At 74, Al Burnett moves with the easy confidence of a man on the go.
It wasn't always so. Time was when Burnett suffered from pain so excruciating tears sometimes welled in his eyes. Pain medication barely touched it. "The pain was staggering," he says. "It ruled me."
What a difference a few months - and life-altering orthopedic surgery - can make.
Burnett, who owns Factotum Automotive in Cle Elum and operates a newspaper distributorship business, has worked in regional newspaper distribution for more than half a century. The work was physical. His body paid the price.
For Burnett, pain had been a too familiar companion for years.
At 35, he had back surgery at Virginia Mason. "It was only supposed to last five years," he says. "It lasted 37." In 2010, he had a second back surgery at Virginia Mason. A year later, a third one. He needed those surgeries, he says. Still, he found himself struggling with increasing pain. "I had staggering pain across the belt line, right across the hips," he says. "I was still thinking it was the back. That pain never went away."
Life has a way of bringing us to our knees. So does pain, figuratively if not literally.
One day while loading paper racks at the Cle Elum Safeway, Burnett felt his right hip "lock up" as it sometimes did. For 45 minutes, he stood frozen in place, daring only enough movement to call his son Kurtis on his cell phone. "The pain was terrible," he says. "As long as I stood in one place I could handle it."
Several years earlier, Burnett had X-rays taken for his back. At the time, Burnett says, the technician remarked that his right hip was "destroyed." Burnett doesn't remember quite how it happened but he ended up with the X-rays. Early this year, Burnett shared them with Dr. Paul Schmitt, his personal physician at KVH Family Medicine - Cle Elum. Schmitt immediately referred him to KVH Orthopedics, a clinic operated by Kittitas Valley Healthcare.
In February, Burnett had surgery at KVH. Four days later he was released to Selah Convalescent Center, choosing to do his initial recovery there rather than impose on his adult children. Six weeks after coming home, he was driving.
It wasn't long before Burnett, who owns an extensive collection of vehicles including a beloved 1963 fire engine red Ford Fairlane two door with fuzzy dice hanging from the mirror and an engine with plenty of get-up-and-go, was back working on cars. "There's not much I can't do," says Burnett who will eventually probably schedule another operating room date. "I saw the X-rays after he did the surgery. I said, 'Why can't I have all new parts?' The right hip looks so nice," Burnett says, flashing a pleased smile. "The left hip? Well, that's another story."