Total Hip Replacement Surgery: A Survivor's Guide
Since my early 40's, I have had curious aches and pains in my legs . Still relatively young, I ignored these annoyances and continued on with raising a child. After years of avoidance, I decided to visit my general practitioner, curious as to the cause. I was given anti-inflammatory medications, pills for restless-leg syndrome, and other biologics too numerous to recall. My legs felt 'heavy' when attempting to sit in chairs and automobiles. My physician theorized at first that perhaps I was suffering from fibromyalgia, a non-specific pain disorder, but was not willing to medicate that condition until I visited a neurologist. So off I went. My entire body ached with each step I managed to take.
The neurologist found no nerve damage, however he administered some of the most painful tests I have ever endured. Electric shocks to the legs are not recommended! My neurologist's office was joined with one of an orthopedist, and the next step was to X-ray my aching body to find the source of this mystery pain. By this time I was exhausted and frustrated with the entire medical community, quite sure they had missed something. I felt as though I was being handed off from one doctor to another, with no one able to diagnose me.
The leg-heaviness and overall fatigue I felt were beginning to frighten me, I often thought of Multiple Sclerosis: I was full of hypotheses, but none of them prepared me for my final diagnosis.
A genial man, my orthopedist walked through the door of my examination room with my X-ray in hand, and proclaimed, "I imagine you've got some pretty sore hips, there." Showing me the films taken of my hips, the doctor pointed out that I had no cartilage left, which cushions the bones. The doctor reported that both hips were in poor condition, but did not recommend surgery on both at once. Since my left side was the most troublesome, we agreed that that would be the first procedure.
As we spoke, it slowly began to dawn on me that he was suggesting major surgery to correct my condition. Admittedly, I was relieved to finally have an answer, but an operation? To be honest, I don't believe I heard much of what he said-I was in a state of shock. I had heard of such operations performed on much older people, but at 52, I had no earthly idea that cartilage could wear out so quickly. My only experience with the scalpel had been to have a Cesarean Section when my son was born 21 years earlier, and that surgery was clearly not elective. I did some research into the matter and found that genetic factors can cause such joint deterioration. In fact I found many-older-relatives that have had 2 and 3 of these operations-I had simply not known of their individual histories.
In the System
After talking it over with my husband, I scheduled my next appointment with the surgeon. The decision to have the operation was a troublesome one, however the pain was excruciating and I was willing to put my trust in the orthopedist.
I was diagnosed at the end of May 2009, and the surgery was scheduled for July 29th. In the interim, I became a participant in a most thorough and detailed medical procedure-actually a process with which I had to comply in order to be healthy enough for such an invasive procedure. Eight weeks prior to the operation, both the surgeon's office and I had to contact my insurance company to be certain of adequate coverage. That was a major hurdle since this surgery is considered elective. Multiple laboratory tests and pre-op health evaluations were performed at this stage as well.
My most difficult task I faced was to quit smoking, which was required six weeks before the procedure. A lifetime smoker, this was something I did not think was possible. One morning, a Wednesday in June, I simply stopped. I imagine that the information I had been given on oxygenation and healing rates frightened me, and I miraculously followed directions.
To the Hospital
From the time I quit smoking until the actual procedure, my life was focused categorically on my overall health. I put myself in the hands of the staff at the hospital where I was to have the operation performed with, perhaps naïve, trust. I was lucky to be in competent, caring and capable hands every step of the way. Seven days before the surgery, the nursing staff warned me against taking any over-the-counter medications that could increase bleeding. The night before the operation, I was instructed to wash the area with an antibacterial soap. As I did so, I said a mournful 'good-bye' to my original bone.
I was not exactly afraid that morning, I was committed and ready. My husband and I arrived at 5:30 a.m. that day and found the waiting room entirely empty. I was admitted and the surgical nurse came out and called my name, which of course wasn't necessary, and there was a certain ease and humor about her that calmed me for the moment. The nurse then proceeded to carefully prepare me for the imagined ordeal, thankfully administering some Valium to calm me. I vaguely recall being wheeled into the operating room, speaking a bit with the anesthesiologist, and then, nothing.
When I woke from my operation, I was a bit hazy at first, then absolutely ravenous. I learned later that hunger was a common reaction after such a procedure. I was not aware that anything had gone on at all. Only my husband's face looking down at me with concern reminded me of what had transpired. I was dumbfounded to find that I had been in the operating room over 3 hours, since I now felt fabulous. That's right, fabulous. After replacing my natural bone with my new bionic parts, the surgeon had placed long-acting (18 hours) pain medication directly into my spinal column.
The next day came, the initial 'high' wore off, and I was required to walk. Just a few steps, mind you, but the simple task of moving was of paramount importance to my recovery. Lifting my left leg off of the bed was harrowing, though of course other narcotics were dispensed. Physical therapists were there to help me re-learn my new body, and they did their jobs with skill and compassion. The charge nursing staff was a picture of caring and efficiency, tending to my every need with impressive speed and genuine kindness.
I was released from the hospital on the third day with trepidation, but my attentive husband cared for me with love. Now, 2 1/2 months later, I consider my new hip to be a gift. It took me a number of weeks to learn to walk again without a limp, but recently my husband pointed out that I was walking just like I did before.
My right hip is now giving me trouble, however I will not go blindly into the same situation if I decide to have another operation.
I don't regret a thing.