Hip Replacements


Medical Science has made me better, eventually.

Medical Science has made me better, eventually.

Tomorrow I go to the surgeon for my follow-up visit.

It’s been almost a month since my total hip replacement. If all goes well with my examination, I should get the green light for driving– meaning no matter what color the traffic signal is, I can GO. Your ‘ordinary traffic laws’ do not apply. I think that’s how it goes.

The point is, I should be able to drive again, provided I sit on a pillow of some folded blankets to keep the hip elevated. Since it’s my left hip that was replaced, it won’t come into the driving equation too often. I’m right-footed.

I should be able to ease slowly back into the workaday world with the ably-jointed.

I have been a good boy, doing my physical therapy exercises, getting rest, getting somewhat stronger and doing these postings for therapeutic purposes. My hope is that my pain = your reading pleasure.

Do I recommend hip replacements? No, not if you don’t need them. Recovery is tough. Play Parcheesi instead.

But if you are troubled with constant arthritic pain, if your life is one of pain management, well, something needs to give. And a bum hip seems to be the ante.

I’m curious to see what my medic says. Onward I limp!

I came home, was on my walker for one week and showed enough progress with forward motion that my physical therapist graduated me to the cane. I did not trick out the cane tip with a tennis ball since that would be dangerous. Yes, it’d look cool, but…

I'm like House, without the bothersome brains.

I'm like House, without the bothersome brains.

My walker seems angry with me. It sits in the corner and sulks. The tennis balls shine bright yellow and beckon to be driven. Vroom! But there is no going back– I am a cane man, now. I still use my walker for support during many of my physical therapy exercises, but for walking, I don’t need my pimped-out walker. I walk like a big boy now! A big boy with a very pronounced limp.

I have not shaved since my surgery. A salt and pepper beard is coming in nicely; more salty than I’d like, but facial hair has a mind all its own. With my beard, my cane, my limp and my somewhat sour disposition brought on by pain, I am like Dr. Gregory House. Except unlike House, I don’t have a genius intellect. Why can’t life be more fair?

17 days after surgery, the visiting nurse comes to remove my 33-surgical staples. I’m not sure how she does this, but I don’t think it’s with an office staple remover. The surgical staple removal is a little discomforting, but not really painful. The nurse tells me that my scar looks good and applies eight adhesive scar-binder strips over the wound. These are temporary and will fall off naturally after a week or so.

I’m cutting back on the goof. Weaning myself off painkillers isn’t difficult. I don’t have to get all Sid Vicious or anything. As the wound heals, there is less pain. With less pain, there is less need for painkillers.

Night without Ambien sucks.

Night without Ambien sucks.

The one pill I won’t stop in the near term is my sleeping pill. I tried one night to go without it, but after a few hours of uncomfortably tossing and turning, I gobbled an Ambien and rode it to SleepyTown.

Although I don’t necessarily feel rested after my three short shifts of sleep in two different locations, I know my body MUST have sleep to repair– it’s been through a lot.

I am on the mend. It’s getting better but it’s slow going. The swelling has gone down, the bruising is healing from a dark brown to a shade of light tan and my regimen of hip- strengthening exercises are getting somewhat easier to do. My physical therapist adds more exercises to the list. I curse her and thank her. She knows best.

The road to recovery is long, and if I could, I’d hitchhike. Unfortunately there are no shortcuts. What a pity there aren’t.

No one expects the soft cushions and comfy chair to hurt!

No one expects the soft cushions and comfy chair to hurt!

As you might imagine, any surgery that leaves behind a foot-long scar, 33-surgical staples and extensive bruising hurts as much as listening to the lesser works of Captain & Tennille.

What you might not have imagined is the pain of sitting. Just sitting. Not sitting on the surgical scar (that’s off to the side), but sitting as you’ve always sat– sitting cheek-to-cheek.

You must sit on pillows to keep your hip elevated and out of the danger zone for dislocation, but over time these cushy pillows do not comfort– they slowly torture. You spend so much time on your tush that eventually the comfy pillows chafe your butt. To counter this, you move about, do your exercise regimen and sit elsewhere. But your butt finds you, and it hurts– not a lot, but just enough to be a minor pain in the ass.

This too shall pass, this Spanish Inquisition of cushions and comfy chairs.

After total hip replacement surgery, my favorite room in our house is the one that rains.

The shower is like a feel-better pod. I carefully check the water temperature and scan the shower floor for bars of soap, banana peels, crude oil slicks– anything I might slip on and subject me to the horrible forces of gravity. I step into the shower slowly, oh-so-slowly, and let the soothing waters rain o’er me.

Keep clean to keep dangerous infection at bay!

Keep clean to keep dangerous infection at bay!

The post surgical instructions are to keep the wound clean with daily washings and fresh dressings. I move slowly, oh-so-slowly, out of the shower and begin patting myself dry. My wife tends to the surgical scar with an antiseptic, absorbent pads and medical tape. The tape is hateful (though not nearly as hateful as using duct tape might be).

The tape’s adhesive hurts no matter how slowly I pull it off. I face the never-ending question: is it better to take off the bandage quickly for a blast of intense pain, or slowly for a longer, lower level of pain? Every mortal has his/her own opinion on this– it’s one of the great philosophical questions of all time, right up there with glazed or jelly?

I roll with a slow and steady tape removal (like Socrates did; Plato was a grip ‘n rip guy).

After a shower and fresh dressing, I feel better. It could be psychological or it could be actual, but I feel like some of my pain went down the drain. I hope pain cannot clog drains.

After hip surgery, my dream buffet line is short, unsatisfying and unfulfilling.

After hip surgery, my dream buffet line is short, unsatisfying and unfulfilling.

At the end of every day comes a little something I call ‘nighttime’– when Mr. Sun punches out and passes the baton to Mr. Moon who comes center stage in the sky and works it hard.

It’s the dark time. The time most people eat, watch some TV and go to bed for restful sleep. But for myself and the post-surgery set, the promise of sleep is problematic.

I nibble at an hour or two of sleep here, an hour or two there– but there is no feasting at the dream buffet. There’s no uninterrupted blast of eyelid exploration. My bladder wakes me and wants to go for a walk. Suddenly a big production is underway.

I need help hoisting my surgical leg out of bed. I need a walker for support. I need bat-vision to move through the dark on my way to Porcelain Swirly Town. I may even need another painkiller (is it time yet?).

Sleep hides in the basement.

Sleep hides in the basement.

I have gotten into a post-surgery sleep routine. I work two short shifts in bed, then slowly hobble down two flights of stairs (32 of them) to the basement where I have a pillow-topped La-Z-Boy chair. I plop myself on top of the chair like an astronaut preparing for lift-off. I pull the lever for full recline and I’m soon taken to slumberland for my third and final sleeping shift.

I awake, not necessarily well-rested but somewhat rested. So begins another day.

“Hello, Mr. Sun, you’re up awfully early today…”

The sun doesn’t talk back. Nor does the neighbor’s dog. Seems everyone’s crabby this morning.

I need the drug that drips. Not morphine– caffeine. Strong, hot, black coffee love. And maybe a painkiller chaser (is it time yet?).

Home.

A steady diet of painkillers, better-than-hospital food, rest and various spots to sit that are jacked-up with throw pillows so that my hiney and hips are hoisted out of harms way.

I receive visitors: my Nurse at Home and my Physical Therapist at Home.

The Nurse comes to take my temperature, blood pressure, pulse and get a blood sample. She is not great with getting blood work. She draws blood with little confidence. She ties-me-off clumsily and searches intently for a tapping spot, finally pricking me and filling the small sample tube… leaving a drop of blood on the carpet for good measure.

No, this isn't one of the exercises...

No, this isn't one of the exercises...

My Physical Therapist– Bonnie, however, is the best.

She has an exercise regimen that is challenging but not impossible. She takes my hip to the brink of pain with simple exercises that would make you giggle for their lack of physical challenge. But they are strenuous work for me, my new hip and its 33-surgically-stapled 12″ scar. I do the exercises and Bonnie brings me back from the brink o’ pain. I do exactly as she says and slowly my hip is getting stronger.

Then Bonnie does a dirty trick. She adds more exercises to my regimen. Curses! She is a physical therapist/dominatrix!

But this is the drill. The ONLY way to get back to normal is to do the physical therapy. And Bonnie is great at designing a program that builds the muscles.

I'm wearing hose, no garter belt required.

I'm wearing hose, no garter belt required.

My poor surgery leg is very swollen and bruised beyond belief. Bonnie suggests I get something called JOBST Compression Stockings. They are super-elastic hose that run to the top of the thigh and help improve overall circulation. They’re $60 a pair and I only need to wear one on my surgical leg. I take the suggestion and start wearing hosiery– but I will not succumb to stylish pumps. A man must know his limits.

Bonnie is right. After a couple days, the swelling in my leg goes down. My blood is now circulating well and reducing the bruising. I am healing.

My challenge at this point is simple: I must survive the nurse taking my blood work so that I have some circulation.

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