Sunday, June 27, 2010

My Left Hip

I used to have a website called, "My Left Hip," that told the story of my disability and surgery. I took it down last fall because I didn't want to identify with disability anymore. As I told a friend of mine recently, it feels like all of that happened to someone else, long ago.

Still, there is value in sharing some information about my experience with others who are facing the possibility of hip surgery. This post is for them:
I had a lifetime of difficulty with my left hip and leg, often accompanied by low back pain. Seemingly out of the blue, I would have muscle spasms in my back, shooting pains down my leg, a catch in my hip, and at times my leg would go out from under me when I took a step. 
I started experiencing acute episodes like this when I was 20, which were followed by stretches of time when I felt fine. When I felt good, I thought maybe I was over it, whatever "it" was, but my condition gradually worsened. By the time I was in my 40s, I remember getting up almost every morning, walking across the floor with some amount of stiffness and discomfort and thinking to myself, "Someday I'm going to have to find out what is wrong with me." But in a short time, the pain subsided, I forgot about it and went on about my day.
There came a time, however, when the pain did not go away. In the spring of 2001, I had one of my familiar episodes. I tried all the tricks I had learned over the years to "fix" it, but nothing brought me relief. It took several years, with ever increasing disability, but I did finally find out what was wrong with me. And shortly after I had given up on cures, and made up my mind to have the best life I could in spite of my condition, I learned about a surgical option that could change my life.
In November of 2008, at the age of 59, I had hip resurfacing surgery to repair my left hip joint. Today I am walking normally, without a cane. It is a miracle.
Because I did not have a total hip replacement, people often ask me questions about my surgery. For me, resurfacing was a good alternative. It offers many advantages, particularly for younger patients. It isn't for everyone, however. People with osteoporosis, for example, might not be good candidates.

That said, keep in mind that the total hip replacement is a procedure that most orthopedic surgeons feel very comfortable with. They have performed these surgeries many times and the success rate is good. The resurfacing surgery is more difficult to perform and not many surgeons are trained for it. When you ask about options, be sure to get an opinion from a surgeon who has experience with both procedures. Surgeons who lack experience with resurfacing may be inclined to steer you away from it in favor of what they prefer.

Here you see a normal, healthy hip joint. It happens to be mine - on the right side.

And here you see my left hip before surgery. You can see that the head of the femur is deformed and slightly dislocated.

Here is my left hip after having a procedure called Birmingham hip resurfacing (BHR). This technique, developed in Birmingham, England, has been used successfully in various parts of the world since 1997, but was not approved for use in the US until the summer of 2006. The video clips below explain how this procedure differs from total hip replacement.

One of the reasons I chose this procedure is because I didn't want the top of my leg bone cut off, which is what happens with a total hip procedure. Resurfacing is less invasive than a total hip replacement, recovery time is shorter, and it doesn't involve permanent restrictions on activity.

This last item was particularly important to me because my favorite exercise is taking long walks. When I found out that fitness walking is discouraged after a total hip replacement, I knew I wanted to find another procedure. Every time I put on my walking shoes and head out the door, I'm glad I took the time to find the right surgery for me.

I highly recommend my surgeon, Dr. James Pritchett, in Seattle. He has many years of experience with various types of joint resurfacing procedures and he did a splendid job for me. My surgery was performed at Swedish Orthopedic Institute, which is about as nice as a place can be and still be a hospital. Every patient has a private room. The staff is wonderful. The food is great and you  order it like room service. If you have to have a surgery, this is the place to have it!

For more patient-to-patient information, I suggest that you visit Pat Walters' comprehensive site, Surface Hippy.

Finally, there are many products available that can make your life easier. If you need a cane, get one and use it. Don't let vanity get in the way of taking care of yourself. There are other products, many that you may never have heard of or seen, that help, too. For a long time, for example, I depended on elastic shoelaces to get my walking shoes on. A sock aid made it possible to get socks on my feet when I couldn't reach my left foot.

Here's a fun little video that shows you how to use a sock aid.

For more ideas, see the article "Gardening with Disabilities," on my Seattle Garden Ideas blog. 
Whatever your situation or challenge, I wish you all the best in your journey back to health. Miracles can happen!