25 October 2008


The moment the X-ray came up on the computer monitor, before the doctor had said a word, I thought, "Oh, shit. This is bad."

The right hip was normal. The left was a ruin. The top half of the "ball" part of the ball-and-socket joint looked rotted and crumbled in on itself, collapsed under the weight of the pelvis, which was noticeably tilted downward on that side. Bone was resting on raw, decayed bone. Well, that explained the crunching noises I'd been hearing when I moved.

The doctor was explaining that the only option was surgery.

In the weeks that followed, my condition deteriorated. Towards the end, movement became so awkward and painful that I could not work even close to a normal eight-hour day. Prescription painkillers were what kept me going, to the extent that I even was "going". My health was deteriorating in other ways, too. After my energetic vacation last year, I found that my weight was down to 190, not much above the maximum healthy figure for a man of my height; during the months before the surgery it ballooned to 210, since I essentially stopped walking for exercise, leaving me feeling bloated and flabby. My initial anxiety about the operation, which was considerable, eventually yielded to impatience to get it done and get myself out of this nightmare.

When the surgeon came in to see me as I was being prepped, to talk about anesthesia, I said, "I don't want to know anything. I want to not be there while it's happening, and come back when it's over." He said, "I think we can accommodate that." They did.

They started an IV. I vaguely remember being wheeled out of the preparation area and into someplace with bright lights on the ceiling (whether that was the OR or not, I have no idea). Then there was just nothingness. It was not like being asleep at all; I was simply not there. My next memory was of fuzzily waking up and noticing a large clock that said 3:30, almost six hours later. I was aware, barely, but inert; an organism to be kept alive and stable, not a person to do or think anything. That came back gradually, hour by hour.

You measure your return to autonomous humanity by the tubes they take out of you. When I woke up, I had at least three tubes connecting me to various things, and it wasn't until late the next day that I was fully untethered. Even then, they keep an IV socket plugged into you, just in case there's an emergency and they need to "feed" you something quickly. I still had that attached to my hand through Friday night.

I should mention that OHSU's doctors and staff were thoroughly professional and impressive in everything they did.

For such invasive surgery, recovery is remarkably pain-free. The main issue in recovery is that there are certain positions into which the leg must not be moved, because they could dislocate the new artificial hip joint or strain the soft tissues which had to be cut through during the operation and are still healing. Most of the "rehabilitation" period consisted of teaching me how to sit down, stand up, dress, climb stairs, get in and out of cars, etc., without letting my leg get into one of the forbidden positions.

I walk with a walker, the kind you see old people using. The left hip is far less painful than before surgery, but it will not support full body weight as it needs to do for me to walk autonomously. It was explained to me that the human system reacts to this surgery the way it would react to a broken bone. After all, they sawed the top part of my left thighbone completely off and replaced it with a metal prosthesis, and they had to cut through a lot of muscle to get at the bone to do so. It will take a while for the hip area to completely heal and get back to normal after that.

In the meantime, I move slowly and tire quickly. The biggest nuisance is a persistent swelling in one foot, caused (I'm told) by the days of lying still in bed after the operation. But strength returns day by day. I'll be back at work part-time during the first week of November, and probably back to 100% normal function around the end of the year. Already the torments of the last few months are fading into memory.

I feel fortunate to live in a modern society where technology, and human knowledge and skill, are advanced enough to have made my deliverance possible.


Blogger mendip said...

Glad to hear all is going well. And also rejoice that we still have a society that believes in technology and learning to correct such problems, rather than leaving it up to "god's will"...

25 October, 2008 05:19  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Good description of how it all went down Mr.Infidel..to waking up etc.Because I had talked to a couple folks that had extensive surgery and went through similar things...who were not even as educated as you seem...yet...when they discribed the events to me they used all these medical terms they picked up on from the doctors I guess..that I couldnt understand half of what they were describing. I am a tad older then you are,going from the age you posted you are,I havent ever had "major" surgery...just the day in and out,like from an accident,or getting stitches for deep wounds etc. But I am sure something will come up sooner or later that will require similar..I am not getting younger. :) I think it's great that folks can get major surgery like yours and be home in a week! And just imagine...as the years go by...it just keep's getting better! This time of healing will go by and before you know it..it will just all be a faded memory.Good to hear that you'll be up and running though soon.A great holiday season present at least! :)

25 October, 2008 06:44  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mendip -- Yep, that's for sure. Prayers, crystals, faith healing, or whatever would have done absolutely zip for degenerated bone.

RC -- The longer you can put it off before you need arthroplasty :-) the more advanced the technology will become. The implant I received has an 80% chance of lasting twenty years, after which I'll presumably need a new one -- but by then, we'll surely just be re-growing body parts in situ from stem cells or some such thing, rather than doing surgery.

25 October, 2008 07:29  
Blogger FranIAm said...

Well that is one amazing story- I am glad that your surgery went well and that you are on the mend.

It is remarkable what can be done - really amazing when you think about it. This surgery would not have been possible in a past that was not that far ago!

25 October, 2008 09:48  
Blogger FranIAm said...

I said far ago, but I meant that far back!!!

25 October, 2008 09:48  
Blogger Christy said...

Medicine is amazing, and will get even more amazing in our lifetime.

You'll still be young before you need a replacement, and by then? Like you said, who knows?

Glad you are happy and on the road to perfect mobility.

25 October, 2008 12:16  

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