I have been going to Legalweek in New York every year since 2007. I am finally forced to accept that I will not make it there this year. The short version is that I was due to have a hip replaced in November, the date being chosen (to the extent that you can choose these things) very much with Legalweek in mind. With that interval, I should have been able not only to attend Legalweek but to walk around there without pain for the first time in years.
The operation was pulled at the last minute because a test which should have been done had not been done. As things stand, I do not have the new date, and nor do I know the outcome of the test in question. Put as shortly as possible a) I don’t want to miss an operation date if one is offered, b) I don’t fancy telling travel insurers that I have both a pending operation and a test whose result I cannot describe, and c) nine hours on a plane followed by a week of rushing around Manhattan doesn’t seem to make much sense in the circumstances.
That’s the nutshell version. The rest is of interest only to those who want to know about osteoarthritis or would like a copybook example of how the best-laid plans can fall to pieces.
Most people think (I certainly did) that arthritis is simply a generalised name for the aches and pains of old age. Osteoarthritis is the wearing away of joint cartilage which, in simple terms, is the padding between joints and bones. Although its incidence increases with age, it is not the exclusive preserve of the very old – I am not old in the sense conventionally connected with arthritis. In my case it affects one hip and may have been caused by a lot of running in my youth and by having one leg slightly shorter than the other.
I first noticed it at about four years ago at one of those events at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas where one can easily walk 12 miles in a day. A lot of the pain is referred elsewhere, from the lower back down to the ankle, which makes it hard to point at when the doctor says “show me where it hurts”. It is perhaps not surprising that it took three years and three doctors before one of them sent me off for an x-ray. That confirmed that the cartilage was almost completely worn away, so that bone rubs on bone whenever I walk (and it hurts with varying degrees of intensity even if I am not walking – lying in bed at night, for example).
It is not a given that you will be sent for an operation even after that conclusion is reached. Resourcing and budgetary implications encourage the deferral of elective surgery (“elective” in this context meaning that you won’t die for want of it), and one is not encouraged to elect for surgery if pain-killers and other strategies can alleviate the symptoms. When the pain starts impeding work, sleep and leisure, and you tire of shovelling Naproxen into yourself every day, you have some bureaucratic hurdles to surmount to get into the queue. Once you reach that stage, the NHS has a government-imposed window of 18 weeks to get the job done. Failure to accept an offered date can send you back to the beginning.
I was offered a date range whose last date was in the middle of Legalweek and whose earliest date was in mid-November. By strange chance, my wife Mary Ann was offered a knee replacement also in mid-November. Legalweek apart, it would have made sense to get her back on her feet while I could look after her (and the dog), and to defer my operation. That, however, would foul up going to Legalweek, so we decided to have the operations ten days apart in November. We postponed our annual January holiday in Cornwall and booked a carer to look after us both.
Mary Ann’s operation was successful and the carer arrived on the day of mine. I got as far as the hospital bed, and awaited the trolley. The anaesthetist came to do his last checks; it became clear that something bothered him, and I was sent limping away to await an appointment for the test which should have been done in advance. I have since had the relevant test, but some old test results are being excavated from the records system. I have no idea what the outcome will be, and I don’t fancy trying to explain it all to a travel insurer in answer to the standard question about existing medical conditions.
Legalweek matters to me, and is a major investment and a big logistical exercise. I usually take one or two of my sons, and I do a lot of video interviews with their technical support – we did 23 of those last year. I usually moderate or take part in a panel. I catch up with a lot of people I know, and meet new ones, all of which is good for business. This year, I have a new business model to promote, and Legalweek is the perfect place to do it.
A busy week – moderating a panel and setting up for interviews in past years
Legalweek is a busy place, though, always involving a great deal of brisk walking between hotels with impenetrable floor numbering and slow elevators. Last year, I was inadvertently rude to someone, unable to stop and be polite because the gap between meetings didn’t even allow me to stop and properly say “Hello” as I whizzed by. I would not be doing much whizzing this year. No “I’ll just race round the exhibit floors before the next meeting”. No reckoning that I can get from a meeting at the Sheraton to one at the Warwick in six minutes. It’s a pain.
The good thing about this particular affliction is that it is fixable with a bit of skilled surgery. Mary Ann bought some new walking boots today, less than three months after having half a knee replaced. The biggest benefit, however, is not the thought that she can soon go hiking, but that more everyday things – popping to the shops, wandering round a museum, getting something from the attic – no longer require a benefit analysis. You just do them. I look forward to being able to do the same.
And I look forward to Legalweek 2021.