Getting hip means whole new thing for this patient

October 03, 2005|By KEVIN COWHERD

At some point in the last three weeks, you may have picked up the local rag and turned to this section and thought: "Hmmm, where's what's-his-name? The fat guy with the crazy hair?"

OK, fine, here's the story.

As required by law of every citizen who reaches a certain age and has been at all active during his lifetime, I recently underwent hip-replacement surgery.

And this strikes me as a good time to clear up a few myths about the operation.

First of all, everyone tells you that a hip replacement is a piece of cake, and that they do so many now that it's become just another procedure, no big deal, like having a wart removed or something.

And everyone seems to have a friend or family member who had the operation and is doing "just great" and wishes he or she "had done it years earlier."

Terrific. I'm happy for all of you.

But what no one ever tells you is the dirty little secret about major surgery: You're going to feel like hell for a week or so afterward.

You're going to feel weak. You're going to run a fever. You're going to feel nauseous. You're going to break into a sweat just turning on a lamp.

And there's not much you can do about it, because your system is still roiling from the gobs of anesthesia still swishing around in there - not to mention the yummy cocktail of pain-killers, blood-thinners and anti-inflammatories they put you on after the surgery.

Another thing about a hip replacement is that you always hear these wonderful recovery stories about, say, the 87-year-old woman who lives by herself on a big farm in the middle of nowhere and who, four days after having her hip replaced, was out milking the cows and feeding the chickens and baling hay or whatever.

Look, maybe there are people who bounce back that quickly.

But I'm not one of them.

All I know is, four days after my surgery, I wanted to stick my head in the oven and turn on the gas.

I was pale and gimping around the house on a walker, and perspiring so heavily I looked like the frontman for a malaria outbreak.

Another marvelous thing about hip-replacement surgery is that you can forget about sleep afterward - at least any kind of meaningful sleep where you actually close your eyes and drift off.

That's because you're required to sleep only on your back, with a big pillow or foam cushion between your legs so you won't inadvertently cross them, a major no-no during recovery.

OK, let's go over that again.

Not only do you have to sleep on your back - which most of us don't do for any length of time unless we're in a casket - you have to sleep with your legs spread-eagled, as if you've been horseback-riding all day and are suffering from horrible chafing.

Now tell me something: does that sound like a comfy position to you?

Huh?

Does that sound like an ideal way to ease off into Dreamland every night?

No, it didn't to me, either.

If they're going to make you sleep like that, they might as well say: OK, now you have to sleep with one arm tied behind your back and a pie plate attached to your head.

Oh, and we may wrap a rubber band around your tongue and pull it out of your mouth, too.

The point is: who could sleep like that?

Not me, I'll tell you that.

That's why, for the first week after the operation, I was averaging a nifty 90 minutes or so of sleep per night.

Which, as you can imagine, made me a real joy to be around the next day.

Oh, yeah, I woke up all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to spread the love, that's for sure.

Once you get past that first week after the surgery and start to feel better, though, your outlook does improve dramatically - and so does your hip.

But you still have all these precautions to keep in mind, which they beat into your head by repeating the acronym CBS over and over again.

At one of my first physical therapy sessions, a woman sidled up to me and said: Did they tell you about CBS yet?

And I thought: CBS? Mike Wallace is out at 60 Minutes?

They're canceling The King of Queens?

But it turned out that in hip-replacement lingo, CBS stands for the following:

No Crossing affected leg.

No Bending your hip beyond 90 degrees.

Keep your toes Straight. (No turning inward.)

The good news is that I've graduated from getting around with a walker to getting around with a cane, which is like going from high school to Stanford for a hip patient.

I also have to wear these nifty-looking white suppression stockings that come up to your knees and are designed to ward off blood clots.

So, yeah, the whole effect is drop-dead sexy.

Can there be a more alluring sight than a middle-aged man wearing gym shorts, suppression stockings and Docksiders gimping along on a cane?

I don't think so.

Oh, yeah, I'm going to be fighting off the babes with this look.

It sure worked the other day when my neighbor passed while I was out on a walk.

Staring hard at the suppression stockings, she smiled and said: "Gee, I used to wear them when I was pregnant. You're bringing back all sorts of memories."

Great.

I'm making people remember back when they were bloated and veiny and 25 pounds overweight.

Well, anything to help, I guess.

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