Hip surgery: becoming vulnerable

As my surgery date snuck closer and closer, Ken and I did what we now tend to do in periods of life upheaval – whiteboard.

A list of things to consider prior to surgery, and another for after surgery. The hospital had provided an ancient paper booklet on hip surgery, covering the process and some broad suggested precautions – the details were for us to work out.

It struck me that preparing for hip surgery was a lot like preparing for a new baby.

  • preparing bulk meals for freezing, eaten as dinners in the first few weeks,
  • re-arranging the furniture – it’s safer to get into the same side of bed as your operated hip,
  • going on a pre-surgery holiday – just like a baby-moon, but for us it was 4 nights in Bali in between my old and new jobs,
  • going out for one last pre-surgery celebrating – a fancy dinner at Balthazar, I even wore heels (quite a feat with the pre-surgery hip pain),
  • attending education classes at the hospital – the nurse who greeted us goes, “Oh you’re clearly not here for the Joint Education class” and was a little taken aback when we corrected her,
  • changing your exercise routine to support the changes to your body – I exercised up until surgery but it was less focused on ‘results’ and more focused on maintaining ease in the muscles, fascia and joint itself,
  • before the big day, relaxing to the max – the week prior consisted of two physio appointments, one massage, one restorative yoga class and two floats (heaven!!) and there goes my private health insurance Extras limit.

Things that we didn’t do that we should have done: buy more baggy tracksuit pants, as yoga pants are not compatible with a swollen hip surgery wound.

The day of surgery we had to be at Osborne Park Hospital at 6.30am, I was second on the list for the day and the nurses had told me that that was prime position “because if you’re first the surgeon is just warming up and he’s a little tired by number three”.

I find hospitals strangely comforting, perhaps it’s because I spent a lot of my early childhood in them with multiple operations for a cystic hygroma (6 by age 3).

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How I spent much of 1985-88.

As such, I was quite relaxed going into surgery. Kenny waited with me until it was my time to be wheeled off to theatre, about 10am… though on second thought, maybe the pre-anaesthesia drugs they gave me helped a bit too!

Many people had asked was I nervous about the surgery – well, a bit but not the surgery per se. I have complete faith in the procedure and skill of the medical team; my surgeon had explained the procedure thoroughly pre-op. It was after the surgery that made me nervous. Exercise is a bit of a drug for me, it makes me feel good, it’s my me-time. How was I going to handle six weeks of sitting on my (sure-to-be-growing-larger) ass?

I was wheeled into theatre after a few failed attempts at getting the cannula in, then a successful cannula insertion was made and then I was instructed to sit on the edge of the bed for a spinal. A sharp ‘punch’ and then… out.

Next thing I remember was waking up in the ward, a nurse watching on. The next 24 hours were a bit of a blur; an attempt to walk that afternoon ended at standing before I started to go faint again. My parents came in to see me mid-afternoon. Kenny returned later in the afternoon, he was there for less than a minute then I promptly threw up the egg sandwiches I’d ravenously consumed after fasting since the evening before. Such a  vibrant proclamation of love! Food was not going to happen until Day 1 (operation day is Day 0).

Recovery was relatively swift once my blood pressure finally stabilised. My first physio session on Day 1 was both surprisingly easy and surprisingly challenging. I was amazed at how much weight I could bear on the operated hip yet lifting the knee on the operated side to ‘march’ required a ridiculous amount of energy and concentration.

My surgeon – who I’d highly recommend just in case you’re reading this and considering a hip replacement too, fun times! – performed the hip replacement via anterior approach, the incision being made in the crease between the leg and hip. This meant that I could be more mobile, more quickly. Woohoo!

[As I write this, Ken is practicing yoga next me – our two bedroom apartment means we have a bedroom and a dressing-yoga-study room – and I am slightly envious of his ability to move his body, not even to handstand, just do a simple uttanasana.]

Discharge on Day 3 came soon enough, hospitals aren’t bad but home is nicer. I showered independently for the first time that morning and carried my PJs, toiletries and towel back to my bed… and then remembered I’d left my crutches in the bathroom. Whoops, bad patient.

Freedom felt good. Upon getting home a few further minor adjustments were made – although he didn’t say it, I think Kenny quite enjoyed creating ‘life hacks’ for his invalid girlfriend. Examples as below:

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Ken modelling the latest in Mobility Aids.
  • adding a rope handle to my ‘grabber’ (an ingenious surprise gift from my OT friend in Sydney) so I could sling it over my shoulder as my hands were occupied with the crutches,
  • putting the ‘Emma-stool’ (I’m short and we have high kitchen cupboards) next to our also-high bed so I could get in and out more easily,
  • locating my backpack so I could carry my laptop/water bottle/phone/book/magazine when moving from room to room,
  • borrowing a chair from our friend Pierre, who lives one storey below, to put on our balcony so I could get enough Vitamin D without leaving the apartment,
  • buying a power board so that phone/lamp/laptop could all be plugged in next to my bed.

All this made the daily routine of wake-breakfast-medication-rehab-activity/outing-nap-lunch-medication-rehab-reading/Netflix/activity-nap-reading/Netflix/activity-dinner-medication-TV-rehab-medication-bed much easier. WE WERE ONTO IT.

What we weren’t prepared for was how vulnerable I would feel. Usually strong and independent – to the point that in our first year together, I sometimes insisted I’d meet Ken at dates rather than be picked up – I was incredibly dependent on him for even small things. Like carrying a glass of water for me.

It was an adjustment for both of us. Me feeling totally vulnerable and, at times, confused and forgetful due to the painkiller side effects. Ken learning that his usually strong and independent girlfriend (who loves her regular Monday nights alone while he has man-cave-time with Pierre) actually needed him more than ever. Hindsight is a wonderful thing: we had a huge row on the first evening back as Ken had a work lunch that afternoon and then went out for cocktails much to my ‘displeasure’ (read: Emma cracked the shits). A friend of Ken’s hit the nail on the head the next day when he said, “Emma was probably feeling very vulnerable”.

What is this vulnerability thing?! I thought I’d done that… I cry at the drop of a hat as much as I laugh and I don’t consider myself to be a cold, career-minded Capricorn (much). I’d watched Brene Brown’s TEDTalks, I’d done yoga teacher training and collapsed into tears in front of strangers, I’d fallen in love.

Being emotionally expressive is different to being vulnerable – being vulnerable is being rocked out of your comfort zone. Being emotionally expressive is well, easy. For me anyway, thanks genetics (hi Mum) and cultural norms for females.

I now understand a little more, the part that I found most beautiful about working at Ngala (a parenting organisation). It wasn’t the miracle of birth, it wasn’t watching children take their first steps. It was the parents, specifically the mums. It was watching mums who’d previously been strong, independent and driven career-women become mothers. You can control, plan and evaluate many things in a job but when you have a baby? No one can control those little fuckers, plus no one really knows what the fuck they’re doing when they first become a parent. There’s no rule book, no deadlines to hit, no Gantt chart – each little human is different. And it can be really confronting. As my mum said to Ken and I, “You guys are getting a good warm-up to parenthood”.

As far as my recovery goes, the desire to DO MORE is still pretty strong. I’m slowly learning to be a slob though – it doesn’t come naturally at all. I’m trying to view it as an opportunity for personal development; to become better at being and worse at doing (by default, obviously). Also, to nurture my creative side as ‘be creative’ isn’t something you can just cross of your To Do list – it requires time.

Or perhaps I should do as Ken just said to me: “Just be a slob for two weeks. That’s your job. If you can’t do that then you’re shit at your job.”

He knows me too well.

7 thoughts on “Hip surgery: becoming vulnerable

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