Duane for help.

Thankfully, I had a supportive doctor who I was able to get in to see. She did tests and said my health looked fine. I also called my therapist who I had seen in the past for direction and help with travel anxiety. She’s a Christian, and knows I’m a Christian, so when I told her, in tears, that I was worried I was going to hell, she could see I needed medical help.

“Jill, I’ve never seen you like this before,” she said. “I want you to see a psychiatrist to get your medications sorted out.”

The psychiatrist told me that one of the medications I had been taking for years for restless legs, and anxiety, had outlived its’ usefulness, and was the source of much of my problem, when it had combined with other knee medicines. It was time to wean off it.

Easier said than done.

One question my therapist asked, amid all the anxiety, was: “Do I feel safe?”

It’s a good question. I believe what I don’t feel safe about right now is my body. My knee is healing nicely, very well, and yet I still am limited in how much I walk and what I can do. I still remember the pressure the physical therapists put on me to “do everything right or you will not have a good outcome…”

Cutting back on the restless leg medicine solved the morning hysterics. Then as I cut back more, I began having hot flashes and jitteriness during the day or night, every day. It felt like my body was working against me with those general uncomfortable symptoms that some days had me laid out on the sofa. The psychiatrist gave me medicine to take the edge off, but the awareness of being on the cusp of an episode day after day is exhausting.

I was used to having a healthy body, but since December 10, when I had the surgery, I was fighting different body battles each week.

I grew up in a family where physical weakness was “poo poo-ed.”

“You’re healthy stock,” my father would say. He played tennis every day until he was 82. My mother walked daily with a friend. Neither was rarely sick. My mother developed Parkinson’s disease mildly at 65 which didn’t affect her daily life until her late 70’s.

Only in the last 2 years of his life did my father suffer with congestive heart failure, which caused him to lose so much weight he looked like a survivor of a concentration camp. That was when he and my mother had moved here to Clearwater, where my two sisters lived.

Some days we’d walk into their apartment at Regency Oaks and Dad would be sitting up at their small kitchen table eating his cereal, feeling fine. One day I walked in and he was sitting in his recliner, not feeling well at all. He often asked, “When do you think I’m going to go to the doctor and start feeling better?” He was a Dale Carnegie positive thinker. My unspoken response was, sadly, “Dad, you’re not going to be getting better.”

The day that hurt me the most was the day he said, “Just take me out and shoot me.” So unlike my Dad; he rarely complained but I knew the CHF was miserable.

Then the next time I visited, he was sitting in his recliner watching tennis on TV and he turned and said, “We’ll remember these days as the good times.” In my heart my response was, “Oh Dad, you have to be kidding, this is awful seeing you declining and suffering.” Now I laugh to myself that actually he was right: we enjoyed many good times with them in those last years, in spite of his health.

I’m thinking about my dad’s health because I think I’m too thin right now, like him. My appetite is coming back, but with drug withdrawal symptoms I’m not always hungry to eat, but know I should. Then I worry that the stress of being too thin and anxiety is hard on my heart. Duane checked that and it’s fine.

In my frustration and impatience with healing from surgery and overcoming medicine issues, my therapist suggested that maybe God has this time for me to slow down, wait, and work on relaxing.

“You need to adjust your expectations,” she said. “Give yourself six months to heal.” She suggested the “Calm” app when I was feeling anxious. Also, I began setting the iPad beside my bed so I could listen to hymns when I woke in the morning. Duane and I continue to take a walk after supper to listen to a Psalm and pray.

“Get a massage,” was another idea of the therapist, which was a new activity for me.

And Duane has been gently keeping me doing/going while also saying, “I understand.” I love him so much.

My morning devotional thought from March 5 was, “…He gives more of Himself to one person than to all the governments, politics, programs and opinions of this world. So dear believer, take courage and trust your loving Savior to get you through whatever you are facing today. You are a much loved child. Believe it.”

The blind hymn writer Fanny Crosby penned the lyric that followed, “…. Safe in the arms of Jesus, safe on His gentle breast. There by His love o’ershaded, sweetly my soul doth rest.”

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