What’s the Real Question?

I had knee replacement surgery a week ago. I tore my left ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) 28 years ago, had experimental surgery to replace it 27 years ago–it seemed like a great idea at the time–and the repair failed at least 15 years ago. So I’ve been walking around without an ACL for a very long time. I’ve been bicycling, dancing, and weight training for all these years. I only stopped skiing when I tore the other ACL and repaired that one.

But, being overweight and then having vertigo these last 2.5 years has taken quite a toll on my poor knee. The last few years I’ve had what Mark refers to as a “lube job.” I’ve had lubrication injections into my arthritic knee. They worked until last fall. (For those of you wondering, Synvisc did not work for me. Euflexxa did work for me.)

I shopped around for an orthopedic surgeon, found one and decided that June 20 was the day. I had a pre-op appointment a couple of weeks ago, and here is the question that stumped me:

How many flights of stairs can you climb?

Well, I have an arthritic knee. I’m in tremendous pain because it’s two weeks before surgery, and I’m no longer allowed to take anything that works for the pain. But, even more importantly, I have vertigo. I don’t do stairs. Not unless I can help it. Because if I go up, which isn’t so bad, I have to come back down! Which is horrible. The stairs don’t stay put. Well, if I’m having a good day, they do. But if I’m having a bad day, the stairs move. They waver. They squiggle left, they waver to the right. They dolphin-kick at me. This is what I see with oscillopsia.

The nice PT person is waiting for an answer, so I ask a question of my own, “What are you really asking? I have vertigo and I don’t like stairs. Why are you asking me about stairs?”

“I need to know how much stamina you have.”

Ooh. I can answer that. “For physical activity, I work out with my trainer for an hour a day, 5 days a week. I take 2 45-minute dance classes. When my trainer is not available, I ride the bike for half an hour. Is that enough information?”

Now we have a meeting of the minds. We have a little laugh, and I tell her I can walk for an hour or two, dragging my poor leg. I can stand still for more than an hour, because I can clench my glut’s and hold my hip flexors. “Wanna see?” I am so proud of my ability to stand straight and still. No, she doesn’t want to. Well, she’ll get to see me in the hospital during recovery.

She needs to know my stamina to know whether I will need to go to a rehab hospital, post surgery. The answer is most likely, no. (I have Amy Winehouse in my head, singing.)

We do things like this all the time, asking surrogate questions. For our adaptable lives, consider asking the real question.

If Ms. PT had asked me, “How much stamina do you have?” I would have said this, “I can give a keynote standing up for 60-75 minutes and then I’m pretty tired, because I use my glut’s and hip flexors the entire time. It’s easier for me to work out with my trainer for an hour because I warm up for half an hour first and I keep moving. On the other hand, a 45-minute dance class wears me out because it’s so vestibularly challenging.”

That would have provided her a lot more information than “How many stairs can you climb?”

Surrogate questions make sense to the questioner. But they don’t always make sense to the listener. Before you ask a question, make sure it’s the one you want to ask.

1 thought on “What’s the Real Question?”

  1. Pingback: Five Blogs – 28 June 2012 « 5blogs

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