November 12, 2023

Walking the line

Just like all the days before:

  • Mornings are the worst.
  • First steps are always the hardest.

My recovery from surgery began at my friend's/neighbor's house. I had dropped off my clothing, some food, and recovery tools the day before, and post-surgery I was set up in a bedroom in their basement. They were very kind to take me in, and to take care of me. I wasn't sure what recovery would look like, but I knew I was in good hands. 

After getting settled in, it was on to doing my homework. Every hour I was to be up walking with my walker. I was given PT exercises to complete every two hours, followed by icing and elevation of my leg. There were also varying schedules of pills to be taken, so though I had little to do, it felt like my schedule was full. 

One of the things I was worried about during recovery was sleeping on my back. I don't sleep all that well on the best of days, and whenever I end up sleeping on my back, it makes my back ache. My back was already a bit of a mess prior to surgery, so that added to the nervousness. With a 4:15am wake up the morning of surgery, I was plenty tired and fell asleep relatively quickly.

Unfortunately, I woke up about four hours later and couldn't find any real sleep the rest of the night. I had the same recurring anxiety dream that would have had me tossing and turning, but I felt like I couldn't move without messing with my leg. The next three nights were similar, and it would take that long for me to figure out that it was the Oxycodone that was making my mind spiral. 

That first morning when it was finally a reasonable hour to get up, it took a good ten minutes to get out of bed. Any minor movement of my leg felt like I was tearing it apart. As miraculous as the day before seemed, moving around under my own power, it felt like I was going to need to be airlifted out of bed the following morning. 

Once up, things started to loosen up a bit, and I could shuffle my way around. A physical therapist came by that first afternoon to check on how I was doing the exercises, and how I was doing overall. She instructed me to walk more smoothly and naturally. She also had me go up and down a flight of stairs. Be careful, but press on.

The first six days were filed with PT home work, walking laps of the basement, and lots of reading in bed. The last three days I made it upstairs to have dinner with my generous hosts. There was still plenty of pain, but each day it felt like I was making progress. 

I went home on day seven and have been home for a little more than a week now, and it feels like progress has slowed a bit. I am still doing my PT homework, and walking regularly, but for the first few days I think I was sitting in a chair too much when I should have been lying down on the couch or bed. At my two week follow up appointment with a surgical assistant she took off the bandage and let me know that I was at a good place for recovery. But then she said she wanted me to be a "couch potato" for another four weeks. 

The concern is that with this type of hip replacement you can feel a little too good when the joint is not yet stable, and you can really mess things up. My friends had told me a story of another friend of theirs who did just that, had to get a second surgery, and is still not fully recovered. I keep this in the back of my mind as a reminder.

After running nineteen marathons and tackling other difficult physical challenges, I have learned to push through pain to get to the finish line, to go to a certain place in my mind to press on when my body is begging me not to. When you walk that line just right, it can take you to amazing places, but I have crossed it a couple of times. At one end of my much smaller walking loop at my house, there is another reminder. 

This is a picture of me on a backpacking trip with friends about ten years ago. We were on our way back to the car after a great few days in the woods. This spot is next to a massive tree, and almost exactly a mile from the finish. I was beyond struggling and already suffering. Along with the usual gear, I am carrying an inflatable raft belonging to one of our crew so we could fish at the lake where we camped. The pack was borrowed, and as you can see the weight is not properly distributed. My back was already screaming. 

I just wanted to get through it, to make the pain stop. I went to that place in my mind that I had visited before. I got quiet, not really replying to my friends' conversations. When we reached the trailhead, my friends stopped for a group picture, but I kept walking. They called after me, but I couldn't stop, going straight to the car. Once I got the pack off my back, I broke down, wept and hyperventilated. They had no idea how much pain I was in (because of course I hadn't said anything), and I properly freaked them out, thinking I was having an attack of some sort. I thought I knew what I was doing, what my limits were, and I was wrong. 

I have pushed up against my limits since then, but I like to think I have learned my lesson about taking it too far. Hopefully there will be other finish lines in my future, but this is the most important one right now. Right now, slow and steady wins the race. It is a marathon, and not a sprint. Part of physical therapy is to push through some discomfort, but you have to walk the line more carefully while your body recovers. Keep moving forward, but don't do anything stupid. 

Don't be that guy in the picture. 

November 8, 2023

Not all original parts

As I wrote about in this post and elsewhere, I found out I had arthritis in my right hip at the beginning of 2021. The pain and impact on my life increased over the next couple of years, and surgery was a matter of when, not if. I met with a surgeon in April of this year. His schedule was pretty well filled, but that wasn't a huge issue as I knew I wanted to schedule it around the beginning of November, the only time that it is reasonably quiet at work. The date of surgery was Friday October 27th, just under two weeks ago. 

I was a bit nervous about the surgery. There are of course various ways in which the surgery might not be completely successful, but honestly I was more worried about the extremely small chance of something going completely wrong and never waking up again. As I have mentioned briefly elsewhere, anxiety has become a part of my life in the past year, and as much as I "knew" I was going to be alright, I couldn't entirely quiet that inner voice. 

I arrived at the hospital at 5:45am. The next hour and a half was prep work, and meeting all the people who would be participating in the surgery. Along with all the other questions, everyone confirmed my name, date of birth, and which hip I was replacing. When my surgeon came by, just to make triply sure that there was no last minute error, he initialed my right hip. Everyone was kind, considerate and professional. I particularly remember being put at ease by Tim the anesthesiologist assistant, but everyone did their part in providing a calming presence. 

I was wheeled into surgery at 7:30, and I thought, "the sun isn't even up yet, and it is already showtime." Once in the surgical suite, they had me sit up on the edge of the gurney. I was already on an IV of some sort, but the next step was an epidural. Tim had me bend forward to spread out my spine a bit and give him access for the shot. A nurse was there in front of me to catch me if for some reason I pitched forward.  I know we chatted and joked with each other. The jokes are lost to the ether, but I remember feeling good about the team around me. I was surrounded by caring and helping hands.

Then they transferred me to the operating table. The table had these separate sections for the legs so they could be moved independently. After I was settled, someone pounded a couple of pegs into the table, a little too close to the crotch for comfort. "Be careful with that hammer, please!" Less than thirty seconds after that, I was out like a light. No need to count back from 100. They had warned me it was possible that I might come around a bit, or hear some loud noises during the surgery, but thankfully my sleep was deep. 

I woke up in a hallway with another nurse at my side to take care of me as I came around. Memory is a little fuzzy at this point, but I may have had something to drink, and maybe there was Jello? I do remember her asking me about my pain levels, me saying I was doing OK, but her reading the winces in my face and giving me something more for my pain. I am sure this helped with the pain, but it definitely made me nauseated. 

After maybe an hour or so, I was taken to Physical Therapy. There they took me through the exercises I would be doing for the next six weeks. Then it was (already?) time to stand up. They had me use my walker to shuffle around the room and the hallway. Then they had me go up and down two steps. Pretty incredible that they have you up so quickly after surgery. Still hard to wrap my brain around it. 

Martha, my friend and neighbor met me at the PT stage. She was there to listen in, being my designated "coach" for the first week of recovery. She is a retired nurse, so along with being a clearer set of ears for all the instructions, she was another professional along the way looking out for me. After taking my wheelchair ride to my car, she drove me to her and her sister's house where I would spend the first week or so of my recovery.

I remember from the days when I was looking for my first car, a Ford Mustang, and then later when I was buying a Harley, that many of the ads noted, "All the numbers match!" The vehicles were worth more money if they had all original parts, and all the serial numbers matched. I didn't much care about that back then, since I was buying the vehicle(s) to actually use, not as an investment. Now my body has some after-market parts, and I suppose I don't much care that it is no longer a stock version either. Just hoping the improvements will keep me on the road a little longer.