Billy Connolly unplugged transcript (clone 1341197213)
Billy Connolly unplugged transcript (clone 1341197213)

Go to story details and video

DOCTOR JOHN: This is a story I wish I didn't have to tell... You know what? I had absolutely no idea I was going to end up here about to have major surgery. No idea. I'd inadvertently done something really stupid.

DR GORDIAN FULDE: In spite of all his knowledge, in spite of what he does in real life, he was a fool.

DOCTOR JOHN: I started to sweat, I had pain in the chest. I actually thought that I was going to die.

DR GORDIAN FULDE: Dr John could have died.

DOCTOR JOHN: My close call happened when I was filming a completely different story - a report about my bad knees. I was overweight, didn't do enough exercise and was having trouble walking. I didn't know it then but I had osteoarthritis. 3 million of us have the disease and its spreading fast. How bad is it?

DR DAVID HUNTER: This is the biggest cause of disability to the average person out there. The most disabling condition for the lower limb of any disease that we know of.

DOCTOR JOHN: For knees, weight is a big issue. Every extra kilogram we're carrying increases the force on the knee joint by as much as 4 kilograms. But obesity doesn't explain why osteoarthritis cases are also rising among fit young people.

DR DAVID HUNTER: The group I am really worried about are the young adults. Those people who are involved in contact sports and non-contact sports who are going out and tearing important joint structures. Sports like netball, AFL, rugby league, rugby union and soccer are the common sports where this is happening.

NARDIA MACDONALD: Actually being told that you have osteoarthritis at 24 was just devastating. It's something, I'm like, "I'm not old. What is this?"

DOCTOR JOHN: When Nardia McDonald was diagnosed at 24, her chosen sport was hard on her knees and 10 years ago, she was 45 kilograms heavier. That's when the doctors said, "Nardia, you've got osteoarthritis. "Your game is over." What did you do about it?

NARDIA MACDONALD: I basically, over a period of 12 months, I went from 120kg down to 80 kilos.

DOCTOR JOHN: But every year, for tens of thousands of others, losing weight is not enough. The only way to end the pain is surgery.

PROF MICHAEL NEIL: About 30,000 joint replacements of the knee are done annually and it's rising dramatically. It's probably one of the most common conditions that affects normal people.

DOCTOR JOHN: It's responsible for a lot of time off work and a lot of silent disability. Professor Michael Neil is pioneering a revolutionary new surgical procedure. The bone damaged by osteoarthritis is removed and it's given a metal and plastic crown. Instead of months of recovery and rehab, patients are often walking within hours.Dr Neil looked inside my knee joint with an arthroscopic camera. The cartilage had worn away. But long before the disease gets to this advanced stage, there's a way to find out early on whether you're a candidate for bad knees. It's a simple and fascinating check and it's all in our little finger. When I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis, I was really surprised but I shouldn't have been - 30% to 50% of us carry the gene for it. The only sign I had was the bend in my little finger.

DR DAVID HUNTER: Those nodes indicate you are at five to six times increased risk of developing knee and hip osteoarthritis because of the presence of these little lumps at the end of your fingers. These can happen on any joint in any hand but particularly those at the ends of the fingers. And do suggest you're at much increased risk of developing this disease long-term.

DOCTOR JOHN: So this is where my story takes a bad turn. I'd been diagnosed with osteoarthritis and I was in a lot of pain. But I put off surgery and did what so many others do - I took painkillers instead. Then everything took a turn for the worse. 130,000 people go to hospital every year simply 'cause they muck up their medicines. 10,000 of them actually die. I was almost one of them. I'd been prescribed medications, including codeine, which, for me had serious side effects. Because of my pain, the doctor became a patient. I didn't listen to the warnings that I knew so well. It at all happened so fast and it could have been deadly.

DR GORDIAN FULDE: In a nutshell, a whole chain of events had gone wrong.

DOCTOR JOHN: Then, the hospital treatment I was given caused a severe allergic reaction. I started to sweat, I became like a beetroot, I had pain in the chest.

DR GORDIAN FULDE: He would know instantly, "Oh, shit."

DOCTOR JOHN:I went into anaphylactic shock. I actually thought that I was going to die. Anaphylaxis can kill. I spent a frightening night in emergency.

DR GORDIAN FULDE: Doctors are the worst patients known to man.

DOCTOR JOHN: Two weeks after my scare, I took myself back to hospital and I did what I should have done a long time ago. I asked Professor Neil to give me new knees.

PROF MICHAEL NEIL: It's minimal incision so the recovery's quicker.

DOCTOR JOHN: The procedure took three hours. The results - almost immediate. It felt like only yesterday that I'd been in the emergency ward, worried that my life was going to end. Now I was waking up from a surgery that would change my life for the better. Just a few hours after leaving the operating room, they want me up and out of bed.

NURSE: If you don't mind, I'll have my hand on your bottom and I might give you...

DOCTOR JOHN: Oh, might you!

NURSE: You ready? On 3 - 1, 2, 3.

DOCTOR JOHN: Wow! Before I knew it, I'm walking. Isn't it interesting...we're actually getting back to basics, Learning how to walk again. 'Saturday Night Fever.'

DR DAVID HUNTER: 80% of knee osteoarthritis can be prevented if we adequately address overweight and obesity in our community and we prevent joint injuries from happening. And that will have a huge impact long term of preventing this disease.

DOCTOR JOHN: So where do I stand? I've had my knees repaired, I've bought a bike, I'm exercising, I've lost 7kg in weight and I have no pain. It just goes to show you that if you have osteoarthritis, it's not the end of the world. There's so much that you can do to delay the pain and the disability or to stop it altogether.

More from Sunday Night

He's caught in the middle of an almighty battle between alternative and conventional medicines... But are they healing him? Or killing him?