On Tuesday morning around 8:30am a female anesthesiologist getting ready to administer a spinal block said to me that I would feel a little pinch. I was sitting up resting against something akin to a massage chair. The second anesthesiologist had put a plastic mask over my mouth and nose and was feeding me oxygen. Several other members of the surgical team were off to the side preparing the computerized arm that would assist the surgeon in my total hip replacement. I was expecting the anesthesiologist to say “You’ll start feeling a little sleepy,” but that didn’t happen. Actually, nothing happened. In one split second I was wondering when they were going to put me under and in the next I was in recovery with a nurse rubbing my hand and arm asking me how I was doing. About 4 hours had passed and I was now bionic. An average guy turned into a potential superhero. Don’t get excited. I still haven’t figured out my super power, although it might be recovery from major surgery.
I did experience the one thing that I was dreading most – catheterization. I’ve had fantasies of nurses fondling my manhood, but this wasn’t one of them. Any man reading this will momentarily cringe at the thought of a rod being inserted in their member. It is just not a natural thing and something we are genetically taught to protect ourselves from. Then there is always the weird fear you have about the nurse being pretty and worrying if you will have a manly reaction to her touch. Well, don’t worry. That kind of thought is the furthest from you mind. With multiple layers of discomfort engaged, she used a confident hand and administered to catheter which, much to my dismay, wasn’t a painful as I thought it would be. It did feel good to get my bladder relieved.
When my room was ready I made the trip up to the 12th floor and got wheeled into my room. Then began the first of a repeated process of blood pressure, oxygen, pulse, temperature and going through the identification checks. And the meds. The meds were multiple pills, the best being those light narcotics that made the pain be fuzzy in the background.
I wiggled my toes for anyone who walked into the room like a second grader who had learned his first song on a violin. Feeling warm and cozy I figured I would settle in for a long nap and wake up in 2 days to go home.
Then it happened.
Her name was Stacy and she was the physical therapist. Hidden behind that cheerful smile, dark hair and pretty face was an evil demon. Well, that’s what I thought when she said “We’re going to get you up and walk for a while.”
Here’s where those many years of going out to run or being at mile 20 of a marathon and wondering WTF paid off. I didn’t protest or grumble. I knew this was where the rubber met the road and with the first step out of the bed I was going to set the tone for my recovery. Getting well is like going into training. There is a program and you have to follow it. Stacy was great and showed me the right way to get out of bed without twisting things. She also made me do it myself after she showed me.
I used a walker to go from my bed over to the door and back. That was all I was going to do on the surgery day. That small journey was about all I could take. She said it was also very good for right after surgery. They’d be back for more later.
I was in and out of drug and pain induced sleep. Teri got there just after my PT and stayed with me until it was dark and she had to go to get to the grocery store before it closed. I was not great company, but just having her next to me was all I could ask for.
Day One Post Op
I won’t bore you with the repetition of pokes and prods except that I was very consistent in my blood pressure (115/65 on average) and heart rate (62bpm). My pain level never really got above what I characterized as a 4 on a 10 scale and the basic pain meds were taking care of it. That felt really good. I wasn’t trying to be a manly man and suck it up. If my pain went high, I wanted them to know because it meant something. Plus, a body in pain is not focused on healing, but on prevention. For a short time and in the right amount pain medication is a great curative.
The main program each day was my PT and my occupational therapy. That and mastering peeing in a bottle while lying down in bed. Not as easy as you think.
I got a toweling off and clean surgical pants from the OT. Even got into the clean T-shirt I brought. I was beyond being self conscious that I was commando style under my garments. Getting comfortable trumped most everything else.
On the morning PT I managed to steer the walker on one round of the 12th floor. That wore me out. I tried to read but my brain could not engage. I learned that daytime TV is totally worthless and repetitious. There are women discussion panels, hollywood watchers, stars who want to be psychologists, psychologists who want to be stars, and judges.
I was thankful for the sleep induction from the drugs.
When the second round of PT came time I was grateful for the escape. We started down the hall but this time we turned into the PT Gym. There I did some leg exercises (more on that in a future post) and climbed stairs. One day after surgery and I was climbing stairs. I even impressed myself.
Day Two Post Op
PT was there first thing. At 7:30am Stacy and I were rambling down the hallway in the walker and I was moving with a lot more flexibility, even though it was still very still stiff. In the gym I completed four rounds of stairs and Stacy handed me my cane. “This is yours to keep.” She set it up and I walked around the gym getting used to the rhythm of the movement.
I decided I would leave the walker and go with the cane. She said I could now move around freely and that she would warn the nurses so they wouldn’t try to tackle me. When we got back to the room she set me up in a chair, not the bed, and showed me how to get up and down and what not to do. She told me I should get up frequently but that was an unneeded instruction. I felt glorious with independence. No one was going to stop me now. I could pee in a toilet. I was a big boy again!
With OT I learned how to put on my clothes and got to use this sock thing. I was skeptical at first, but it is a very cool way to put on socks when you can’t bend over. Being able to do that was the icing on the cake of me feeling independent.
Day Three Post Op
I was going home today. Early PT and visits from all the doctors and head nurses to make sure everything was in order. I had been moving a round with a cane with great ease and changed myself into my street clothes with great satisfaction. Dr.Gupta came for one last hospital visit and we covered all the details. After he left I recounted that I had gotten all of the “wants” in my new hip that I had listed. It was ceramic on plastic, done with computer assisted technology and the stem that will allow the bone to grow in (the option is to have the stem cemented in).
I got home and had a wonderful reunion with the family. They held off Thanksgiving dinner until the day I got home (Friday) and by the end of the day I was only using the cane to help me keep balance on the stairs and outside. We all stayed up late and had pumpkin and apple pie and laughed about things in general.
Today is day four, I am pretty much walking unassisted. I showered this morning and feel refreshed and nearly normal. It was much easier getting in and out of bed last night and this morning than at any other time since the operation. Basically, the recovery continues and much faster than I had expected.
I don’t have any biological reason that my recovery has been so good. I am an average guy except that I am now bionic. The only differentiator between myself and the other patients I saw on the floor who had undergone similar surgeries is that I am in shape. Not as good as I have been in the past, since I am up about 5 pounds, but I was still riding my bike and doing yoga up to the day before the surgery. To me, the reason for the recovery is that I believe in running and the power that doing it well will give an individual. And keeping a smile on your face. It is hard not to recover when you are smiling.
I can’t end this without extending my thanks to all the the nurses and nursing aids who tended to me over the three days I was under their care. I was subjected to a constant barrage of smiles and good nature and, most important, true caring for my wellbeing. each time they touched me for a pulse or to feel my skin temperature they were healing me. It is a gift that I am grateful they share.
Belated Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. As I remind myself each morning when there is that twinge of pain – “Persevere and be of good cheer.” It was an admonition from a professor I had in graduate school, but one that seems appropriate right now.