Wow! I can’t believe it’s been only X (fill in the blank) months since I had my hip replaced! If I’ve said that once since my surgery in January 2012, I’ve said it a hundred times. My recovery from hip replacement was remarkable – I was walking unassisted 3 weeks after surgery. I was back at work a week early. I took a long driving trip to trace my genealogical roots 7 months after surgery. The only reason I knew I’d had the surgery is that I was now pain free for the first time in several years. But I really did have a hard time believing I’d had such major surgery. I could do anything, right?
So it’s the first Saturday of December 2012 (a little more than 10 months since my surgery). And it’s my birthday. It’s 9:45 am. I am meeting a girlfriend for coffee and then another friend for lunch. I get out of the shower, dry myself and I put my operated leg up on the toilet seat to moisturize my legs and suddenly, without warning, I feel the hip shift and I know my new hip has popped out. The pain is immediately excruciating. I get myself down on the floor on my back and think, OK, if I rotate the leg in the opposite direction, perhaps I can get it to pop back into position. Wrong. So I lie there, more scared than I have ever been in my life, and I begin planning what I must do.
The good news is that the dislocation has happened in such a way that my leg is turned in rather than out so, as long as I can keep my left thigh and knee “nested” against my right leg, I can get myself into a position in which the pain is at least bearable. Having figured that out, I manage to pull myself on my back, using my upper body, from the bathroom into the living room to my cell phone.
I call the friend I’m supposed to meet for coffee and cancel – she’s on hold to help me if I need anything. I call the friend I’m to meet for lunch and she heads right over. And then I call the woman who works in my building’s management office and happens to live in the building. Now, this is one of those “someone’s looking out for me” moments – I’ve lived in my building for nearly 5 years; I’ve known this woman, Nicole, for nearly 5 years. Three weeks before this crisis, apropos of nothing, Nicole gave me her cell phone number. I now call her and she immediately comes to my apartment. Somehow I managed to disengage the security bar I have on my front door. She knocks on the door and says, “Ms. Gibson, I’m here.” And I reply, “Nicole, I’m butt naked.” She comes in and gets me into a robe and we wait for the ambulance. Meanwhile, my friend Katherine arrives and calms my kitty Ariel who is freaking out about what’s happening.
The ambulance takes me to the nearest hospital. The ER staff is great. Within an hour I am fitted with a catheter and an IV line. Thank goodness for morphine – it doesn’t take away the pain but it sure makes you not care!! I give the ER attending my surgeon’s cell phone number (thank goodness I never deleted it). The hospital cannot use that – they must go through the proper channels - calling his office and leaving a message for the doctor on-call. I am not held to such protocol so I call my surgeon who is out on a bike ride and is wonderful and totally non-judgmental. After speaking with the ER doctor, he tells me they are going to attempt a hip reduction (i.e., popping it back into place). If that doesn’t work, they will transport me to George Washington University Hospital, where he’s on staff, and they will take care of me there. X-rays are the most difficult part of the process because I am unable to hold the position they need to get the best pictures. Even though I'm fairly stoic when it comes to pain, I'm screaming in the X-ray room. When they are finished and move me to my ER room, I apologize to Katherine. She says, “I didn’t hear anything.” Later, when I’m sharing the story with someone else, Katherine says, “I lied. They had to evacuate that entire wing of the hospital.” Humor saves the day!
Despite lots of morphine and then Fentanyl and Verset for conscious sedation, the ER team is ultimately unsuccessful. I am now transported to GW Hospital.
Lesson learned: ask the ambulance driver to take you to the hospital of your choice. There’s no way of knowing if they will but it doesn’t hurt to ask. I assumed I had to go where they took me and it didn’t occur to me to ask if they could take me elsewhere. Had I asked, I might have been taken to GW Hospital first, thereby eliminating 8+ hours of pain and discomfort.
When I arrive at GW, despite the fact that it’s Saturday night in an inner city emergency room, filled with people in varying critical stages and an ER admitting staff that’s overworked and distracted, I know I’m in the right place.
I’m taken to a room immediately. The first person who walks in is a drop-dead handsome young doctor. Even in my morphine daze, I’m thinking, “why didn’t I put on makeup this morning?” He’s my surgeon’s resident and he and the ER attending (who it turns out is head of the ER) both take care of me. I know immediately I am in good hands. Several hours later, after much more morphine and more Fentanyl and Verset and 6 people doing the procedure while I’m on the floor, they successfully complete the hip reduction. I’m admitted to the hospital for overnight observation and discharged the next day.
I am now following the post-operative hip replacement precautions I was given for “After Six Weeks” and then “At Three Months.” I am on a reduced work schedule and am following doctor’s orders religiously.
I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more vulnerable physically and emotionally than I did during this experience. I’ve lived alone for a very long time and I believe I can handle anything that happens to me. But this brought me to my knees, both physically and emotionally. Yes, I was able to get myself the help I needed because I’m a strong woman and I don’t panic easily. But I learned a lot about myself during this crisis.
I learned that I have issues with perfection and superiority. In the months following my hip replacement, I had to be the star patient. It was important that I be the patient who was walking unassisted 3 weeks after surgery (after all, that fact is noted in the very first paragraph of this piece). Who cares?
I was doing so well that I really thought I could do everything I used to do. [Ultimately, I can, but not without a lot of preparation.] Nothing was off-limits for me. I did the basic physical therapy exercises that were given to me following surgery and then after my PT sessions ended, I stopped doing the stretches and strengthening exercises.
This fall I began teaching Sunday school to 4-5 year olds. The only seats they have in the classroom are the kiddie stools. I knew I had no business sitting on them – if I learned anything following surgery, it is that my knees should always be at a greater than 90 degree angle to my body – but this was my first experience teaching these little children and I didn’t want to stand out by asking for an adult sized chair. I didn’t want to be different! Again, who cares?
I’m learning to do a better job of taking care of myself:
- I do my exercises as instructed
- I always use a grabber. (Automatically picking up something that falls on the floor is a hard habit to break.)
- I bought a long-handled applicator to apply moisturizer to my legs
- I make sure my hips are higher than my knees when I’m sitting – even a little bit helps; sometimes just extending my operated leg is all that’s needed
- And, yes, it feels like an old folks tool, but I’m looking into getting a wireless medical alert system
- I’m not perfect and every time I think I am, I remember what happened to me
- I will not take my new hip for granted
- I carry a picture of my dislocated hip on my phone – a constant reminder.
I think I took my wish for a memorable birthday too far this year!!