I’m eight days from a left hip replacement, and thought I’d share a few takeaways:
- I waited too long. My surgeon said, “No one ever says they had the surgery too soon.” I’ll add my voice to that chorus. I waited too long. Easy to understand now that I’m on the other side of the surgery. Some days I felt almost, well, good. And up until the last month or so before my surgery, I could walk 4 or 5 miles, and row my wherry even further. Of course, I was wrecked for the day afterwards, each step a painful event. But I could convince myself when the pain was just a background whisper that maybe I was just being a pussy. I wasn’t.
- You’re getting maimed, but it is for a good cause. Really. This is a grotesque surgery. You’re willingly choosing to have your body maimed. Of course it is for a good cause. The hope is less pain and increased mobility. But don’t overlook the trauma to your body for this surgery. It all hit me a couple of nights after surgery. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t get comfortable. My body just hurt….everywhere. And I was almost overwhelmed with a need to, well, just cry. The best way I can describe it is that my body was weeping: Weeping in response to the violations that had happened to it a few days earlier? Weeping in response to the lost portion of my femur? Or maybe I was just suffering from the side-effects under anesthesia for so long? I don’t know. But as strange as it sounds, my body was weeping. So I decided to join in.
- Exploring pain. Pain is personal. Duh, right? But I suspect most people think that people get their pain, so when they say they hurt and they hurt really bad, everyone else automatically knows how they feel. But it isn’t so. My bad may not be anywhere near your bad. And I may empathize with what you may be feeling or going through, but I can’t feel what you’re going through. If the worst pain you have ever experienced is a paper cut, then your physical pain perspective is incredibly limited. A paper cut can hurt, but for someone hacking sugar cane with a machete, cuts and scrapes are an hourly occurrence and probably don’t even get noticed. It might take losing a finger to get their attention, and come close to what the other person felt with a paper cut. Over time, I’d gotten used to my chronic hip pain. It was never at a static level, climbing and falling without reason on some occasions, and then spiking after some activity. I resented the limitations of my hip, and up until the end, I was willing to put up with cost after I’d gone mountain biking, rowing, or walking with my wife. But by the end, even that cost was becoming more than I had the energy or will to deal with. Most of the time, however, the pain was a background wind that I’d become accustomed to, and leaned into without even thinking. But after the surgery, one of the things I first noticed was that the chronic noise of my arthritis was gone. Even after the pain killer in my joint wore off, it remained quiet. Of course, it was replaced by the trauma of the surgery, but even that was less than the pain I had felt at times from my worn out hip. For the first time in years, my hip was quiet.
- Pain killers. Pain killers have a cost. Pick your poison. Tylenol is hard on your kidney; ibuprofen is tough on your liver. Or is it the other way around? Opiods are in a class by themselves. The sooner you can get off the, the better. I managed to avoid the Oxy, except for the pill I took Wednesday night when my body was grieving. But be careful with even the OTC stuff. Make ice your friend, if you can.
- Find a really good surgeon who does plenty of hip replacements. The joke goes like this: What do you call the person who graduates first in his or her medical school class? Doctor. What do you call the person who graduates last. . . yeah, they get called doctor, too. So find a good one.
- Sleep is good. I had given up on ever feeling rested. I had completely lost hope. Pathetic, huh? But that’s the way it was. I would wake five, six or more times a night. There would always be a time early morning when the ache in my hip, knee and lower leg would have me wrestling with myself and eventual drive me out of bed. I tried different rooms, the Jesus Prayer, even copious amounts of Vodka. Nothing helped. I didn’t want to get hooked on pills. I was stuck. Pain is a pernicous teacher, and a real bastard. I can see what sleep deprivation can be such an effective tool of torture. I would be a coward. But now I am sleeping through the night. And sleeping more deeply. My spouse doesn’t disturb my sleep, and my dreams have changed from fragments into nighttime stories. The ache behind my eyes is gone. And inside, I’m just feeling, well, an “ahhhh” of relief.