A change of pace – literally

 

Post-surgery breakfast with accessories - photo by E. Jurus
Post-surgery breakfast with accessories – photo by E. Jurus

Life throws us a lot of curve balls. Even when we see them coming, though, we don’t always know how fast they’ll arrive, or how steep the curve will be.

Arthritis runs in my husband’s family, so it seemed inevitable that he would develop knee issues at some point. Perhaps as much as 15 years ago an orthopedic surgeon told him that at some point he’d need to have his knee joints replaced.

Yet it wasn’t a knee that he had replaced last week, but a hip. Both his hips have deteriorated to the point where there’s no cushioning at all, just bone grinding on bone.

This condition has been brewing for a couple of years, but it recently took over our lives practically overnight. One autumn we were hiking around Machu Picchu, and a few months later we seemed to have turned into our parents. Wasn’t really expecting that for another decade or so.

And so began the round of surgical appointments. What got us through the next few months was, ironically, that Mike was in so much pain trying to walk at all that he actually looked forward to the earliest possible surgical date.

We arrived at the hospital very early Wednesday morning and waited with the other hip and knee patients until the surgical floor opened for business. When the man at reception told us to head up, there was a communal chuckle at the eight people among us who shuffled slowly to the elevator.

The pre- and post-op care at Sunnybrook Holland Orthopedic Hospital in Toronto is exemplary. As nice and as dedicated as everyone was, though, we had trouble controlling our nerves waiting for Mike to be taken to the operating room – the anticipation leading up to the surgery was a killer. Everything went well, though, and Physio had Mike up and walking around the next day. On Saturday he was able to be discharged and we came home.

You think beforehand that the surgery itself will be the worst part. You don’t realize that post-surgery life is a bit like PTSD – there are lingering emotional after-effects. We’re both tired, over-reacting to highs and lows, and having trouble relaxing.

The first night back at home was rough, trying out various furniture configurations so that Mike could find a comfortable way to sleep (still one bad hip, plus a long and tender incision on the other side).

Every day is a learning experience as he shuffles around the house with two canes, struggles through his post-op exercises even though he’s tired, and uses a special gripping tool, like a virtual third hand, to change his clothes. He can’t prepare his own food because it’s too hard to carry dishes around while using his canes, so I make sure there’s always something on hand for him to eat when I go to work. There are dozens of little adjustments to make, and each day brings a few more.

It bothers me to see him hobble around. He gets frustrated when he has days that feel like setbacks. The light at the end of the tunnel is a pain-free hip in a few weeks, but the second surgery will follow after that, so we have a long road ahead for which we have to maintain our strength.

Our life has changed in myriad ways, but we count ourselves lucky to be able to rely on each other, and to have been able to accomplish so much on our bucket lists so far, and we work on being resilient through the next chapter. We look forward to doing more travelling, even if it might be more restricted than it has been. I’ve found over the years that bucket lists have to be flexible, and right now we’re focussed on wellness, so I’m planning activities that involve a mental escape from the day-to-day grind of coping with this latest challenge. Life goes on…

My two biggest pieces of advice for anyone still hale and healthy are: 1) Take care of your body. Whatever you do to it when you’re younger will come back to haunt you. 2) Live life to the fullest while you can. You never know what lies down the road.

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