Hip Hip Hooray!
Trip Start May 09, 2012
11Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
St. David's Medical Center
Years ago her knees started bothering her and she saw a few doctors, but she wasn't properly diagnosed. Although she has arthritis in her knees and a large number of "mice" -- loose, calcified bodies floating in the synovial fluid of her joint -- her hip had started to bother her more and more. Gradually over the past couple of years, Kathy had gone from simple pain to walking so poorly she could no longer effectively ambulate. It was very hard to watch her struggle to take just a few steps. Her life became increasingly sedentary and I grew increasingly concerned. And none of the doctors she saw considered other problems. None, that is, until we moved to Austin.
When Kathy went to see an orthopedist a couple of months ago, I'll admit I was skeptical
Pffffrrp! PLEASE! She said her knee. HER KNEE. KNEEEEEEEEE!
Then he explained that due to a nerve that runs from your hip to your knee, many times hip pain is "referred" to your knee and manifests itself as knee pain, even though it's a problem isolated to your hip.
Oh. I guess you've got the big brain now, Doctor Bone Man.
So I shut up and waited until Kathy was finished with a round of x-rays. The doctor returned with the films and slapped them up on a light box on the wall. You don't have to know anything about x-ray imagery, orthopedics or the human skeleton to see what he pointed out. "You need a new hip," he said. Yes. Yes, she did. When Kathy came into this world as a naked little newborn, she had a left hip and a right hip. Fast forward some decades and she now has a left hip and a pile of junk
Her doctor recommended seeing a guy who specializes in hip replacements, so off we went to this other doctor after Kathy got an MRI of her knee. We arrived for the appointment and Kathy had more x-rays of her hip taken. After that, a Physician Assistant (PA) came in to talk. The first thing he said upon entering the room was, "I don't know how you're walking. Your hip is terrible." He did some flexion and extension testing with her leg and said he was amazed she was able to move as much as she was. The PA was very nice, extremely patient and was in no rush to leave the room as he kept fielding our questions, making conversation and ensuring all our questions were answered.
After talking with him, Dr. Heinrich entered and basically asked when Kathy would like to schedule surgery. He also fielded whatever questions we had and seemed to genuinely care. So Kathy chose April 22 as her day for an operation. And I started geeking out on hip replacement procedures.
We got home and I went to YouTube. I watched a few OR videos on hip replacements, so naturally I felt pretty confident that armed with some tools from the garage, a bottle of whiskey and the kitchen counter, I could do what this other clown could. And after informing Kathy of this, she actually insisted on allowing the total stranger she met only an hour prior to go roaming around inside her body instead of me -- her trusted and loving husband of however many years we've been together.
So after that little blow to my self-confidence, I decided this wasn't a battle I'd choose to fight. Fine. Let her go to her "orthopedic surgeon" who "specializes in hip replacements." See how far THAT gets her.
One pre-op appointment a week later and we arrive at today. We got to the surgical center of St. David's Medical Center at 9:00 AM and things moved along pretty well for the first two hours. They got Kathy registered, moved into her pre-op room, cleaned, gowned, IV'd and drugged. Then we waited. For another four hours. She didn't get taken into the OR until 3:30 PM. So while there was a lot of waiting, at least everyone was nice and caring. She met with the pastor, the nurse, the nurse anesthetist, the anesthesiologist, the surgeon, some other doctor and some other nurse. And we watched cartoons. Then the Maury Povich show.
Finally, they came and wheeled Kathy away and I had to wait to hear from the doctor, then the recovery room nurse. So I did some more hanging around. The nurse called just before Kathy went into surgery. Then when the procedure was complete, the surgeon came out and met with me.
As he approached, he looked pleased. "It went well?" I asked as we shook hands.
"Yeah," he replied. "Once we got in there, things were worse than I thought after only looking at the x-rays. What I thought was some bone fragmenting off her femoral head was actually part of her acetabulum which had broken free. I can't believe she was still walking. I don't normally have to put screws in, but I had to put one in to bring everything back together. It's pretty solid now. We lengthened her leg quite a bit so now they're the same again."
"So given all the damage that was done," I asked, "what's the prognosis?"
"She'll get at least 20 years out of this. In fact, it seems that the worse the damage, the quicker it is to heal and right now everything is looking real good."
"So is she mostly machine now?" He didn't pick up on the joke.
"Well, we replaced the acetebulum with a new socket and liner and the femoral head we replaced with a new stem," and demonstrated by sticking a fist into his hand.
I nodded sincerely, then asked, "Does she have to wear a Darth Vader mask now or anything?"
He got it. He chuckled and said, "No, she looks just like she did before except for an incision in her hip."
"That's too bad. I was hoping for extra powers or something." I paused then asked, "How long until she'll be able to transform into a car or small truck?"
He let out a good laugh at this one. "No," he replied while still laughing, "no. Nothing like that."
"Hm," I said looking disappointed. "You'd think that--"
"I know," he interrupted. "In this day and age of medical science..."
"Right? That's what I'm saying!"
"I'm afraid not. It's just the new hip."
We shook hands and I said, "We'll just have to settle for that, then, I guess."
The doc looked genuinely happy with his work when we spoke. I suppose that when you do as many of these procedures are he does, they all kind of seem similar. But this case was a bit worse than most and he seemed gratified that the outcome was so good.
A little while later, the recovery room nurse called and gave me an update and room number. I went ahead and found Kathy's room, then just hung out until the staff wheeled her in. She arrived at about 7:30 PM; awake, talkative and groggy as you'd expect after general anesthesia and an operation like she had.
So I told her what Dr. Heinrich told me and she was surprised to hear just how bad things had gotten. As we spoke, her nurse got her hooked up to her blood pressure cuff, pain medication pump, O2 monitor, oxygen, little foot pumpy things that keep circulation going and asking her questions and giving out some instructions.
I didn't know what to expect from the hospital or its staff, but I've been impressed so far. Everyone who talked to us was very nice, helpful and seemed to actually care. The facility is beautiful, having been recently renovated. The floors are spacious, everyone gets a private room, the hallways are really wide and the decor is something you actually notice as being attractive. Which is weird to me having seen as many ugly, utilitarian hospitals as I have in my EMT career.
I can't wait for Kathy to heal up and walk normally again. She's suffered enough already. And selfishly, I can't wait for us to get a life back that we haven't had in many years. Kathy meets with a physical therapist tomorrow, then they plan out her rehab, which includes aqua therapy in a pool they have at the hospital. Nothing but good things are on the way, and it all started with the operation she had today.
More to come!