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After 35 years in public education as a university administrator and a high school English teacher, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalists awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Monday, November 5, 2018

My Aching Hip: Under the Knife Day and After

October 30, 2018

Karen and I arrive in the lobby of the Palomar Medical Center at 9:00 to check-in for my 11:00 surgery. As I approach the front desk, a receptionist asks, “What can I do for you?”
“I need a new hip.”
“Okay. They come in orange and black. Which would you like?”
“Black, please. More stylish.”
Nice to discover a sense of humor upon my arrival here.

Karen is asked to remain in the waiting room, while I’m escorted down the hall to meet a tall Nurse Ratched. Not her real name, but descriptive of her manner, which mirrors a character from Ken Kesey’s, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. A shorter woman, clad in a Harley-Davidson tee shirt, stands in Ratched’s doorway, looking down at the large suitcase standing beside me. She looks up at me with a smirk.  “Planning to go to Europe?” Karen packs heavily for overnight trips.

Nurse Ratched asks biker girl, “Does he have a significant other?” Biker girl replies, “Yes. His wife is in the waiting room.“

Ratched scowls, “I want her in here.” Biker girl bows, heads back to the waiting room. It was then I understood she's probably a medical assistant, not someone off the street. It’s Halloween Eve. I must expect the unexpected, even here.

After Karen arrives, the anesthesiologist enters the room. She explains the advantages of a spinal block, what women get to make childbirth more enjoyable. She doesn’t offer any of the other options listed on the sheet Nurse Ratched handed me earlier, like general anesthesia, all of which carry risks, ranging from awakening during the operation to death. So, I sign up for body piercing.

I’m being rolled into the operating room now. I see seven individuals in white, my surgical team, moving busily around the room. I recognize my surgeon’s voice. The man next to my gurney looks down at me and asks, “Hip replacement?” I answer, “Yes.” He continues, “Right side, right?” I assume he must be joking or testing my awareness. But I take no chances. “Left, please,” I say firmly.

My good-natured operating room companion advises me the best way to prepare for the needle about to be jammed into my back is to sit on the edge of the gurney and slump forward into a posture that would cause a mother’s rebuke.

I do so and feel only what amounts to a doctor’s familiar warning of a “slight pinch” before sailing off into unconsciousness.

I’m lying on a bed now in Room 768. It’s 2:30 p.m. A physical therapist asks me if I’m ready to take a walk. Spotting a four-legged silver walker standing by, I readily agree. After one lap around the bed I’m tired and ready to take a nap. The physical therapist explains the 1 to 10 pain scale, least to most, that will enable her to decide which exercises will be tolerable. I tell her my pain level, to my surprise, has not exceeded 2 to 3 after the operation, no doubt due to medication. Before surgery the pain in my left hip often hit 8 to 9. So far, so good!

October 31

After a pain-free, but twilight, sleep overnight, it’s going-home day. I’m scheduled to be discharged in the afternoon, little more than 24 hours after going under the knife.

The physical therapist takes me for a couple of long, walker-assisted, strolls up and down the hall, followed by mini-workouts in the rehab gym, where I practice getting into and out of a shower/tub and stepping up and down a single stair. Still very little pain, just an ample amount of stiffness.

My PT warns me never to cross my legs or ankles during recovery, nor to bend too far forward from my waist, nor to pull my knee up past my waist to greater than a 90-degree angle. Each of these positions risks the dislocation of my new hip and a return to the operating room for a repair job.

I tell my PT there’s no danger of absent-minded leg crossing with me. As a kindergartner I discovered I could not sit cross-legged. When the teacher asked us to sit that way, to my embarrassment, I could manage only to keep my legs together and lean over to one side, propping myself up with my arm to keep from falling over. To this day I’m unable to do what the teacher ordered.

Understanding my new limitations, I order a 3-foot long grabber device from Amazon, so I can pick things up from the floor without bending down, together with a device to allow me to put on my socks independently. We thought Karen could do it for me until we discovered her own body position limits from spinal stenosis.

Upon returning from the hospital this afternoon, we discover it’s not too late to attend the Halloween Party Dinner here at the Chateau. I’m moving along, quite pain-free, with my new walker. Karen’s dead tired from spending the night near my bedside on the tiny little couch in Room 768. But she can’t resist dressing up as Charlie Chaplin, nor can I resist going to the party as a hospital room escapee, still wearing the wristband with my name and birthdate on it.

I discover that was a bit of a mistake. After dinner I can hardly rise without pain. By the time we walk to our home across the street my new hip is complaining of an 8 to 9 pain level. Fortunately, I find my Oxycodone prescription, take one pill, and fall into bed to a sound sleep.

November 5
I’m strong enough now to limp around, without assistance, in our house and outside with only a cane. I no longer need pain medication. I try sitting in the driver's seat of our car today. Tomorrow, I plan to drive the three miles on neighborhood streets to my doctor’s appointment.

Today I have a shiny new hip.

Life is good.