Getting Injured, and Getting Care, During a Pandemic

May 20, 2020 12:00 PM

Tripping on an uneven sidewalk did more than hurt Sharon Kinnunen’s knee. It brought worry as she feared seeking care at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak

Woman standing in front of classic car
Although initially afraid to seek medical attention during the pandemic, Sharon Kinnunen, 63, felt relief after getting care at Michigan Medicine’s Bone and Joint Acute Injury Clinic at the Brighton Center for Specialty Care. Photo courtesy of Kinnunen.

The COVID-19 pandemic has kept Sharon Kinnunen from hugging her son and seven grandkids, but it didn’t stop her from getting great care after tripping on an uneven sidewalk and injuring her right knee.

Kinnunen, 63, of Webberville, Mich., was outside because her son, John, and his kids were taking a walk. Since they live within two blocks of each other, they always text Kinnunen to invite her outside and wave hello from the front porch, a social distancing tradition since COVID-19 arrived in Michigan.

“I can't hold them and snuggle up, and the youngest is a year old and changing daily, but I'll go outside and wave from the porch and chitchat for a few minutes, and then they'll continue on their walk,” Kinnunen says.

But this time was different.

“I was talking to them and turned to get the trash cans at the end of the driveway,” she explains. An uneven portion of the sidewalk tripped her and sent her flying forward. “I went down, hard, straight on my knee.”

Her son, 42, broke the 6-foot distance rule and helped her get up. She hobbled into the house to take a seat, but as the evening progressed, her knee cap felt tight and she couldn’t put any weight on it. “I really thought it was broken,” says Kinnunen says.

And then the worry crept in.

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Action conquers COVID fears

“I remember thinking, ‘I'm going to need to be seen because my knee hurts so badly.’ And I was contemplating back and forth if I was going to go into the hospital because I really didn’t want to go there because of the COVID-19 situation,” she says. “I know they work hard to keep it clean but I was worried.”

The next morning she texted her boss to report that she couldn’t work that day. Kinnunen, fortuitously, is a Michigan Medicine call center agent for the orthopaedics team, the same type of specialist she needed to see. Her boss reminded her that Michigan Medicine opened its new Bone and Joint Acute Injury Clinic at Brighton Center for Specialty Care that week to limit exposure to contagious COVID-19 patients in the emergency room.

SEE ALSO: Keeping Our Patients Safe During COVID-19

The provisional clinic is staffed by orthopaedic surgeons, physicians, musculoskeletal nursing and physician assistants, physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists, anesthesiologists and radiology specialists, with access to an outpatient surgery center and musculoskeletal imaging.

Not only do they see patients by appointment and on a walk-in basis for knee injuries like Kinnunen’s, but they help those who have simple fractures, sprains or strains, or acute severe back or neck pain. 

Kinnunen felt relief after she arrived and the staff screened her for COVID, which comforted her, wiping out her initial fears of visiting. When she passed that screening, they pushed her in a wheelchair to an information desk, where she was asked a few questions and was immediately seen.

“They were so, so nice. From the clerk who checked me in and explained the clinic’s protocol, to the check-out staff and the security guard who made sure I got to my car safely, I can't say enough about all of them,” she says. “I told my boss, it was such a great experience. I didn't have to wait a long time. And that was even before they knew I worked for the U,” her nickname for the University of Michigan.

SEE ALSO: Seeking Medical Care During COVID-19

Jace Bullard, M.D., orthopaedic chief resident, ordered her X-ray and consulted with David Walton, M.D., the orthopaedic surgeon, who had previously treated Kinnunen about six months earlier for an unrelated foot issue. Dr. Bullard discussed her X-ray and shared good news: her knee was not broken nor had she torn any ligaments. She didn’t even have a bruise. She did, however, exacerbate her knee arthritis.

“In what was already a really painful joint, she flared that up and made it even more painful,” Walton explains.

Healthy knee ahead

Kinnunen was also reminded that she needs knee replacement surgery since her right knee is bone on bone, and absent of protective cartilage, which may have been another reason behind her intense pain.

“She’s pretty severe,” Walton says. “I call her condition stage 4 or that she has end stage degenerative changes in her knee.”

Her experience with the Bone and Joint Acute Injury Clinic at Brighton Center for Specialty Care made her less apprehensive about it.

“I was taken care of so properly and so professionally. Even though we're all dealing with a stressful situation right now with the coronavirus, you would have never known anything was different. They took great care of me and it's all right there and close.”

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