Things started to go wrong one sunny afternoon high up in the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland. I was skiing with friends down an empty slope. It was warm enough to ski in shirtsleeves and the snow was just right. It was ten years ago.
There was little to disappoint up there – the surrounding mountains are the most spectacular in the Alps, dominated by the towering masses of the Eiger and the Jungfrau. The sun was shining from a cobalt sky. The birds were singing. I thought I was fit and healthy and I was having a good time with friends. But there was a little niggle. It felt as though I had pulled a muscle at the top of my left thigh. I couldn’t place the injury and put it down to the spontaneous aches and pains of being nearly sixty.
I was at the back of the group at the time when we came round a good tight bend and there in front of us were two large mounds like ocean rollers stretched across the slope. There is nothing quite like flying through the air on skis in perfect control and landing back on the snow as though you were gently kissing it. My plan evolved in a split second. I would take both bumps in the same jump. As I took off there was a pain in my left thigh but it was too late to do anything. I went up in the air and came straight down from six feet up and landed heavily.
Sitting there, slightly dazed and with snow melting rapidly inside my shirt and down into my trousers I pondered on the meaning of life and how to sustain it. I remember thinking that perhaps skiing as I had known it was over for me. Perhaps it was time to buy a pair of slippers.
Three weeks later I went to see a physiotherapist. I’m guessing now, but if you are reading this it’s likely you may have been through a similar experience. The physio had seen many people like me before. She told me to lie on my back. ‘Can you bend your knee up to your chest?’ I tried and managed to get it half way. ‘I’m sorry to say you’ve got osteoarthritis. I see it all the time.’ What?! Osteoarthritis!!??
Dazed once more and on her recommendation, I make the necessary arrangements and a few weeks later her diagnosis was confirmed by the x-rays. My left hip needed replacing and the right one, although arthritic, could wait a little longer. I should say now that I never had the awful pain people experience when there is no cartilage left to keep the bones apart. Mine was just chronic discomfort that was only partially relieved by Ibuprofen.
Within six months of falling in Switzerland I had a new hip and what a brilliant job it was! Even now, ten years on, I still give thanks to the surgeon.
Now we come to the nitty gritty. What about the future and what is there to look forward to? Two years later and somewhat depressed, I paid another visit to the surgeon. This time it was both knees that were hurting and guess what? ‘Your right knee is completely knackered and the left one is just knackered,’ he said. Neither of them were bad enough to be operated on just then, but he put me down for another visit in twelve months to see how much worse they were likely to be.
Now I know the prognosis for knees is not as good as for hips, so I left the hospital reeling, and limping slightly, and even more depressed than before my visit. I came to the conclusion that like most people of my age, I was gradually falling apart, just like the car I was now climbing into stiffly. Morosely I began browsing on the internet and quite quickly discovered that judicious exercise was paramount in keeping osteoarthritis from getting worse! After experimenting I soon found a way of exercising that suited me. Walking up and down hills and even hardcore trips in the Snowdonia range of North Wales were fine mostly, although any flat walking caused discomfort and I would need to take Ibuprofen for a day or two after mountain walking. One night a week in the gym pumping iron made a marked improvement too with no after aches at all. This combined with my job as a gardener, which of course involves a lot of bending down and lifting heavy lumps of rock etc. Here, once again, walking on the flat for more than a few hundred yards is the only thing to cause discomfort. I say ‘is’ because I have stuck to this regime for nearly four years now. I went to see the surgeon again after the twelve months and this time I was full of beans. He concurred that exercise was the best remedy for holding off the new knee operations for as long as possible, and he added that he wished more people would do the same.
What I was unaware of is that there is a magic substance to help us even more than just exercise and that is – WATER! Once we get over fifty we need to drink much more water anyway. Preferably this should have a Ph value above 7. The stuff out of the tap suffices as it is just over 7 but I now have a water filter that takes it to more than 9. After our mid fifties body water levels can drop by around 15%. This tends to deplete synovial fluid which keeps our joints lubricated.
I guess we all knew not to eat too much citrus but most bottled water is acidic too, so we shouldn’t drink too much of that either. Since I started on this extra regime, I am drinking a litre more water a day than I used to, and have stopped taking Ibuprofen so there is a definite plus because I am no longer munching pain killers as though they were sweeties.
So there we are. The acronym to remember is a simple one – WED.
Drink more Water – up to a litre more a day than you usually do and with a pH of more than 7.
Find a good Exercise regime that suits you. This will keep tendons and muscles strong. Tendons and muscles, remember, are what hold your new hip joints in place so even after hip replacements Exercise is vital. Exercise increases blood flow which services your knee joints and helps to keep them in equilibrium.
And finally, stick to a suitable low acid Diet. I have now learnt to love beetroot, avocado, garlic, asparagus and my favourite night time drink, fresh ginger tea. Processed food and drink, and that includes energy drinks and too much meat, should be kept to a minimum.
Three years ago, aged 66, I took up rock climbing.