Thoughts on Replacing Knees

Monday and Tuesday mornings see me walking into the Orthopaedic clinic in Sungai Buloh to find a swirling sea of patients. 

Some sit in their wheelchairs fiddling with their smartphones; a bored little boy with his arm in a sling wiggles his fingers under his plaster cast to scratch. An older lady inches toward the registration counter -tightly  gripping her walking frame.

But the wrinkled face of a woman in her 70s catches my eye. She sits  near the entrance to my clinic room.  

As I walk closer, a smile spreads on her face. It’s Madam Chee*.

dr putra vatakal, orthopaedic surgery, kuala lumpur, selangor, malaysia, knee replacement, knee arthritis, total knee replacement, quill orthopaedic

I toss my work-bag on the examination couch and turn to see her standing at the door, her sparkling eyes almost completely covered up by the creases in her skin.  

My heart warms to see this once bow-legged woman cross the room gracefully and settle into the chair next to me. 

“How are you, Madam Chee?”, I find myself asking – though I can plainly see the answer on her face. She lifts her trouser legs to let me run my hands along the scars on both her knees. 

I keep my eyes on her face as I go through the drill – no local warmth.. minimal swelling.. good range of movement.. strong pulses.

Madam Chee’s nephew materialises beside her. Madam Chee speaks hardly any English or Malay, so he answers for her, “Dia jalan banyak, Doctor. Satu kampung sudah pusing.” 

(Translation: “She walks a lot, Doc. Around the whole village.”)

We look over her latest knee x-rays, and then she shows me some exercises she is doing to strengthen the muscles around her replaced knees. A few minutes later, Madam Chee and her nephew are walking out the door. 

I stand watching them for a moment – frozen in silence.  Then I blink, a chime dings and the voices of the nurses calling the patients outside come roaring back into my ears. The crazy day resumes. 

But for that one little moment, when I watched Madam Chee walk on knees that had given up on her, time stood still. 

And every sacrifice made to give her knees a second life was worth it.  

Originally written on 12 September 2020 in Sungai Buloh Hospital, Selangor

Note: Names have been changed to ensure confidentiality