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A nagging knee injury made working as a chef increasingly difficult

  • Michael Schmidtbauer charts his progress on a wall with his doctor standing by

    While culinary expertise is the main qualification to be a chef, it certainly isn't the only one. For example, you're also required to work long hours on your feet. In fact, that's what led Mike Schmidtbauer, 58, to Abbott Northwestern Hospital's Joint Replacement Center.

    A nagging knee injury made working as a chef increasingly difficult for Schmidtbauer. Then his knee buckled three times in one day, and he learned that he would be unable to return to work until his knee was repaired.

    Joint replacement surgery has long been done at Abbott Northwestern, but the Joint Replacement Center has adopted a new approach. It aims to provide thorough preparation for patients and families; aggressive pain management; early rehabilitation; and responsive, compassionate care-all focused on helping patients recover as quickly as possible.

    For Schmidtbauer, that translated to being "treated like a king. I've been hospitalized before, and nothing compares to the care I received at Abbott Northwestern," he says. It began with the presurgery class he attended with his wife. "They walked us through the procedure and told us what to expect," Schmidtbauer says. His wife was encouraged to spend the first night at the hospital with him and was involved in his recovery as his coach.

    "We involve the family so they understand what challenges the patient will face and will feel confident about their ability to help care for the patient at home," says Scott Anseth, MD, the orthopedic surgeon who operated on Schmidtbauer. Support and encouragement also came from fellow patients. Group therapy is an important part of the program, Anseth says. "The patients share their experiences and go through it as a team." Anseth notes that instead of treating patients like they are sick, the Joint Replacement Center treats patients "more like injured athletes. They get up and get dressed every day, have meals together and participate in therapy together."

    As part of their patient-centered approach, Joint Replacement Center surgeons and anesthesiologists have collaborated to find the best combination of pain management strategies. "Our philosophy is that if you can control the pain early on, you can start therapy and rehabilitation sooner-and that leads to a better outcome and quicker recovery," Anseth says. "We are committed to making the surgery as close to pain-free as possible."

    Like many patients with joint problems, Schmidtbauer was accustomed to pain. "The pain I experienced after surgery was nothing compared to the pain I was in before surgery," he says. A special catheter was inserted near his knee that delivered pain medicine directly to the joint. This catheter remained in place throughout his hospital stay. After three weeks, the pain was minimal, and by six weeks, Schmidtbauer felt fully recovered.

    The new approach is making a difference in patients' recoveries. Before the Joint Replacement Center opened, 50 percent of patients were sent to skilled nursing facilities after discharge from the hospital. That rate has decreased to 20 to 25 percent of patients

    "That's a huge step," Anseth says. "If our patients can go directly home after the hospital, it's clearly beneficial for them. The reason I do joint replacement surgery is that it is a life-changing surgery. For someone like Mike, who is missing work because of pain, it allows him to get a good portion of his life back. Others in their 70s and 80s think their best years are behind them-all of a sudden, they are traveling and getting back out into the community with family and friends."