The Light at the End of this Hip Replacement Tunnel
Updated: Sep 1, 2020
For the past five months, my dad has been driving back and forth from Ohio to Indiana in order to be present for my doctors appointments, surgeries, recoveries and a few vacations we managed to sneak in between. Every time he left to go back to Ohio, there was always a plan for when he’d be coming back.
Yesterday he headed home and this time, there was no plan for when he’d be coming back. We’ve finally reached the end of this long road. I’ve got two more physical therapy appointments next week and that’ll be it.
My second recovery started off pretty rough.
My blood pressure was so low after surgery, they couldn't give me powerful enough painkillers to stay ahead of the pain. Additionally, I was so dizzy, that the first few times they tried to get me out of bed, I started blacking out, which resulted in a near fall during one effort. Yikes. Good thing my nurses were amazing and highly attentive.
Even after I went home, things did not improve quickly. My blood pressure was still low and even though I'd started taking my pain meds, I couldn't get ahead of the pain. There was a decent amount of crying and frustration for the first 24 hours after coming home. That is, until I was finally able to conquer the pain. After that, things turned around pretty quickly.
I had a lot of headaches with this recovery. And, I felt like it took me longer to get moving and feel steady on my feet. But after about three or four weeks, I felt like I'd mostly started successfully conquering things again.
I decided to go to physical therapy this time, rather than doing it all on my own. I figured, now that I had two new hips, the best decision would be to work with the physical therapists at the hospital. I'm glad I did. It's definitely helped me feel stronger faster.
I struggled immensely with insomnia until I stopped taking the Tramadol. I thought I might never sleep again. It was awful. But, I've been doing a lot of detoxing with my diet, which has helped get my system back on track. If you read my other posts, you know the worst part about my first recovery was the constipation (dear, God). But the second time around, I didn't struggle nearly as much. I accredit this entirely to the changes I made to my diet between my surgeries.
I started working with a Naturopathic healer named Mahu and I'm struggling less and less with digestive issues I've suffered from most of my life. I'm not perfect with it all, but with these new habits, I feel like a mostly normal person who digests food properly, which I never thought I'd be able to say. And most importantly, I haven't spent the last two months since surgery in total agony.
This has been a strange journey. One that has tested me in almost every way. Like most things, it feels like this all began eons ago and yet, here we are. It all happened. And some how, it feels like I’m coming out the other side of some strange time warp and it all happened so fast.
I was reading something I posted on Facebook one year ago today. I’d had a hellacious day in Rome and one of the reasons it was so awful, was because it turned out to be a particularly bad hip day. I still remember hobbling around the city, trying to enjoy myself, but within a couple of hours, I was mostly just trying not to cry and wishing I was back in bed at my AirBnB in Florence.
I pushed through the pain as I always did. But I was exhausted. For years, that’s how I lived. Pushing through the pain, doing my best not to allow it to slow me down, but starting and ending every day, exhausted. And despite all my best efforts, I was slowing down, which, for someone who exists in a warp-speed kind of way, felt most defeating of all.
It’s only just beginning to settle in that I no longer have to live my life that way. As I’ve progressed through this second recovery, I have entire chunks of time every day when I’m up and around doing regular life things, that I forget all about my new hips.
I can get up from sitting down and start walking without a second thought, because it no longer involves my hips forgetting what they’re supposed to do. I used to stand up and need a few moments for them to remember how to work. Sometimes they’d forget and I’d have to catch myself from falling. Sometimes, regular motions like walking in one direction and then turning to go another way, caused excruciating pain. Going up and down stairs was a major feat. Sometimes they’d stop working for seemingly no reason at all. These are all things I don’t have to spend brain power on anymore.
What a revelation.
I thought my life revolved around the things I chose. And in some ways, it did. But in many ways I couldn’t admit, it revolved around my pain level from day to day. What I did, how much energy I had, how much enjoyment I’d get out of things, all revolved around the pain. And until earlier this year, I'd resigned to that being my life.
Now, here I am and it’s not my life anymore. Yes, it’s something I’ll have to deal with for the rest of my life. Yes, it will involve more surgeries in the future. But for huge chunks of time, I don’t have to arrange my life around the pain. I can do almost everything people with healthy hips do. I can work, sleep, explore the world, go on hikes and long walks, I can dance and lift weights and do things that bring loads of joy into my life. And I can do it all without worrying that it’s going to render me immobile the next day.
Looking back at the day I found out I’d need one hip replaced, I mostly remember being in disbelief. I sat along the waterfront in Split, Croatia, staring out at the Adriatic and wondering how it was possible that everything I’d just learned at the doctors office was real. The road ahead felt as unclear as ever. I suddenly felt like I was existing in this very surreal alternate universe.
The day I met my surgeon in the United States, also turned out to be the day I found out I’d need both my hips replaced. He said it in such a matter-of-fact way as he pointed things out on my x-ray.
"Here's where you have no cartilage left on the left side. Here are the bone spurs that have developed because of the bone grinding on the other bone. Here's a cyst that has formed for the same reason. And here, on the right side, you can see how much cartilage is already gone. It's following the same path as the left. You'll need both replaced."
I fought back a wave of emotion when I asked, “Why is this happening?” and, he couldn’t really say. No one can. There were no previous injuries, no long history of intense involvement in sports and the damage didn’t align with that of hip dysplasia. Could there be an underlying autoimmune issue? Maybe. Or perhaps this was simply an unlucky trick of anatomical fate? And, whether or not it will eventually impact other joints is impossible to say. If there’s anything more frustrating than finding out you need both your hips replaced, it’s not having a concrete reason as to why they deteriorated in the first place.
But despite it all, here I am, new hips firmly in place and not even “well on the road to recovery,” but essentially, recovered. It’ll take another 6-9 months to be considered totally healed. But compared to where I was, I feel pretty damn recovered.
It’s still settling in that I can start making decisions about how to proceed from here. I was in a pretty unique position when all these diagnoses and surgeries came about. I’d already left my full-time career as a hairstylist and salon owner behind, and while I’ve considered jumping back into it, I’ve decided, for various reasons, that it’s not the right fit for now.
So, what’s next? I honestly don't know.
As I’m basking in the light at the end of this particular tunnel, there are still a lot of unknowns. There are decisions I’m waiting on that will determine what I do next. This holding pattern was the cause of several meltdowns leading up to my second surgery. But, I’m getting more comfortable with the idea that I don't always have to have a plan. I'm allowed to be still, though I'm still trying to learn what that means for me.
Anything is possible.
For now, I’m going to celebrate healing. I’m going to celebrate getting through these surgeries like the badass I am. I’m going to allow myself to lean fully into the excitement of starting over and getting my life back; A newer, better life than before. One where I choose what’s healthiest for me, in all senses of the word.
Here’s to the end of 2018. I can’t say it’s been a particularly bad year. Just jam-packed with a lot of hard things that tested me in all the ways. The rewards have been as great as the struggles. I don’t necessarily feel as beat up as I did at the end of 2017, a year I will always consider my total dismantling. 2018 became about clearing away the rubble, securing the foundation and setting up the scaffolding. It was a preparation year. 2019, the rebuilding begins.
Of course this kind of thing is never linear. And life will never stop testing us, especially when we’re busy recreating ourselves. But once you decide your foundation is strong enough, there’s really nothing that can’t be handled. I don’t know why we say things are, “Solid as a rock.” Because rocks can be crushed and chipped away at with relative ease. I like to say my foundation is solid as diamond. Which offers an exceedingly more glamorous visual than a dirty old rock anyway.
I like to see myself standing firmly on an entire mountain of diamond. And, I can confidently say I am finally standing firmly.
I’ve got two new hips to prove it.