Worn out parts

We’ve been lax about blogging for so long that we’re starting to get messages of concern from readers wondering if we’re ok. We are, but it’s definitely past time to paint the picture of where we are now and what’s happening in our life.

For several years now both Jack and I have been suffering the predictable — but not welcome — physical deterioration that advancing age can bring. Jack’s left knee became so worn down and painful that many of our travel decisions and even shopping trips had to be planned around how far he can walk between resting spots. Gone were our spectacular but arduous hikes that made many of our destinations as thrilling as the beautiful anchorages.

High above the pineapple plantations in Moorea, French Polynesia

For my part, you may remember I injured my back in 2015 in Huahine, French Polynesia. For the past four years I’ve gone through good periods and bad ones where my back would flare up and change my whole attitude toward life. Ocean passages have become torture for me, as are long bus rides, or even retrieving cookware from the bottom cupboard. I’m definitely too young to accept this as the new normal.

Between the two of us, we slowed down so much that eventually we stopped. We’ve been in the same place, parked in a marina, for over a year. This is not the life we imagined, or the one we enjoyed for more than 7 years. We’ve become less and less active, in effect surrendering to aging. Something had to change.

In the beginning of November we flew to Penang, a well-respected “medical tourism” destination and made appointments for both of us to see an orthopedist. For my part, I was assured that with proper physiotherapy my back can be pain free and I can regain my former strength and flexibility. For Jack, the answer was simple and unavoidable: total knee replacement. Remarkably, they could schedule it for two days later. That was a shocker, but we needed to think it through, do some research and financial calculations. Besides, we had flights booked for the end of the week and we’d need to repack for a longer trip.

I spent the next three days in physiotherapy with a wonderful woman who not only released the muscle spasms that cause much of my pain, but also taught me strengthening exercises and reassured me that the stretching she recommended would not reinjure my discs. I’m on the road to recovery, but it will take a long time to rebuild the strength I used to have in my back and to live pain free.

We flew home to Escape Velocity where we tried to compare the out-of-pocket cost of a knee replacement in Malaysia vs. the cost of flying back to the states where Medicare would cover most of the hospital costs but not the flights, car rental, Airbnb, etc. It’s apples to oranges and impossible to reckon. The final decision was based on our assumption that scheduling the surgery in America would probably take weeks, if not months, and here in Malaysia the only scheduling factor is which days of the week the surgeon operates.

In the end we called the hospital and scheduled the surgery for Thursday of the following week which just happened to be Jack’s 70th birthday. By paying a little extra for a private room in the hospital I was allowed to stay with Jack and sleep on a daybed, saving us a few bucks in hotel costs. We packed what we needed for a couple of weeks, flew back to Penang and checked into the hospital on the 20th of November.

The surgeon made sure there’d be no mistaking which knee would be replaced.

All of the nurses and other hospital personnel were wonderful and the hospital is well run and up to date.

Dr. Aaron Lim replaced Jack’s knee in little more than an hour. Later that day he came to check on his work, and the following day Jack started the long road of physical therapy.

After a week in the hospital we moved to a hotel and made daily trips to rehab. Jack made great progress and after another week he could walk without a cane. We moved to another hotel closer to restaurants and part of Jack’s daily exercise became walking to a café or to dinner in the evening. Penang is a food paradise, especially compared to Langkawi.

Finally, twenty-four days after flying to Penang, we returned to Escape Velocity. I was a little worried about whether Jack could get on and off the boat, and if he could continue rehabbing without the supervision and encouragement of the physiotherapist. On the first point, he had no problem. His knee was so bad for so long that he had already figured out workarounds for most movements. This turned out to be a mixed blessing and Jack sometimes needs reminders that he’s got a perfectly functioning knee now that doesn’t require favoring.

Back to my back. After making great progress while I saw the physiotherapist and diligently doing the exercises she suggested, at home my back returned to its new not-normal bad condition. It’s clear I need longer term help to get better. We both do.

So here we are, making progress but much more slowly than we hoped. We’re still in a marina, me unhappily so, Jack, the more zen of us, content for the moment. I still love boat life, but not being in one place for so long. Jack wants to keep on keeping on, whatever that means to him.

We are definitely at a time of re-evaluation. We have to consider what we can do physically, how many more years of active life we can expect, what our priorities are travel-wise, and what our options are from where we are now.

Most options are on the table. Negotiations continue….

13 Comments

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13 Responses to Worn out parts

  1. Carol Gegner

    Oh Marce I’m so glad to hear from you both. I was getting so worried that I messaged you hear and Facebook. Prayers for a full recovery for Jack and much less pain for you. We just returned home from Chicago boat show and got good preparations done for our departure in July. Hope to see you somewhere soon.

  2. Hi Marce and Jack,

    Both Carol and I were part of the clan that was worried where you were and what was happening?

    We were only talking about you both over Christmas as our own cruising departure date closes in and were reflecting on your adventures up the east coast of Australia and across to Indonesia and when we should leave to do the same.

    We are both so glad to hear that you are taking your current health challenges head on and working to eliminate or reduce their impact on your lives.

    We often stop and reflect on how lucky we are to have a wonderful Manta Catamaran (Speakeasy) and the freedom to explore far flung shores but in the same breath say when should be go? There is always another great work project or maybe we should spend another year or two topping up the bank accounts? You have both been an inspiration to go early and work the rest out as you go along.

    We hope to complete a circumnavigation and are looking to you both to show us the way, so Jack keep up the rehab and Marce I have confidence that you can re strengthen you back and find new amazing locations. If not, we know where you live and will be coming to get you :-).

    All the best

    Glen & Carol
    Speakeasy #114

  3. danagreyson

    Marce – really sorry to hear about your health challenges. That sucks! They say getting old isn’t for sissies – especially for those of us who refuse to consider ourselves “old.”

    These decisions are tough.

    We are certainly not stuck on staying in the US either, even though that’s where we are now.

    If there’s any way we can help, besides channeling good energy and virtual hugs, let us know.

  4. lizzie

    Happy to hear all is well if not complex for you both. Though we have never met I have read the blog for years. We have never ventured far on our sailing vessel, choosing to live 23 winters aboard, cruising the coasts of Florida and a brief journey to the Bahamas. We sold it and have moved on to spending last winter on a 23ft McGregor and now a winter tent camping with a kayak and a 12′ rowing skiff. I wish you both many more journeys, both on land and the sea. You both have seemed to make lemonade when given lemons and hoping you continue in whatever way you both deem fit. Peace.

  5. We’d been wondering too! But having taken an unpredicted break from cruising ourselves, I kinda figured it might be one of those little curves that life sometimes throws. Very glad to hear you’re still in there swinging to good effect.

  6. Glad to see a new post from you guys, even one about health problems. I’ll be toasting your adventures when we get back to Melbourne in February.

  7. Bruce Leonard Bly

    Relieved to hear from you and concerned for your continued recovery… as an old person myself I’ve had to recover from both back and knee problems… and my basic strategy is not to try to do things I shouldn’t… which i sometimes violate and almost always pay for… I keep my crutches handy in the kitchen and try to be honest with myself if I need to use them…
    btw, Alan Luckey has had numerous surgeries starting with a knee replacement that went pretty well… of course, being so tall they had to manufacture a replacement at the factory… but the second one lead to a bunch side adventures… first they had him back and found that the crucial pin had not “snapped” into place properly… then there appeared an infection that did not clear with regular antibiotics… then they pulled in him for surgery and found he had two “leaky” heart valves… while all this was going on, he injured his hand and it was taking a long time to heal… but now his heart is better than ever, the infection has been arrested, and his hand is now healing properly…
    I’m sending healing energy to you both and look forward to your safe return, should you choose to do so…
    Namaste
    ßß

  8. Nancy Kershaw

    Wishing you everything good for 2020

  9. Wesley J Smith

    Glad to hear that Jack’s TKR recovery is going well and that your back is on the mend. Being a sailor tied to a dock does not sound like your original goal but I can see how negative health can slow you down, trust me,
    I know. Now that things are looking up it’s time to turn your running light on and head out to more adventure so we on our land yachts may live vicariously.

    Wess

  10. Cindy Balfour

    i totally feel the worn out parts issue. We are home in ATX until Grand #3 arrives late Feb. Then ??? FullCircle is in Ensenada MX being loved on by the helpful guys that come wash her and clean her bottom. Hopefully we have full batteries when we get back. My knees, my back many gripes abound D just Zen’s along…

  11. yes you have right all the best for you in 2020

  12. Diana and Alex

    Dear Marce and Jack, keep writing, because you do it so well. Blogging may be considered kind of last century now, I get it. But it’s a record, a delightful examination of your unorthodox life. Hope Jack’s knee is keeping up with him, that you can tolerate your back pain most days of the week, and that you are not totally thrown by the unexpected turn that 2020 has taken especially where you are now in south-east Asia.
    Diana and Alex x

  13. Liz

    I second Diana’s comments and put out a word of warning to Jack not to over do it on the other knee as you recover and start being more active walking wise. I say this from experience now back on our floating home currently sitting out on The Barrier, waiting for May to go back north to the tropics, spent most of year back in Aus recovering from right knee replacement then went full swing into tramping when we got back to NZ – now my other knee hurts!
    Remedial massage for your back Marce maybe a good option.
    Liz
    Minyga

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