OK, I’ve never loved my hips. I’ve struggled with my weight all my life and, even when I managed to get it under control (whatever that is), it was difficult to reduce the size of my hips. My left hip has been plagued with osteoarthritis for nearly 20 years and, within the past 2 years, the pain and movement difficulty became progressively worse.
But let me back up. I have a terrific orthopedist. He’s kind and thorough and a great doctor to have on one’s side. When we started talking seriously about hip replacement about a year ago, I asked him if he performed minimally invasive hip replacement surgery. He replied, very nicely, “I try to make the incision as small as possible, but you do have a lot going on back there.” I realized what he was saying about the size of my butt and hips and I replied, “that was really diplomatic!” He said, “years of practice.”
There’s a lot of planning that must be done before major surgery, especially when one lives alone – or, in my case, with two beautiful kitties who are useless in fixing meals!!
- I prepared paperwork necessary to my HR Department for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act and 10 weeks of fully-paid short-term disability.
- I researched everything I could find, including an on-line calendar for what to do four weeks out, three weeks out, two weeks out, etc.
- I made a list of specific questions for the doctor.
- I spoke with friends about being my coaches, to help me with basic tasks.
- I spoke with friends about staying with me 24/7 for the first week after discharge.
- I visited rehabilitation centers just in case the hospital’s physical and occupational therapists decided that I couldn’t be discharged from the hospital directly home.
- I cooked meals and froze 1-serving size containers of each.
- I rearranged my kitchen cupboards to make things I used most frequently accessible.
- I rearranged bureau drawers so that clothes I would need were in the 2 drawers I could reach without bending over.
- I bought a shower stool and had an ADA compliant showerhead installed.
- I had a handicapped height commode installed in my bathroom – trust me, I will never again use a conventional height toilet if I can avoid it! Even so, I purchased a 3-in-one commode so that I had a frame with handles for convenience.
- I bought a grabber/reacher, a sock aid and a long handled shoehorn.
With my best friend’s husband, I rearranged my bedroom so that the exit side of my bed was my operated side.
- I bought an iPad, which saved my recovery because it allowed me to access the Internet and emails without having to sit at a computer.
- I bought a zero gravity recliner (for under $200) which is perfect for recovery from major surgery.
- I lined up my pet sitter to feed my kitties. Feeding and watering them was probably the last task I was able to accomplish post-recovery.
The hospital where my doctor operates has a joint replacement center of which my doctor is the director. Two weeks before the surgery, I went to a joint replacement “boot camp” at which everyone who would be involved in my care, from arrival to discharge, made a presentation. Up to that joint camp, I was pretty convinced I would have to go to a rehab center after the hospital because I also have a disability affecting my non-operated leg. The joint camp was great in that it made me realize that I was fully prepared and that, barring some unforeseen circumstance, I would definitely be going home from the hospital.
The night before my surgery, since I’d had to take myself off all anti-inflammatories five days before the surgery, I was in serious pain – I felt like my entire body was screaming. The next morning, my best friend picked me up and we went to the hospital. When I was wheeled into the operating room, my pain was an 11 on a 0-10 scale. When I awoke in the recovery room, my pain was at most a 2. I expected that I would at least have some pretty serious post-surgery pain but I had none. The morning after surgery, PT and OT visited me to get me moving. That afternoon, the social worker visited me and told me that PT and OT had cleared me to be discharged home in 2 days time (YES!!). The morning I was discharged from the hospital, the therapist had me do my final walk using only the cane. I think I used a walker for three more days.
I was discharged home on a Thursday. By the following Monday, I no longer needed round the clock care. My physical therapy and nursing needs were handled by a visiting nurses organization. Within two weeks, I was walking unassisted.
I had a slight wrinkle in my recovery when I developed a surgical site infection that required more surgery and an additional four-day hospital stay. Yes, unfortunately, another issue with my big butt! Because I have larger hips and buttocks, I have more tissue to be cut through – more tissue means more likelihood of infection. I returned home from my second hospital stay with a newly inserted PICC line and a prescription for 6 weeks of daily antibiotic infusions.
I was able to return to work a week earlier than planned and, while I don’t love my job and would have loved to stay out longer, the fact is that I was/am recovered so it didn’t make any sense to stay home any longer.
I continue to be astonished at how easy my recovery was, even with the infection. Had I known I would be moving this well with this freedom from pain for the first time in years, I would have done the surgery years ago.
What did I learn from this experience?
First and foremost, about my weight. Should I need more surgery (and knee replacement is in my future), I will be in better shape. Being thinner, having a smaller butt, is no guarantee that I wouldn’t have developed the surgical site infection, but being heavier didn’t help. Being thinner will definitely put a lot less pressure on every part of my body.
I had an epiphany a couple of weeks ago and realized that it’s no longer about looking better, it’s about feeling better. I’ve been following a 1500 calorie/day eating plan that gives me plenty of food and have lost more than 6 pounds in two weeks. So far, so good!
Planning, planning, planning. I was completely ready for the surgery, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I do not take for granted that being centered and grounded had a huge impact on my recovery.
Ask for help. There’s nothing like major surgery to make one feel powerless. Asking for help does not come easily to me but I reached out and am truly blessed by the number of people who were there for me: spending the night, bringing me meals, doing my grocery shopping, stopping by to say hello, taking me to the doctor, taking me to church, just taking me outside to ride around the neighborhood. The astonishing thing is that many of the people who were there for me are people from whom I least expected help – not close friends, just people wanting to be of service. One anecdote here: When I went back for my second surgery, my best friend offered to take me but since another friend had already offered, I told my best friend I wouldn’t need her. Surgery was scheduled for 8 am on a Saturday morning and I had to be at the hospital by 6. I told my friend she only needed to drop me off and I’d be fine on my own. Therefore, I arrived at the hospital alone, got myself checked in alone, called security alone to come and lock up my iPad and iPhone (those items I would have given to a companion if I’d had one), and just felt, well, alone. I may not have needed the help, but I sure missed the company. I will never forget waking up in recovery to find my best friend standing over me – somehow she had managed to get by Security – it felt SO good to see her.
Jillian Gibson is the owner of Gibson Girl handbags and a writer in Washington, DC.