New Parts for Our Aging Bodies

Just like our cars, appliances, and other electronics, parts wear out and need to be replaced. People are no different as the wear and tear on our bodies often mean time for new parts-- although these do not come with warranties.

Even if we didn’t run marathons, we’ve climbed thousands of stairs, hills or mountains and walked miles either for our own good health, pleasure or chasing kids and grandkids. We know because some of us have a record of how many steps we take thanks in part to Fitbit and other health-oriented devices.

Each of us has also done squats in exercise class, danced or done Zumba, walked under limbo poles at parties, swum thousands of laps, and sometimes bent low in outhouses on exotic trips. And though we may not need new knees, we could be due for a shoulder or hip replacement, new lenses for our eyes that have become clouded, or hearing aids for ears that no longer pick up all sounds. And we’re sure we’re leaving out other body parts that wear down. This takes us down the plastic surgery path, and that’s purely elective. For now, we’ll stick with what’s critical to our physical well-being and daily-life activities.

In fact, these days it’s hard to find anyone we know who isn’t having something replaced or is aware of someone who is. The reason we know all this is that more and more of our conversations focus on who’s getting which new part, where it’s being done, who’s doing it, what kind of rehab is planned and how long the rehabilitation is supposed to take. 

Everybody is different in terms of what’s needed and recovery, but not everybody knows how to ask all the necessary questions and get the essential answers. We take pride in our ability to do both as long-time reporters. We’re here to help by offering you a list of 28 key questions to ask your medical experts. Don’t be shy, fire away until you feel satisfied. Take copious notes or tape record these conversations. There are only so many times we all want to go through these experiences, which aren’t a walk in the park, although we hope with good physical therapy you’re able to get up and go again.

We suggest you print and cut these out and take them along with you as you make the rounds. You can never be too careful!


  1. How do you know it’s time for surgery and replacement rather than just getting another cortisone shot, going for physical therapy, taking a new medicine, getting a massage or laying off certain exercises? Whom do you ask—your primary care physician?
  2. Does it help to read about your problem on certain medical sites such as Web MD, Harvard Health Letter or Mayo Clinic Health Letter? Or is it better only to get your information from a trustworthy live medical source?
  3. When pain persists, what doctor do you consult after your primary care—an orthopedist, neurologist, or a specialist in knees, shoulders, hips?
  4. What tests are likely—MRI, CAT scan, bone density test, and so on?
  5. If surgery is suggested, do you always go for a second or third opinion?
  6. What are the different surgery options for knee, hip or shoulder replacement? Which is most apropos as it relates to me?
  7. What are the various prosthetic materials available? Which would you choose if you were having this procedure?
  8. What credentials are key for a surgeon doing any replacement? Do you also ask which medical school, internship or residency, fellowship and so on or do those not make a difference in success? And should you ask, “How many of these procedures do you perform daily or weekly?”
  9. Is it better to go for someone with gray hair or someone younger who may be more up on the latest trends?
  10. If you’re getting a new hip, knee or shoulder, or having cataract surgery, for example, is it bad if you only get one part replaced if you have two? Is the other likely to need fixing, too?
  11. If another knee or shoulder needs to be replaced, how long should you wait to do the second replacement after the first?
  12. Do most orthopedists accept Medicare and if not, should you switch to one who does?
  13. What’s more important, the surgeon or hospital facility’s credentials? Or do both equally matter?
  14. How do you check out a hospital—by low rate of infection, number of residents, connection with a major medical center or school or listing in a S. News-type report of best hospitals nationwide?
  15. What can I do before the surgery to insure a better outcome?
  16. When is it OK to go for a same-day procedure and when is an overnight stay critical and for how many days is typical?
  17. What about anesthesia—should you always try to opt for a block rather than general?
  18. Do you stop taking all meds before your procedure or just certain ones?
  19. How much pain is typical once the main anesthesia wears off, and what types of meds and for how many days are typical for different procedures? For example, how long is someone usually on oxycodone for, even if there’s no average or typical amount?
  20. What are the side effects of some of these strong medicines, or what should you be aware of besides addiction? Constipation, becoming drowsy, not sleeping well?
  21. What type of rehab is available and most common these days—in hospital, at a rehab facility for an extended stay, in your home, as an out-patient or what combination?
  22. Do you want a physical therapist or an occupational therapist or does it not make a difference?
  23. The saying goes, “No pain, no gain,” so how much work do you have to do on your own at home to get a good result? And how low will it take to heal? Perform exercises three times a day, for example?
  24. Are there some general rules about using a cane for X days or months, using a walker, not climbing stairs, not driving, not sitting too long and moving every hour or so?
  25. When can you usually resume “normal” activities such as more walking, exercising, playing tennis or golf, intimacy?
  26. Any glitches that it’s wise to be aware of that might persist after six months or so?
  27. Any advice about getting a second opinion if problems persist?
  28. Finally, ask if there are “warranties” on these parts. For example, will a new knee wear out after X years and necessitate another replacement? How about a new hip?


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