Hip Replacements

Call me Robo-Man. I’ve got a matching set of these suckers.

Three weeks ago, I went under the knife for my fourth hip replacement surgery in five years. Arthritis was the cause for the first two total hip replacements, faulty equipment was the cause for the subsequent “revision” hip surgeries. Seems that the parts they put in me tend to flake off titanium bits into soft tissue, blood and such. I’ve got very high levels of cobalt chromium in my blood. Heavy metal is fine for listening to, not so much to have coursing through your body. Now it’s up to my kidneys to purify my body to its former temple-like self.

Spo dee oh dee oh! At least I’m on the right side of the soil. I’m very thankful for that.

The good news is that if you get enough hip surgeries, you eventually get a free 12″ Quiznos sub, large beverage and free Blockbuster movie rental. Actually, the good news is that if you undergo the same surgery enough times, your body will get better at rehabilitating itself. Practice, practice, practice!

I’m on the mend, faster than the previous three surgeries, and I’ll soon ease back into society. The Lint Screen has an entire category dedicated to hip replacements, begin the story of surgery #2 here. Here are some closing thoughts about the entire ordeal (that I hopefully will not have to experience for 15-20 years) that you may find helpful should you ever have to go on a surgical vacation.

— It could be the meds or your body’s self preservation, but your very painful experience will be softened in your memory. Rest assured, the pain that you do remember was pretty damn painful if you recall it.

— During this last surgery, I had a catheter inserted when I was under anesthesia. In other surgeries, I did not. Anesthesia causes your body to shut down, but medical science wants you to expel your wastes. So, if you cannot pee on your own after some time, they will insert a catheter post-surgery. This is a pain that you will remember all your days. I was relieved I had a catheter in place when I awoke from surgery, but eventually it must be pulled out. This experience results is another pain that you will remember all your days, along with the pain of trying to pee for hours on end with great difficulty doing so. Enough about #1, let’s talk #2.

— Anesthesia and pain killers also constipate you. It’s a horrible experience to have bodily functions you desperately want to do but cannot. Your body is upset with you (“WHAT THE HELL HAVE YOU DONE TO ME?!), and you’re upset with it (“WHY WON’T YOU DO WHAT YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO DO?!”). It’s going to take awhile to sort this out…

— The term “painkiller” is false advertising. At best, they are “take the edge off my goddamn pain!” pills. These little white wonders also have nice side effects like constipating you. They also can bring about depression (as if you needed medical help to lower your spirits after this ordeal). Yes, you need these pills, they do do some good. But they also do some evil. When you feel you can get off them– do so and downshift to OTC meds.

— And another bad side effects of painkillers is this: they make you itchy. As you can imagine, itching and pain do not mix well.

— Sweats are your friends. Screw fashion. You’re homebound for awhile. Keep loose, baby.

— Try as long as you can to avoid looking at your scar. You will see it eventually, and when you do you’ll know why you hurt so much. You’ll also see why hip surgeries really are a royal pain in the ass.

— Some surgeons use surgical staples to bind the wounds they make. Others use surgical glue with a clear protective cover. Surgical glue is much easier on the body. Surgical staples have to be removed and that’s not fun.

— Physical therapists all have their own style, but for God’s sake do what they tell you to do. Yes, physical therapy hurts, but if you don’t strengthen the surgical area, you could be in for a lifetime of pain and suffering. Do the work now to avoid trouble down the road.

— Your body is not 100% and your mind is nowhere near 100%. Don’t think you can think very well even if you think you are thinking well. You’re on drugs, remember? Rest up, champ. Give your mind and body a break. Neither is up for much of a challenge.

— It’s hard to look cool when you’re ambulating in a walker. Who knew?

— Your cane is your friend.

— Never, ever, ever, ever fall. Be very careful on stairs. You can very easily muck up all the medical science applied to your healing body, and the last place you want to go again is a hospital. Be careful out there!

My final word of advice, avoid surgery if you can, but if you are living in constant pain, well, bite the bullet and get the surgery. Just ask the anesthesiologist for something stronger for pain relief than a bullet to chomp down on during the procedure.

Stay healthy.

Whoopsie daisy–– this one's on the house!

Exactly 10 months after my second hip replacement surgery, the surgeon who performed both operations called me. Believe it or not, he did not call to discuss sports, weather or crock pot recipes.

No, yesterday the good doc called to tell me that the artificial hip joints he’d surgically implanted on both sides of my body were being recalled. DePuy Orthopaedics Inc., the orthopaedics unit of Johnson & Johnson, announced the recall on August 26. The company introduced The ASR XL Acetabular System in 2004, and surgeons worldwide have been putting them into people. In the U.S., it’s estimated 97,000 of the suckers are on the job inside humans.

The problem is that the replacement parts can become loose, may cause bone fractures or produce microscopic metal shavings that inflame muscle tissues and do joints no damn good at all. Studies have found that five years following device implantation, 12-13% needed to be replaced. They call this ‘revision surgery’ but I suspect it hurts as much as ‘real’ surgery. I have a total of 20-some inches of scar tissue on my backside to remind me of that joy ride through our medical care system.

So I made an appointment with my surgeon for first thing this morning. He had my hips X-rayed and everything looks hunky dory. If I have troubles, I’m supposed to call him for follow up tests: more X-rays, blood work and even MRIs to determine if I have metal floating around in me (do they surgically implant magnets for clean-up?).

So, we simply monitor my hips and should I need some new ones, the good people of DePuy Orthopaedics Inc. will pick up the tab! What a swell bunch they are.

Maybe they’ll even provide my surgeon with some good equipment this time.

I hope there’s no beard in my future…

Ten months after painful hip replacement surgery (read all about it in a revealing 19-part series in the ‘Hip Replacements’ category of The Lint Screen), post production has finally been completed on the sequel to “The Beard”, a stunning new art film entitled “Le Hair de Hip” exploring one man’s dilemma with another man’s facial hair.

Grab the Milk Duds and enjoy the film. Be sure to stay through the credits, give your review and share this little video like corn on the cob at a fiddle competition.

While I thought I had pulled the plug on my total hip replacement series, some people have asked for an update. They are either curious, or taking some sick pleasure in my pain. Either way, I’m happy to oblige.

In week #5 post-surgery, the doc gave me approval to drive. I eased back into work, limping about on a cane and toting a throw pillow to place on seats. Sporting a scruffy beard, I looked like a demented interior designer walking the halls of Ames Scullin O’Haire in search of the perfect place to accessorize with my throw pillow.

The physical therapy regimen continues...

In week #6, I began my out-of-home, in-office physical therapy. Aaron, my therapist who re-built me from my first hip replacement, was ready to begin the process all over again on the left side.

Physical therapy is a lot like torture, except giving vital information will not save you from further pain. But physical therapy and natural muscle healing is all I have to do to get better and be human again. It hurts, but I do as I am told. I’ve heard horror stories of people who went through hip or knee replacement surgery, but didn’t do the necessary therapy and consequently have pain and a store-bought joint because they didn’t heal correctly. No thank you. Bring on the pain, Aaron. He does, he most certainly does.

It hurts, but I don’t resort to popping muscle relaxers. I’ve eased myself off the goof, cold turkey-ish. If I need pain relief, I pop a couple Aleve and the little blue pills take the edge off in their powerful yet street legal over the counter way.

... and I am feeling whole again.

I don’t do sleeping pills either. I now sleep the rest of the exhausted. But, to quote comedy guru Chris Elliott, I “have a bladder like a little girl.” I awake a couple times a night to totter my way to the bathroom, relieve myself and return to bed. I must keep two pillows between my legs to keep the new hip in check and out of harm’s way crossing the evil hip precaution zone (NEVER cross legs in the first three months post-surgery).

My two pillows are like a fluffy chastity belt.

My wife begins to ask me how much longer I am going to keep the beard. “It’s prickly,” she says. “Kissing hurts. Besides, it makes you look older.” When you are getting into the region of old fartdom, looking older is not a good thing.

Ancient bearded me.

I had never grown a beard before I had had my first hip replacement. I liked the change of pace, the lazy maintenance of it. But, she didn’t much care for it back then and it eventually found its way to the barber’s floor. It was time to begin thinking of a similar fate for this beard. It would be gone very soon.

Youthful clean-shaven me.

Week #7, I feel like I have my full energy back and I walk without a cane. Yes, I’m wobbly. Yes, I look like a mad sidewinder. Yes, it hurts somewhat. But I’m walking, dammit–– on two fake hips and a couple weak arthritic knees. It’s not pretty, but it is forward locomotion. I CAN WALK! I’m also climbing stairs with both legs alternately bearing load, like we all learned in step climbing school. No more slowly shuffling up steps on the good leg, descending on the weak one.

I also leave my pillow behind. I jack up the height of my office chair as high as it’ll go, and I’m extra careful to hoist myself out of chairs with both arms so as not to put undue pressure on my new hip. I don’t tempt fate by sitting in low rider chairs or couches. That’s a fool’s play, one that could send you back under the surgeon’s blade for some hip re-setting. That fear make me obey my hip precautions slavishly.

I'm ready for my TSA inspection.

Week #8, I take my hip on a test drive to the airport. I can walk, and now I will fly.

I make my way through my pals at TSA, I set off their security alarms and indicate I have TWO artificial hips. I get my “male assist” to wand me down. I beep on the left hip, I beep on the right. I’m patted down and deemed safe to pass. I gather my belongings and ask a nearby son to do me a solid and tie my shoes. I can’t do impossible tasks like that yet.

Life’s getting better all the time. I’m walking stronger on the road to recovery, eventually without a limp.

The mysterious couple who crashed my hip replacement surgery.

The mysterious couple who crashed my hip replacement surgery.

Although I thought I had put a bow on my total hip replacement series, I’ve had a flashback that I must report.

After I was wheeled into the operating room and transferred to the operating table, I noticed all the medical personnel in the room. Just before I was put under, I noticed two more people come into the operating room, they were all gussied-up. They galavanted about greeted all the medical people while posing for a small posse of paparazzi that appeared out of nowhere.

My very last memory was the couple leaning down to my face to pose for a picture. Then I was O.U.T.

If you know who these people are, please let me know. I assume they’re famous and I’d love to have a picture of them with me for my scrapbook. It might be worth something some day.

One month after my total hip replacement, the surgeon says I’m good to drive and begin easing my way back into life. I had my new hip X-rayed and everything is just where it needs to be. The doc came in and checked me for flexibility. He stretched my new hip leg straight out and flat on the table. It hurt.

It will be a long time before I'm able to do my Fab Four leaping exercises.

It will be a long time before I'm able to do my Fab Four leaping exercises.

He took my leg and bent it this way and that, inside and out, round and about like it was a strand of pretzel dough wishing to be twisted. It hurt, too. “You need some physical therapy,” he said (the unsaid meaning was clear: My job here is done.) “You need to stretch and work on your flexibility,” he said like a judge pronouncing his sentence.

So I do, and so I will. I remember that after my first hip replacement there was the getting over surgery stage, and then there was the getting over physical therapy stage. It takes lots of physical therapy to walk pain-free with the walking again.

My doc gave me a prescription for physical therapy (you don’t want to be buying your physical therapy on the streets). I asked him for more sleeping pills. “Why are you having trouble sleeping?” he asked with no trace of irony. “Pain and discomfort,” I said. The doc wrote me scripts for mild muscle relaxers and a small stash of sleeping pills. “Try the muscle relaxer to help you sleep,” he said, “if that doesn’t work, take Ambien.” My doc isn’t a fan of sleeping pills for pain management. I read the precaution sheet that came with the Ambien and he may be right. Here are some of the official precautions from the drug company that makes it:
– do not take Ambien if you are allergic to anything in it
– a common side effect is drowsiness
– After taking Ambien, you may get up out of bed while not being fully awake and do an activity that you do not know you are doing. The next morning, you may not remember that you did anything during the night. Reported activities include driving a car (“sleep-driving”), making and eating food, talking on the phone, having sex and sleep-walking

I don’t know if Ambien is a sleep wonder drug or the ultimate alibi pill. Last night I took a muscle relaxer and slept great. I’m getting this Ambien monkey off my back (goodness knows what he’s doing back there in the middle of the night– driving, eating, talking on the phone, having sex).

A portion of my medical trophies wall

A portion of my medical trophies wall

I will carry on, do what I’m told to do and slowly regain strength, stamina, a dash of flexibility and perhaps even a nice straight walking gait without a whisper of a limp.

I will continue my practice of keeping a trophy for every doctor visit. When I am kept waiting and waiting and waiting in the doctor’s office, I take a latex glove as a souvenir of my visit and post it in my office on the wall. I have quite a glove collection (I also have eyepatches from various glaucoma field of vision tests).

My wall of gloves and eyepatches are a constant reminder to work to stay healthy. I have enough souvenirs of medical visits, thank you, and I’ve unfortunately witnessed how fragile good health can be.

I’ve given two eulogies and seen two of my very best friends laid to rest way before their time. Some things we can avoid, others we cannot. Control what you can and appreciate what you have because when disease calls your number, there’s no debating. That’s the uncertainty of life– living with the certainty of our mortality.

My advice is simple: work to squeeze more years, enjoy all the days you have and spread some good cheer along the way.

I hope this 17-part total hip replacement journey has been informative and entertaining. If my pain has brought you some reading pleasure, I’ve done my job. If reading these entries makes you yearn to replace your healthy hip with a brand new titanium one, well, I may have done my job a little too well.

Thanks, and keep collecting Lint.

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