When my doctor told me, I had “severe, advanced osteoarthritis,” I went from 40 to 80 in 3.25 seconds flat. How could that be? Arthritis is an old-person disease. At 40, I had barely dipped my toe into middle-age. Was I really a candidate for hip replacement?
My bionic journey
My journey to becoming a bionic woman started in 2006, when I gave birth to my son, six-weeks before his due date, three weeks after my brother died.
It was a traumatic time for me. My brother had been hospitalized with pancreatitis for most of my second trimester. Filled with (false?) hope, we all thought he was going to live. But he didn’t. He passed away in early September, 2006.
I was devastated.
The mother of a toddler, I felt I couldn’t mourn in front of my young daughter. By day I put on my happy-mommy face. But in the mornings in the shower or in the pool at lunch time, I cried. I cried hard where I knew the water would wash away the evidence. Often, I would shower a second time in the evening just to have a place to cry in private.
Couple this sadness with the crazy hormones of pregnancy and you have emotional mush.
To summarize: my brother died; my son was born six weeks early; and the day after he was born, I couldn’t walk.
Blame the drugs
Thanks to the modern wonders of epidural drugs, I couldn’t feel my stirrup-splayed legs during the six-hour labour. For most women, this is not a problem. However, for me with compromised hip joints, bone spurs and reduced cartilage, it was a problem.
My right leg was stuck straight forward. I couldn’t rotate it internally or externally. Just straight.
For five years, I tried to fix it. I worked hard, damn hard. Physio, massage, chiropractic and yoga. Lots of yoga. You name it, I tried it; every flavour — Ashtanga, Hatha, Vinyasa, Birkam, Kundalini, hot, cold, everything short of Tutti Fruitti.
Many of the treatments helped mitigate the pain, but nothing cured me.
So, at 40, five years after my son was born, my doctor called me with my x-ray results. Severe, advanced osteoarthritis.
Why so young?
When I tell people, I had a hip replaced at 45, the usual response is “that’s so young” or “why?” The short answer to those comments is “yes” and “because I needed it.”
The long answer is that due to the congenital shape of my hips, combined with 25+ years of dancing (much of that percussive Irish Dancing on concrete floors), combined with the trauma of an early birth and epidural, my pelvis and right femur were a perfect-storm.
Although I continued to try to mitigate the pain, once I received the osteoarthritis diagnosis, the need for surgery became apparent.
But I put it off for five more years.
Why delay for a decade?
Life events — like marital separation and job responsibilities — made it easy to delay. And for some reason, it’s hard to prioritize going under general anesthesia, having your glut sliced open, your femur sawed off, a prosthesis implanted, your pelvic socket resurfaced and your skin stapled back together.
But I did it.
The decision and preparation
In October of 2015, the second anniversary of meeting with my surgeon, I told him I was ready.
For the next six months, I had time to prepare and get nervous. I got my ducks in a row. I lined up my personal support team. Planning my three-month leave at work, I hired staff to support the office. And should the surgery go awry, I saw an attorney to get my will in order.
My surgeon performs nine surgeries a day. When I learned this, I thought to myself, “God, please do not let me be the ninth.”
The day before my surgery, I learned the scheduled time, 2:30 pm.
In preparation, I had nothing to eat for the 24 hours prior.
My sweetheart and my sister took me to the hospital. I was admitted, did a second antiseptic body-swab, and the IV was administered.
At about 2pm, my surgeon came to visit me in the pre-op room. He said due to an unanticipated delay that morning, there was a chance my surgery would be canceled. As he would be on vacation the following week, my surgery may need to be rescheduled in 10 days.
As a single parent without family nearby and employed full-time with considerable responsibilities, there were a lot of logistics to align in order to make this date happen. I wasn’t sure if it would be possible to realign the stars after a 10-day delay.
And if it was possible, would I turn back and chicken out?
I continued to wait.
At about 4pm, my surgeon briskly approached my pre-op bed and said, “sorry, your surgery will need to be rescheduled.”
A nurse feeling bad for me, quickly came to my side and offered water, juice and cookies.
“Just some water, please,” I said. I was parched.
Sometimes it pays to have distant family
As I sipped the water through a straw, I looked up and saw the nurse chatting with two others. I overheard the nurse in charge say, “Where did Bed #3’s support come from?”
“Her niece drove in from Kelowna.”
“And where did Bed #4’s support come from?”
“Her sister flew in from California.”
“We’ll take Bed #4 then; if we cancel her, we’ll have to reimburse for the flight. Reschedule Bed #3.”
And so, just as quickly as my sippy-cup appeared, it evaporated. My IV and I were whisked into the operating room.
The OR staff sat me up on the table and administered a needle in my spine. I savoured the irony as I this all started with the epidural I had birthing my son 10 years ago.
In a few moments, a team of 12 or so came in. They erected a screen at my waist. I was cognizant of people present, working behind the screen, but nothing else. And then I was cognizant of people leaving. In the blink of an eye, the anesthesia wore off and the screen came down.
It was like watching a movie in dreamscape. You can’t really remember it, but you know it happened.
They wheeled me in my bed into the post-op room, a mere 45 minutes after surgery began.
From the chrysalis emerges the bionic woman
And I lay in the bed all swaddled in white sheets, there by my side in the post-op recovery room were my sweetheart and sister coming into focus as I regained consciousness.
My sweetheart assisted me into the passenger seat of my car. He braced me up the first ascent of the stairs in my home. And he kept my “surgery support team” of friends and family apprised of my state during and after surgery.
My sister took care of me during my recovery, ensuring that I didn’t bend beyond 90 degrees, twist from the waist or cross my legs. She always had my walker and crutches within reach. She carefully, patiently and discreetly attended as I showered.
Mom, dear Mom in California, had given me a bell to alert my sister when I needed her to change my ice packs or deliver me food.
Benjamin Buttons meets the bionic woman
It was fascinating to be Benjamin Button — experiencing old age, needing a walker, Metamucil and prunes. And then looking forward to being young again. (Ironically, we share the same birthday.)
With my son as my attendant, we took pleasure in riding the HandyDart (no joke) bus. (See byline for humour.) I was the youngest passenger on all of my rides. And a 10-year-old son HandyDart? As rare a sighting as a Jackalope.
After eight weeks of prescribed physical limitations, my restrictions were lifted. Feeling young-ish again, I booked a trip to New England to celebrate my friend’s 50th birthday. It was great. I booked the flight with travel assistance, and was wheeled briskly through Chicago O’Hare. I breezed through security and pre-boarded with the First-Classers.
For her birthday, my friend and I went to a punk rock concert, Gino and the Goons. Gino saw me tapping my foot and called me out to get up and dance. I refused. After the show, he approached our high-top table, and I explained to him my recent prosthesis and new bionic state. He still thought I should get up and dance.
Overall, the surgery and recovery have been very successful.
A bit of advice
As I prepare to have Lefty done, I’d like to offer a bit of advice. Life’s too short to live in pain.
In the words of Benjamin Button, “our lives are defined by opportunities. Even the ones we miss.”
If you have the option to fix something that ails you, do it. Your quality of life is so much better when your actions are not driven by pain and seeking pain relief. Your patience with your children, family, co-workers and friends increases dramatically when pain-free. You can reacquire focus for reading, work and hobbies instead of focusing on pain and pain management.
And although slightly annoying to set off the security detector at the airport, it makes me smile to know it happens because I’m bionic.