Hip Replacement – Preludes

Don’t ask for a new hip unless you really need onePart One in a series.

A lot led up to my complete hip replacement on September 29, 2009.  Thinking back on my decision process, I now know it was an evolution directed by my deteriorating condition.  It was a long journey from a time where I thought I might need and benefit from surgery to one where no other choice was possible.  I’ll explain as best I can.  I want to illustrate my advice in this matter: “Don’t ask for a new hip unless you really need one.”  As much as some people might lead you to believe, hip replacement is no small deal.  It represents a major life event and a large commitment by yourself and those around you.
I have a dear friend in California who leads an annual backpacking trip in the high Sierras.  In 2007, we were talking and I became interested in joining this trek. Bob and I had been active in Boy Scouts together in our home town and he had kept up with backpacking but I had not.  I decided this would be a great thing to do and committed to join the group in the summer of 2008.  I researched the latest in lightweight, high tech gear and ran up large bills at REI.  At one point, I had a tent set up in the living room and all my gear strewn around and being pondered and organized.  I practiced packing and unpacking, pitching and taking down the tent, using the stove, the water purifier, the food dehydrator I bought, and other such preparations.

When spring came, I knew I must get in hiking condition.  I began to take long walks of up to 7-8 miles.  Then I began to hike with my backpack and loads up to 25-30 pounds.  Sometimes on these hikes, things went well.  But increasingly I began to have occasions when my right hip did not act right and was painful both during and after the hiking.  I took more and more Aleve, thinking this was just arthritis and all I needed to do was tough it out.  But toughing it out was not to work.  I remember one 4 mile hike around a local lake with a loaded pack when I wondered if I could make it back home.  My right hip felt like it might “go out” at any time.  Bitterly disappointed, I finally called my friend and withdrew from the trek.

That fall I sought medical help and advice.  I will make this brief, but I saw several doctors, had X-rays, CAT scans, MRIs, steroid injections, and an assortment of prescriptions for anti-inflamatory drugs. My condition came and went, and always when it “went” I believed that now I was surely getting better and the prescriptions were working.  One doctor offered surgery but without much conviction.  I was busy at work and kept putting off any action.  I even entertained some notion that I might improve and try the 2009 summer hike.  But there was no way.  The distance I could walk became shorter and shorter, as my pain became more and more pervasive.  Pain was especially prominent when I lay in bed and tried to sleep.  I began taking drugs for pain as well as arthritic inflamation, just to get a night’s sleep.

In July 2009 I went to see a new surgeon my California friend’s doctor had recommended.  I took it from him that I would need a hip replacement sometime.  But he could not predict when that time would be or when it had arrived.  He explained what I could do but stopped short of telling me what I should do.  He gave me a complete picture of what the surgery and rehabilitation involved and answered my long list of questions.  I drove away assuming that I would eventually have this operation and with this man as my surgeon.  But when?

My condition deteriorated rapidly after this visit.  I had to give up riding my bicycle 12 miles and back to work, and started needing a cane to assist me with walking.  My hip was unable to lift my leg in and out of the car, and often onto the bed.  I had to grab my pants and lift the leg by hand.  Fearful grinding noises issued from the hip joint.  I kept working but never got a good night’s sleep.

A month later I made the call and asked for a new hip as soon as possible.  But due to my surgeon’s loaded schedule, thEd Briggs Hip before surgery - Editede operation had to wait for many weeks.  I lived the life of a crippled man by day and a sleepless sufferer by night.  My doctor who is “not a fan of narcotics for arthritis pain relief” was forced by my begging to give me stronger and stronger ones.  I started working from home and taking sick leave while counting the days until my appointment in the operating room.

I want to show you an X-ray of my hips just before the surgery.  This is from the front, so my good left hip is on the right, and my bad right hip is on the left.

You don’t need to be a radiologist to see the difference.

The “works” of your hip is a ball in a socket.  My left hip still has a nice one.  The right hip shows bone grinding against bone and surrounded by a nasty-looking arthritic mess.  On September 29th that would get replaced.

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