Archive Orthopedic Surgery 2017

Lessons Learned From My Time on the Table

Q&A with Ira Kirschenbaum, MD, joint-replacement surgeon turned joint-replacement patient.

Outpatient Surgery Editors


Ira Kirschenbaum, MD

When did you realize you had to get your knee replaced?
´╗┐One day, the throbbing pain wouldn't go away. I speak at conferences a lot, so I'm constantly traveling. You know those people who get rides through the airport? That was me, so I knew it was time. I'm almost 60 years old. That's on the bottom half of the young side for knee replacement surgery, but we're seeing more and more younger patients seeking out the procedure.

What insights did you gain from the patient's perspective?
I showed up at the hospital at 6:45 a.m., entered the OR at 7:30 and was home by 11:00 that morning. Having the procedure done was an absolute game-changer for me. I was surprised by how good I felt for the first 18 hours after surgery. I had no pain at all and could bend my knee perfectly as soon as I got home. That blew me away. The pain came on a few days later, but it never got out of control.

Did the experience change you as a surgeon?
My surgical technique didn't change, but I made significant adjustments to how I interact with patients before surgery. I became excited to improve the pre-op education we provide patients. That's their anti-anxiety pill, and I realized the more information we can provide them, the better off they'll be.

What did you realize during the road to recovery?
I felt really good right away, but I was also worried about stiffness in the joint. When I first returned to work, my energy dropped in the afternoons. Patients used to tell me about what they experienced, but I couldn't fully appreciate what they went through. Now I know, and I'm better able to inform my current patients about what they might experience during the months after surgery.

What do you tell patients now that you've faced what they endure?
The journey of healing is really amazing. It's not a straight, linear experience. There are quite a few ups and downs. During the good times, everything feels great. During the down times, even I, as a surgeon, was getting worried. One of my patients complained that her knee throbbed at night 3 weeks after surgery. I was able to talk about what I went through. I told her, You're going to feel frustrated, but it'll get better. OSM

Dr. Kirschenbaum ( is chairman of the department of orthopaedic surgery at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center in the Bronx, N.Y. Read more about his experiences as a patient at

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