Patient stories: my ACL surgery

Surgery can be incredibly daunting for anyone — especially if it’s your very first experience of being in hospital. You may be nervous about what to expect, what a general anaesthetic feels like and more. This is perfectly normal and understandable.

Our Marketing Manager here at King Edward VII’s Hospital, Barney Baxendale, recently underwent ACL knee surgery and has shared his experience with us to help give you an insight into what it’s like.

From his accident and admission to post-op recovery, here’s his story in his own words.

The innocuous incident

I’ve been playing football for 26 years, so I’ve had my fair share of injuries. I gave up football when my son Monty was born, but I’ve started playing a bit again as he’s got older.

My knee injury happened mid-game. Reaching to intercept a pass, I heard a dreaded popping sound as my foot returned to earth. I hobbled off as the game continued around me.

For such a seemingly harmless and simple accident, it has made me regret my football comeback ever since.

I had in fact torn my Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) and meniscus. And my knee swelled up. From that moment on, my knee pain and discomfort just continued.

The morning after the incident

The pain I experienced the next morning was excruciating. I couldn’t sleep so tried to creep out of bed so as not to disturb my wife, but I got only as far as the wall before I had to cry for help. Literally.

Calling on Private Medical Insurance

With a one year old son at home and an hour-long commute to work, I could not afford to wait to be seen by a GP who would need to refer me, waiting further for an appointment with a consultant who would most likely order scans, and so on.

I know I’m extremely privileged to have been able to call on Private Medical Insurance (PMI). It’s one of the perks of my job and I am extremely thankful to have had the option.

I was able to get a consultation with top Orthopaedic Surgeon Mr Sean Curry (pictured) in the famous Harley Street medical district within days of my first phone call.

Three days later I was back with him reviewing the results of an MRI scan which confirmed the worst possible news: knee arthroscopy, ACL reconstruction and nine months of rehab.

Although it wasn’t the news I was hoping for, I had an answer and a plan. I was able to book surgery with Mr Curry within three weeks of my second appointment. Thank you, PMI.

Choosing a Private Hospital for Surgery

Let’s face it, no one wants to go to hospital, so we tend not to think about it until we really need to. For me, choosing a place to have surgery was very straightforward because I work at one of the best hospitals in London. And considering my role here, what better way to really understand what my hospital has to offer than to be a patient myself?

Preparing for surgery

On the morning of my surgery, I woke to the sound of twittering birds (my iPhone alarm) at 5.30am and sank a pint of water. It’s not often I wake up before my son, but I was under strict instructions:

“Do not have anything to eat after 24:00. You may still drink water up until 05:30.”

I was nervous.

Savouring the last sip I ordered an Uber to take me to King Edward VII’s Hospital, a 20 minute drive into Marylebone at that time of the morning. My mouth instantly dried up like the Sahara.

The morning of the surgery

It was a slightly strange feeling heading to work as a patient. When I arrived it was still dark and Beaumont Street was very quiet. It was 6.45am. I was greeted at the door by a friendly man who’s worked here for 15 years. He took my bag and accompanied me to reception where he registered me, found my room number and then showed me to my room.

He explained the facilities. Your own bathroom, wardrobe, TV, air-conditioning. He left saying a nurse would be along soon.

It was 7am and I sat down in my chair to take things in. I felt incredibly privileged and lucky to be able to take a moment to myself in this calm and peaceful environment, in complete silence. My procedure was due to begin at 8am.

Meeting my nurse

The nurse who introduced herself was called Ana. Other patients were always raving about Ana, so I was secretly pleased she’d be looking after me.

As she checked my blood pressure and heart rate she talked me through what was going to happen, putting me at ease about everything and making me feel relaxed. She also gave me an attractive pair of Deep Vein Thrombosis socks to wear for the duration of my stay!

Ana is a real treasure for the hospital. I was relieved to know that she’d be looking after me later that evening.

Meeting the surgical team

Next on my list of visitors was the anaesthetist. With a firm handshake and confirmation of the medical history I had submitted, I was signing consent forms to allow him to use his experience to help me feel zero pain during my surgery.

Then Mr Curry arrived to talk me through the procedure again, explaining exactly what he was going to do to my knee. He really was exceptional throughout. I always felt I had choices and he explained everything to me clearly and in a way I could understand. I knew I was in safe hands with him and felt quite serene about the whole thing.

And that was before any form of pain relief medication!

The anaesthesia experience

I’ve had local anaesthetic before.

Like most people I had an idea in my mind of what general anaesthetic would be like, but I was still intrigued, and a little nervous, to experience it.

Ana escorted me to the anaesthesia room and handed me over to two lovely theatre nurses. I really felt like I was being looked after at every step, never on my own.

Lying back as the anaesthetist inserted the cannula and prepared the magic potion, one of the nurses, Tim, noticed I was looking worried and gave my arm a reassuring rub.

I asked the Anaesthetist how long it normally takes to kick in. “About 10-15 seconds usually”, he said.

I was expecting to have a few minutes of feeling warm and fuzzy and had been worried that I might say something embarrassing!

Sure enough, once I felt the anaesthetic take effect, all I saw was the light above my head going spotty and then I was asleep.

The surgery

Probably the strangest thing about my whole experience is that I have absolutely no recollection of what happened to me in the two hours I spent in theatre.

I find it truly amazing that in the blink of an eye you can be on a different bed in a different room with a heavily bandaged leg following intricate knee surgery.

Mr Curry had taken tendons from my hamstring and reconstructed my torn ACL so that in the future, following some diligent physio rehabilitation, it will be as strong as it ever was.

Coming round

I remember making some involuntary noises.

I knew where I was, I knew what had happened, but I hadn’t quite remembered how to speak. Plus I had a mask over my face.

There was a nurse at my side who was administering pain relief, and ready to offer me small sips of ice cold water. My throat was quite sore from the tube that had been placed there during surgery. I looked at the clock, it was 10.30am. I’d been in recovery for 30 mins already.

The knee was quite sore so I took as much pain relief as was on offer. The theatre manager George came in to say hello. My memory of our conversation is a little hazy because of the anaesthetic but I was pleased to see a familiar face. I looked at the clock and it was 11am. I closed my eyes for what I thought was a few seconds and when I opened them the clock said 11.30am.

It all felt a bit surreal, but I was amazed how comfortable I also felt thanks to being in such attentive hands. It’s been a tough couple of years starting a new job and becoming a dad for the first time so I was rather enjoying being waited on hand and foot!

Settling into my room

As I arrived back to my room that’s when the nausea hit me quite hard.

I started sweating and went as white as the sheets. I had a sick bowl in my hand and was being wiped down with a cool flannel. It was at this very moment that Matron came to see me. Matron has worked at the Hospital for 34 years and so has seen a thing or two.

“I’ll come back later Barney”, she said, with an expression that reassured me this was totally normal.

After a few minutes, the feeling passed and I was adjusting my air-conditioning and having a laugh with my nurse Jenneth. She was lovely and made sure I had everything I needed before leaving me to rest.

I felt like the only patient in the hospital, especially because I hadn’t seen any other patients up to this point. It made me feel relaxed and happy that I would be given all the attention I needed.

The first meal after anaesthesia

I like my food, and King Edward VII’s Hospital is famous for it, so I had been looking forward to perusing the menu.

I’d been given the light lunch version which was normally for day case procedures, so I waited for a member of the catering team to come along and mentioned I’d been given the wrong menu.

Needless to say, I felt a little embarrassed that when I received the full lunch menu, the nausea came racing back and I went off lunch altogether.

Your first meal after anaesthetic has to be very light as you simply won’t have an appetite. I ordered an omelette and only managed to eat half which is completely unheard of for me.

Time flies when you’re having fun

I was lucky enough to fly business class once or twice with my former employer. I remember the first time I experienced the front of the plane. I was so excited and pressed every button on my seat console. Hot towel, glass of champagne AND orange juice, anything that was on offer I gratefully received.

I’m not comparing my hospital bed to that of an aeroplane, but the feeling I had was similar. I didn’t want to fall asleep because I didn’t want to miss out. This was my opportunity to lie completely still, read a book, watch a film, eat great food.

I certainly wasn’t bored and enjoyed my visits from colleagues including the head chef Mark who had written a little note on my lunch plate. A nice touch.

Carefully consider the pain relief when offered

After my experience with lunch, I was a bit hesitant when it came to my next round of painkillers and opted out. They’d made feel a bit sick and I wanted to get my appetite back before dinner.

My leg was pretty swollen still, and as the pain got worse and became less bearable, I pressed my nurse call button and nurse Jenneth returned. She was right all along.

And happily, there was still enough time to recover my appetite before the Norwegian Prawn Salad! And if not, the salted caramel ice cream would definitely slip down a treat.

Watching the football with cheese and biscuits

I don’t have Sky Sports at home, so that was something else I was looking forward to during my stay. The Tuesday evening Championship game was Norwich vs Aston Villa, so I ordered cheese and biscuits with my dinner and put them aside to enjoy during the game. Chef Mark makes his own chutney which was really very good.

Although I was missing my son and my wife, I was not feeling at all sorry for myself thanks to the great care and creature comforts I was getting.

One-to-one care

Despite drinking plenty of water and hot drinks throughout the day, I hadn’t managed to go to the loo. A good job really as I didn’t know how I was going to get there anyway. Nurse Jenneth came to see me and was really supportive. Although I had to stay in bed, it was important to try, so I could avoid needing a catheter.

I was seen by the same nurse throughout the day. She gave me my medication and generally checked up on me to make sure I was okay, and then I was handed back over to Ana for the night shift.

I felt like I was having one-to-one nursing care and I can’t tell you how appreciative I was to see both their faces each time they popped in. Everyone who enters your room knocks first, whether it’s a nurse or one of the catering team coming to top up your water.

I felt very well looked after, while also having the right time and space to relax and recover.

Ana had also read my notes and noticed I’d been feeling nauseous with the pain relief I was taking, so she spoke to the doctors on duty and they came up with a different medication. I really hadn’t expected that so it came as a lovely surprise right before it was time to settle in for the evening.

The hospital at night

Much like the hospital during the day, the hospital at night is a very peaceful place. I still felt like I was the only patient in the building. As the evening drew on and the lights went down Ana made many visits back to my room to make absolutely sure I’d get a good night’s rest and had the correct medication. For the first time all day I actually felt no pain in my knee, and I was very relaxed and comfortable.

I thought I would be more nervous about spending the night in hospital, but my room had quickly become familiar and the peace, quiet and calm surroundings helped me to feel at home.

I managed to get a bit of sleep at first, but my first check-up of the night was at 2am. After that I couldn’t get back to sleep and normally that would really bother me, but I felt totally comfortable and almost enjoyed the experience. That may have been something to do with the drugs!

Breakfast of champignons

I managed to doze off again at around 4am before the ward got busier again at around 6am. I had my morning coffee and watched BBC News while waiting for the breakfast I had ordered the day before.

Freshly scrambled eggs, grilled bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes and fresh toast. With a fresh fruit salad on the side. I’d been sending photos of all my food to the family chat group on WhatsApp, and they all thought I was getting room service at a posh hotel!

When you’re staying in hospital, the only two things I think you can look forward to are visitors and food, so it made a real difference to me to be served such high-quality meals.

The first few tentative steps

Before they let you leave hospital, you have to prove you’re not going to hurt yourself. This means a visit from the physio. Up until this point, I had barely moved a muscle. My heavily bandaged leg was painful to even think about moving it, but Davide, my physio, assured me that it would be okay and I could even bear weight on it.

Sure enough, with a bit of mind over matter and under close supervision, I was able to slide off the bed and stand up, performing a foot stomp as instructed to loosen up the stiffness.

Then it was out into the ward to practise walking with crutches and I was amazed by how little it hurt. I don’t quite know what I was expecting, but the pain was much like what I had experienced before surgery, so I was able to move along quite freely.

Then it was up and down the stairs and back to the room. Maybe it was the competitive sportsman in me but I tried not to look too pleased with myself, even though I really was.

I don’t actually want to go home

I’ve read this statement in many a patient testimonial before and always wondered how this could be?

Now I completely understand the sentiment. I felt so safe and well looked after. I had people telling me what to do, bringing me medication when I needed it, bringing me refreshments all day. I had got used to the high life.

If I leave that means facing the real world, and the first day of nine months recovery.

When it was time to leave I got myself dressed, packed my bag and called for a porter to assist. There were so many people I wanted to thank for taking such great care of me, and I know my care was exceptional, so if you’re reading this and can remember this patient, thank you!

Back home

It’s been a week now since I returned home from hospital and I’ve received the King Edward VII’s patient satisfaction survey. As I go through the questions and give my honest answers, I come to this question, “Would you recommend King Edward VII’s to my friends and family?”.

I am reminded of the last time I visited my mum in hospital. She was recovering from bowel surgery. The surgical care she received was absolutely first class, but when I visited her she was in a room with six other people. The patient next door had her family visiting and they were watching a movie with the sound up.

Mum’s first meal when she got back to her bed was a cup of watery mushroom soup.

I only wish I had been able to recommend King Edward VII’s Hospital to my dear mum. If anyone deserves the level of care I experienced then it would be her. It makes me sad to think of her trying to rest when there was such commotion in her room, yet I had been able to enjoy complete peace while eating brie and biscuits.

The reason I have written my story is because my answer to this question is a resounding yes. I would not hesitate to recommend my friends and family to this hospital because I could not imagine the experience being better anywhere else.

More information

Please be aware this is an opinion article, and views expressed are not in any way endorsed or sponsored by King Edward VII’s Hospital.

  • If you are experiencing knee pain, your first step should be to consult your GP (Don’t have a GP?)
  • If you have spoken with your GP and wish to arrange a consultation with a specialist, you can make an appointment online

For more information on procedures, facilities and consultants mentioned within this article, please read: