RAFairman's Blog

An RAF Airman's Blog

“Be Kind To Your Knees…You’ll Miss Them When They’re Gone…”

Today is my first hospital appointment to get my knee sorted.

It’s sort of dogged me all through my RAF career. And it’s time it was sorted out properly.

I don’t think they’ll really be able to completely fix it, but with a bit of luck the major problem I have with it will be looked at.

And it all started back in 1988 when I torn a ligament (Posterior Cruciate if you are interested) when I was away on my “outward bounds” course as part of my training.  A classic way of doing it too. Imagine the monkey enclosure at the zoo. Now imagine car tyres suspended from a rope. Imagine me moving from one tyre to the next. Me putting my foot into the tyre and then transferring my weight – and then physics getting all involved and there being vectors and moments and angles and all sorts and my legs do the splits but my knee is stuck at an odd angle inside the tyre and pop – it goes off at 45 degrees in a direction that the great designer of knees had never, ever intended.

After some rehab and physio it slowly repaired itself, but has never been the same – it aching and being, well, a pain.  Back in the 1989 I actually had a minor exploratory operation in which the surgeon scraped some of the cartilage.

Over the next few years the knee settled down, but then all of a sudden, playing football one day – a similar thing happened – I went to turn, and the knee goes again. Same problem – Posterior Cruciate – and back to square one again…more physio, more rehab…indeed to assist the knee I even had steroid injections into the knee (and THAT’S not nice at all – particularly when the doctor doing it describes, to a student, in great detail just how he is doing it and what exctly is happening to the needle (the words “punch through the cartilage” will haunt me to my grave – urgh….).

Again, for a while, it settled down, and then about 2 years ago the knee “went” again – twice in almost as many months.  The first one was slipping on some ice, and the second one was, well, alcohol induced, as I was a bit…wobbly…and slipped off the curb of the pavement. D’oh.

But the thing was I was sick of it constantly going and worse…much worse…I started to get knee pain when going up stairs.  It hurt when going down stairs. Kneeling down was occasionally met with a sharp stabbing pain just to the right of my knee-cap. You know in that fleshy hole between the bony cap and the bony side of the knee.

Eventually I could actually press into that point and literally push the “thing” that was popping out back in. Not pleasant. It doesn’t hurt unless I am moving the knee – but it can be uncomfortable.

So I went BACK to the doctor again. And here is where it got complicated.

Yes said RAF doctor. You need to get that sorted. Probably have a Meniscus problem which has been brought on by repeated strains to the ligament – it’s basically been stretched over the years and isn’t pulling things together as tightly as they should be. Anyway – he reffered me off to the a MIAC clinic – a special military clinic where NHS doctors come in to assess military patients with a view to getting them into the system as quickly as possible – and get them THROUGH the system as quickly as possible. A good idea since military hospitals disappeared back in the 90’s.

So I had an MRI scan which confirmed that I had a Meniscal Tear and a cyst there called a “Plica” which is the thing that I can feel popping out when I kneel down.

But here was the rub. To be eligible for the “fast track” military surgery I needed to have more than 4 years left in the RAF. But at that time I only had two. And I needed to do my promotion courses to get a contract extension.  But as the original RAF doctor had “downgraded” me I couldn’t go on the promotion course.

Bugger.  Oh an explanation of downgrading is when you have either a temporary or permanent medical condition which will effect where and how you can work.  Essentially it is to protect you from going on tour when you are injured – it is a sort of “get out of gaol free” card – stops you having to march if you have a long term leg injury – or having to stand on the gate on guard for hours of you have a bad back. Some people with less integrity use them to get out of things – but most often a downgrading can really hold you back – as in my case.

You see, the place where I was to do my promotion course were scared of people getting even more injured on their course – it doesn’t look good – so even though I was able to run and was fit and was only really downgraded in an administrative way – I was still unable to do the course.

So I was in a Catch-22 situation.  I couldn’t get the surgery I needed to get rid of the downgrading because I didn’t have enough time in the RAF, and without extra time in the RAF I wouldn’t be able to get that surgery! I was buggered.

But then the MIAC had an idea – if I had intense remedial work and proved I could pass an RAF Fitness Test – then they would remove the downgrading and I’d be able to go on the course. It wouldn’t be a fix – it’d be a get around – but one that would allow me to get my extension of service and then I’d be able to come back for the sugery.

So I went into the Regional Rehabilitation Unit at RAF Halton – for three weeks intense physio and training. It was a very hard three weeks – in which we basically did phys for 6 hours a day – but it meant that I got specialised and personalised physio treatment – and could then I passed a fitness test.

I left the RRU and went off to do my promotion course and got my extension of service (I am now in the RAF until 2017!) but here was the rub. I kept up the intense exercise from the RRU and doing the exercises and my knee didn’t hurt as much. I sort of got back to normal – normal enough to actually run a half marathon last year.

But then…and there’s always a then isn’t there…it started to hurt when I was kneeling down to change Lily’s nappy. It started to ache as I walked upstairs in the mess after a trip to the gym. It was starting all over again.

So I made the decision. Time to get it properly sorted. I know what’s wrong with it. They know what’s wrong with it…and now it’s time to accept that I am going to have to go backwards with my physical condition and fitness for a short while in order to get rid of the problem, that without it, just ins’t going to go away.

So here I am today. About to get out of bed and head off to Selly Oak hospital to see the RAF’s specialist orthopaedic surgeon who, I hope, will be able to say – “yes! I can fix you and I’ll get you in in four weeks and we’ll have the operation and you’ll be all fixed.” Let’s hope it is that simple…

I’ll keep you all informed of course.

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4 thoughts on ““Be Kind To Your Knees…You’ll Miss Them When They’re Gone…”

  1. Beset of wishes – my knees are arthritic and in bad shape and my meniscus is also going. I’ve had hylgan injections and cortisone injections and turned down the arthroscopy you sound like you had. I’m hoping that bariatric surgery will enable me to control the pain with just pain pills (which I’m taking now but which are far from 100% effective!) and anti-inflammatories.

  2. A warm hello to you Alex
    Found you on Twitter; got your tweet and question so will use this to respond and paint you a picture of what it was like, what happened and what it’s like today. Thanks for following; I enjoy writing so can keep you on my regular contact list if you like to read.
    Born in Barnsley; former Leeds Rifleman; served in the Ulster Campaign. 1973-1985 following the murderous death of my elder brother Knut, all over who he sold a bolt of double damask linen to (he was in apprenticeship for weaving) It was a wicked tragedy. My first exposure to hate and violence.

    Mornings we did High Street for folks going to work, etc. Afternoons duty minding the security of British schoolchildren leaving school for the day. A grateful local brought me and me comrades tea&scones as she did for months. Sweet lady she was, liked me, sometimes I would escort her to Mass for her safety.

    One awful day changed everything (again); the usual ‘normality’ (as normal as Ulster could be in those days) then the huge bang. School had let out early at 1530hrs; at 1534hrs the bomb went off. We took formation, me and Doogie went in for survivors; pulled out 3 tots and their mum; me took one hit in the right ankle, still dragging the eldest lad and then 2 in the lumbar spine. Lost consciousness but me Guardian Angel was watching over. My Nordic/Anglo heritage puts me in a 8% male group that have six lumbar vertebrae; shot went in at a downward angle, fracturing two facet joints, ruptured the spinal process and blew out the disk – but did not damage the spinal cord.
    The good side; all but one of the boys are still alive, lost one brother to leukaemia and I am godfather to three of their four children. We have a close-knit relation and visit; they truly adore Toronto.
    one surgical cure was completely successful; my right ankle was completely rebuilt and the only time it bothers me is on one of those wicked “Great Lakes Winter days” (Toronto is on Lake Ontario, one of five of the “Great Lakes” of southern Ontario. The cold/damp bothers the metal so I tape the joint up. I’m well invested in good foot-wear!
    The spine has been the bain of my life but I refuse to capitulate to the evil that created it. Seven surgical procedures later: I have Harrington Rods, then a ‘cage’, adjustments made; was forced to give up my gym workouts, then soccer, cricket and anything that compressed or rotated the spinal process. One thing I can do and do well is with my dog; (Irish Red Setter, the breeder I use is in Burton-on-Trent.) I work him in the fields (Toronto is blessed to have a series of natural undisturbed ravines, fields, etc plus I have property 2 hours north of the city with a cottage on a lake and about 100hectares of forest. I may not be able to lift weights, run, play footy but I can still shoot straight! (Only use the gun at the cottage – they’d lock me up with it here in the city!!) I did kitchen duty as my ‘tow the line’ obligation to my mates; one day the chef was dreadfully ill and I found myself challenged to prepare Sunday Supper for 350 of my fellows. That was the other night that everything changed cos after that the arrangement was made that once a month “Chef Kjell, the Viking from Hell” cooked up Sunday supper. So after the injury, I had a career option and took the opportunity. Alas, the prognosis with the spinal trauma have continued to negate; the best thing I did was choose to be declared legally disabled; I’m ENABLED by this because the sods didn’t kill me and gave me insights and skill sets with dealing with overwhelming odds. The pain really blows but I have compassionate doctors. I’m also a priority patient with Sunnybrook Spinal Trauma; it is the regional ‘Vets hospital and has a magnificent care facility for our aging brave men and women who served in WWII and other campaigns (we lost our last WWI vet last year) I don’t live there but go visit with the dog – they love it! This year I retained my ownership and title of the business but can no longer flog out 12 hours in production. So like me 84 yr old Mum who is a Director, we have comfortable chairs and a couch in each office; we run the business, show up to work, (Mumsie periodically puts on the apron and hat, goes out, stirs a pot, checks quality, has a few laughs, shares some technique with one of our two interns, cooks up lunch for everyone; me does the finance, ordering, formulary documentation, artwork, printing … I swore an Oath to the Crown once and another to meself when it was all over to create a life for meself so I continue to contribute to a better world.

    Yesterday I went back in for another surgical assessment and another round of steroidal injections. I’m 56 yrs old, healthy fit youthful and good bod but it’s because me spine can’t take weight-bearing or rotation. I had 8 bad falls in the last 5 weeks, one of them so severe I lost the use of my right hand for four days. The electric wheelchair is charged and ready but I’d rather walk thank you. It was a gift; I use it sometimes but….
    Once a Q’Own, always a Q’Own; I find comfort in that by continuing to contribute to the commerce of this blessèd land, our peaceful way of life and remembering you lads in active service in our private spiritual life. I have shown up with me Mum at 152 of the 153 Repatriations of our Bravest who were brought home from Afghanistan; the Crown Coroners Office is just at the end of our street; Mumsie worked as an English/French/Norwegian translator during some of the worst of the London Blitz, surviving a direct hit one night. She’s also a breast cancer survivor and fiesty as hell. I guess I have good genes! My friend, we had a very special moment in June of this year when HRH Elizabeth II was here in Toronto; we had a wonderful ‘reunion’ because She went to Sunday Services at the Cathedral; the Choir School is one of our customers; because we both have Service records, were graciously given access to the event. It was quite remarkable; after Mass during the walk-about, HRH remembered my mum like the day She walked into my room in hospital and met us for the first time and immediately began speaking French with us; Brilliant our Sovereign remembered Mumsie’s first language is French, not English. Her remark ” We seem to have got you back on your feet again my Canadian friend” was a highly emotional moment for me (All this is relevant history I will not document now on this blog); the local tely stations covered it all but quite frankly I work on a daily basis to leave Ulster in the past and was too emotional inside to speak, declining comment. I have no shame to shed a tear but our family expresses such emotion in private, not on public display.

    Enough for now; reading your posts you seem like a very reasonable man; Mum has read your postings and reminds me to tell you she keeps you close to her heart in our most private devotional life. She writes notes and cards to those on active duty in various theatres. This year she was on the Reviewing Stand during Remembrance Day Parade, now one of the elderly female Personnel. Church Services are on the preceding Sunday to Nov 11 but things basically shut down here on Nov 11; we are, a quietly patriotic lot. (case-in-point; at the 2010 Winter Olympics, I think we scared the USA with the frenzied level of patriotism and unification as we rose to the top of the podium – they’re simply not used to what we’re capable of as a nation!) There is a growing movement to turn the entire day into a Bank Holiday; school attendance requisite but Assembly is called, shops are closed – it’s not a day to go buy a new car.My Father plays the Great Highland Pipes with the local Constabulary and has the privilege to intone the Lament at the Sunrise Service at Prospect Park Cenotaph. It is a day that uniquely presents the true Canadian Identity and our valour. There is a special bond watching my now aged father in his Royal Tartan kilt, jewels, etc., , his own beautiful pipes and all his finest regalia I cannot describe, but I’m sure you understand.

    Perhaps in time we shall come to realize we have a new friend in the UK and you have two in Canada; we also follow the Norwegians working training the police forces as well as our Canadian and British comrades. Haha- last year we sent the lads a fun photo of my Tyrone (me dog) that made the rounds and gave everyone a good laugh in his ‘elf suit’. They all got a ‘brew’ <a.k.a Molson Canadian lager on either Christmas Eve or New Year Eve it was striking to see during the newscast that somebody had blown the picture up and wrote 'mascot' on the top. The phone rang off the hook that night!

    Good luck with your training; each day is 'money in the bank' and I don't mean £. I look back now over those 43 years (we came to Canada in 1961; at 14 my Father enlisted me as a Royal Canadian Sea Cadet and I excelled at seamanship and quickly rose to top rank, having found a niche I truly loved) and have not one single regret – even during the darkest of days. My first hour of duty was a visit to RCSCC Ark Royal by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, our Patron, while He was on tour, serving as His personal escort/guard and presenting him with our Ship's Company Colours and a token gift. My family came from Québec, the UK and Norway for the event. I did my duty and made my Ship's Company proud and shine forth.

    Enough. I also have my 'own' radical self side!
    I am always at your service,
    Kjell Hansen (Kjell as in 'chell" – Norwegian male name meaning 'protector' like unto ancient Viking armour worn about the head)

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