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SKIP THIS IF YOU DON'T LIKE READING ABOUT SURGERY AND OTHER ICKY THINGS

Some of you know about my surgeries and new body parts. I’ve waited a while to write about them, but think it’s time I explained what it was all about.

Last year at this time, I could barely walk 20 feet. When I did walk, I relied on a cane to steady my gait and protect me from bumpers. This problem had been going on for years. In fact, I haven’t had cartilage in my hip joints for at least five years, maybe more.

You have to understand, I was once a compulsive walker, eventually a jogger. I walked three miles every morning before work, and sometimes took an evening jog just to clear my head. I entered short races just for the exercise and camaraderie because I was never fast enough to win. But, a day without walking or running was a day of misery for me.

At some point in my late 50s, my body started playing tricks on me. Among other things, I developed a rheumatoid condition plus plain old osteoarthritis, then started losing use of joints in just about every part of my body, including hands and feet.

Last December, the worst of my two hips was replaced. The structure of the joint was so bad, cysts had taken over where there once was cartilage. Without warning, those cysts would lock together so I couldn’t move at all. Bone had deteriorated, which led to systemic inflammation and nerve damage. Instead of feeling sharp pain at the hip, I felt dull aches all over. Some days, I felt like I had a full-body migraine. Eventually I learned to swim when the pain was bad, and found other low-tech methods to soothe my body without resorting to steroids or high-powered pain killers (which I had tried but gave up because of side effects). 

I spent four days in the hospital for the first surgery, then nine days in a nursing home before going home for a month of in-home nursing and physical therapy. Once I outgrew that, I went to outpatient PT for about six weeks. At the same time, I started prepping for the next adventure.

Then, it was on to surgery number two. This one felt easier than the first, but I developed post-surgical complications that kept me in the hospital six days. By the time I could leave, my strength was good and pain was low, so I skipped the nursing home and opted for in-home care. Dave took a week off to take care of me, with help from an RN and PT several times a week. Again, I went to outpatient PT for a little more than a month.

So, here I am four months out from the second surgery, and there isn’t much I cannot  do that I want to do. As you can see, my legs are straight, facing forward (which they weren’t doing before surgery) and approximately the same length (which wasn’t the case, either).

However, I can no longer cross my legs. Now that I’m allowed to, I can’t bend much beyond my waist. That will come, the doctor says but he also warns that too much bending could harm the prostheses.  

So, I can’t do crunches or run or jump. My pole vaulting days are over. I may not be able to polka BUT I can tango! And, I can go to the playground with my grandkids, and soon will be able to get down on the floor with them to color or build a castle with Legos. What could be better than that?   

To prepare for surgery, I swam every other day for six months before, then as much as I could do between and after surgeries. The buoyancy of water allowed me push harder than I could on land, so swimming was invaluable exercise. My husband convinced me to add upper body Nautilus to the mix before the first surgery, which really helped me build stamina. 

The entire ordeal took about a year out of my life, but that didn't come as a surprise, so I just went with it. You have to focus on one thing at a time. Major surgery isn’t something you squeeze in when you have a little extra time. 

As you may have noticed, sometimes this blog went weeks without new posts. I almost gave it up, but didn't because I enjoyed reading your comments and your blogs so much.  The therapeutic value of blogging cannot be overestimated! 

During the recovery period, I read a dozen novels on Kindle, but found it almost impossible to write. The stumbling block was not pain or weakness, but brain fog. Today, I’m happy to report that all systems are running at almost full throttle.

Would I do it again? You bet. A year is a small price to pay to feel 20 years younger. 

If you’re thinking about joint replacement surgery, here’s the most important thing you need to know: The surgery part is nothing. After all, you’re not  there!

What’s really hard is the rehab. It’s a killer! You must be totally committed to regaining muscle, nerve and bone. The recovery window is quite small, so you may have to work harder than you have ever worked, when you least feel like doing so. 

But, if I can do it, so can you.


 
 
Yours truly wrapped in a healing shawl five days after surgery
It’s been a full month since my first total hip replacement, giving me a new (decidedly left-leaning) perspective on self-mobility.

I spent the first two weeks in institutions -- first a large teaching hospital, then a small-town nursing home --  where I had no choice but to give up all control over my body and my time. More recently, husband Dave has been pinch-hitting as chief nurse, cook and picker upper. Thanks, everyone for all you’ve done for me!

And, thanks to those of you who called or wrote to cheer me through this ordeal. And, it has been an ordeal. A few untoward events occurred during surgery that I won’t go into here, however they convinced me to wait a few weeks (or months) before I go under the knife again. I’m looking at April or May for hip replacement #2.

A long prosthesis in my left leg has put me a little closer to the clouds on the west side. The surgeon promises to remedy this asymmetry when he installs its mate on the right.   

At this point, most of my heavy-duty meds are history and most of my days are spent in physical therapy or on the couch. As of yesterday, we retired the walker for a copper cane as main upright support. When I squint, I can see a time in the not-so-distant future when I’ll walk unattended, again.

By all accounts, my 10 inches of my wound are sight to behold, vitals are perfect and prognosis is excellent. All I have to do is keep on keeping on, as my West Virginia grandmother used to say.

All this hoopla comes with a price of course. Some of it I knew going in; some I didn’t.

For example, my surgeon is very strict on hip precautions. He says I can never again:
·cross my feet or legs
·touch my toes, tie my shoelaces, trim my own nails, etc.
·twist and shout, or not shout
·run
·soak in a bubble bath
·reduce the angle between my upper and lower halfs to less than 90 degrees.

Not sure if this knocks me out of kayaking, sidestroke swimming, many Nautilus machines or Pilates moves, but will find out.

It’s not that I’ve lost my ability to do these things, but the surgeon warns the prosthesis could fail. If so, he’d have to replace the thing through yet a third surgery, and I say no way, Jose.

So, while I mourn the fact that I’ll never again pick up a grandchild off the floor, bend over to pat a cat or do stomach crunches in aquatic exercise class, I’m changing my ways one move at a time. If you want to help, please pat lots of cats, pick up little kids and do many, many crunches for me!


 
 
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Farewell to the view from my Vermont office window.
Over the past 7 ½ months, my husband and I have lived in our vacation cabin in southern Vermont, while our Massachusetts home has been reassembled and renewed. Unfortunately, we weren’t on vacation, so he had to commute long distances to work, and I had to work from a pretty primitive office set up in the corner of the main room, near the wood stove. 

It’s a long story but the short version is a contractor botched a what-we-thought-was-simple upgrade. Wrong! As a result, we gained a gorgeous ceramic floor but lost all mattresses, upholstered furniture, curtains, carpeting, most linens and many clothes. Plus, we had to travel back and between the two places about a zillion times to carefully clean everything we didn’t throw out, protected from the deadly residue by masks and gloves.  

Now, more than half a year and many dollars later, we’re just about ready to move back into our place, which -- I'm happy to say  -- is a lot prettier and emptier than we left it.

Hooray for change! Hooray for new or clean stuff! Hooray for time and distance, which eases the pain that comes with disposing of all that junk we should have thrown out years ago.

In keeping with this celebration of a return to normalcy-and-then-some, I will enter a hospital tonight to prepare for the first of two total hip replacements – one tomorrow morning and the other the first week of March. I’ll do rehab and pre-op prep between the two dates with the "bone carpenter" and, by late spring, should be able to do a mean tango! Watch out DWTS!

Those of you who knew me when I walked and ran at the beach every morning would be surprised by how little I can do today. I need help getting dressed and maneuvering stairs. Some nights I dream of hikes in the woods, but then I wake up. I can no longer get in or out of a bathtub, carry groceries, bowl, dance or run.

I've been felled by inflammatory arthritis in both feet, both knees, both hips and both hands, all fingers and probably in places yet to be discovered. Over the past decade, I’ve been treated for polymyalgia rheumatica, fibromyalgia and post-viral syndrome, an auto-immune condition that mimics Lyme disease. I spent almost a year experiencing the horrors of prednisone (never again!). Bone spurs have locked up most affected joints, which immobilize me even when the deteriorated bones don't. All in all, it’s been a stiff and painful period of my life, one I hope to outgrow. 


Some days, I hurt all over; other times, pain is just background noise. When it gets bad, I walk with a cane, but most days I waddle and get by. Like migraines, flare-ups can be set off by loud noises, chaotic situations, even bright or flashing lights. I avoid stressful situations and take the easy way out of problems when possible. Swimming, singing and laughing are my saviors, low pressure systems my enemy, but hot tubs and kayaks are the closest thing to heaven I can find. If it weren't for the Y, I'd probably be totally incapacitated, but physical trainers and an insistent husband have pushed me through Nautilus machines and swimming pools, keeping my muscles as strong as possible.
 

Starting right now, some of that will change. With the help of a talented surgeon and very savvy physical therapists, I’m going to use today and tomorrow to replace and remodel a few body parts. This time tomorrow, my old left hip will be history, and so will some of my pain. Next week or the week after that, I’ll take my remodeled self back to my remodeled home. Can’t wait!

FYI, I won’t be posting to the blog for a few weeks, but will really enjoy reading your comments on Birds as well as whatever you post on your own blogs. I can also get email on the Blackberry that will never leave my hands except when they are in the OR. Hope to hear from you.