Well, I'm Older Than My Hips...
(I was asked to share my story of double hip replacement at such a young age - here's my story.)
The pain began around my thirtieth birthday. Just a slight tinge of tightness in my left foot. As most men of that age do, I wrote it off telling myself that I must have dropped something on it and forgotten. I took a few Tylenol and went about my day. The next morning the pain was still there. And the next morning. And the next. Within a month the tightness in my joints could be felt in my right foot as well. It was becoming something of a hassle to deal with, not to mention getting difficult to walk first thing out of bed. But I still ignored it. Even when my right wrist and left shoulder began to throb and ache for seemingly no reason whatsoever, I ignored it and switched from Tylenol to Aleve.
When I was thirty-two I began to experience a shooting pain in my right hip. The sensation was strong enough that on more than one occasion I was literally knocked off my feet. I had suffered a ruptured disk in my back a few years prior and when the injury would flare up the pain was in the same location so I assumed it was nothing to worry about. By my thirty-third birthday I was limping and every step was agony. To make matters worse my right hip had begun to ache as well. Must be from all the work it has to do to compensate for my left hip, I thought. I upped my dose of Aleve.
When I was thirty-four I was forced to go to the doctor for insurance purposes. I was to see my general practitioner and get a full physical exam or face higher insurance premiums. My wife and I did the math and figured that I had not been to a doctor of any kind since the age of seventeen. That was eighteen years ago. I did not have a general practitioner so I called the practice I went to when I was young. I made an appointment with whoever was available just to get the appointment done and fulfill my part of the insurance bargain. As it turned out, it was to be an appointment that would change my life for the better.
As is her way my wife insisted on coming with me and I had no say in the matter. Before the doctor had even finished introducing himself she started on all of my issues. I was sore all the time, I was stiff every morning, I could not walk without the help of a cane most days. I was embarrassed as hell, to tell you the truth. She also mentioned an unexplained weight loss that had me confounded. It was a rather dramatic loss of mass so he ordered a battery of tests be performed. After they took twelve vials of blood (which, as I would come to find out, was only the beginning!) I waiting for the results. Finally, two days later, the doctor called.
There was nothing in the results to account for the weight loss, though there were some other tests he could order. The reason he was calling however had very little to do with my weight. He asked if rheumatoid arthritis ran in my family. I said I was not sure since both of my parents had passed. The reason he was asking, he said, was because I had it. There was no doubt. It was the reason for the pain in my feet, shoulder, thumb, wrist, and most importantly hips. The doctor told me that he could treat the disease from his office with some drug cocktails but my hips were another story. I would have to get those looked at by an orthopedic surgeon.
I made an appointment with the same orthopedic who rebuilt my knee years ago (and incidentally, he was the last doctor I had seen before my almost two decade long break from the medical profession!). He ordered an MRI and some X-Rays. When I went back the next day for the results (a time frame I knew meant only bad things) there was no small talk. The doctor came in and told me to go see an associate of his. This other doctor was actually the same person who had replaced his hip.
I would need a double hip replacement. Double. Hip. Replacement.
I had just turned thirty-five. 35.
I had only been thirty-five for a week.
It was all so sudden, really. Early June I was diagnosed. August I decided to see a specialist for my arthritis (after losing faith in my G.P.). In October the specialist and I chart out a course to combat and help stop the spread of the arthritis. Before Christmas I had one hip replaced. Before President’s Day the other was replaced.
Again - I was and am only thirty-five.
A little about myself: I have a wife and four kids (ages 10, 5, 2 and 4 months). I have not been an active guy since the kids came given everything that is involved with child rearing, but I did my best to stay active. I worked a job that kept me on my feet until the day came when I just could no longer walk. I am extremely happy that I was given no choice in the matter when it came to the operations. That is not to say I would have kept ignoring the pain but I would not have acted on it as quickly.
I am a stubborn man. In fact I cannot think of many men in their mid-thirties who are not. From what the doctors all said had I not been so stubborn I could have gotten a few more years out of my natural hips. But I was “strong” and “manly”. I did not listen to my family or wife. I had double hip replacement at the age of thirty-five.
The morning of my first surgery was nerve-wracking to say the least. I had all but forgotten what it was like to go under the knife and I had a lot of questions. Of course all of these questions disappeared from my mind as soon as the nurse called my name to take me back to pre-op. This is where they shave you where the incision will be and dress you in a very becoming smock. They take your vitals and start the IV. They tell you it is all going to be just fine and you will be in your room before you know what happened.
False. Both times I woke up in the recovery room confused as to where I was right away. After a few moments things came into perspective and my faculties returned. However I was still there for another hour or so. From the recovery room they take you to your room, your home for the next few days.
They let you rest for a few hours. It is peaceful. You can order room service. You can watch TV. Then the nurse comes in and tells you it is time to sit at the edge of the bed. At this point you have only been out of surgery for something like five hours. You still cannot feel your toes completely and you only have a cursory knowledge of who you are talking to. Regardless, up you go. If you are lucky you do not slip off the bed onto the hard floor. Luckily you get to lay down soon after.
The next morning is physical therapy. It hurts and is far removed from the patient rooms. You are required to walk (with assistance) to each PT session. The exercises depend on the patient and what they can stand to do at the time. The therapists understand that folks less than twenty-four hours out of surgery cannot do much, so they hold back a little.
On the third day, barring any infections or setbacks, you are released. You can go home and sit in a chair and be waited on hand and foot. Okay, I may be making this part up. Yes, you get to go home but you are expected to continue with the exercises you leaned while in the hospital. Depending on your insurance you may qualify for in home physical therapy and a few nurse visits. These help immensely, regardless of age. Within two weeks you are on your feet and walking with a cane - or with nothing at all, if you are able.
Everything I have said here pertains to me because I am only thirty-five and in generally good health. I am not yet able to roughhouse with my kids but I can now see the light at the end of a five year tunnel. I will be teaching my son to play hockey on July 1st and promised my oldest daughter that she and I will go out dancing on August 1st.
I am far too young to have developed arthritis and far too young to have require the double hip replacement. Best case scenario I would have been able to get to forty before the surgeries had I gone to a doctor sooner. But I have come to realize it really does not matter. I wasted a few years of my life living in pain and denying my kids and wife a fully functioning father and husband but my lesson is learned. I hope that these lessons that I have shared here have helped other young folks who may be facing the same challenges I did.
Being stubborn is normal. Being in constant pain is not. Do not ignore the blaring warnings of doctors and wives alike. If something about your body does not feel right - go to a doctor before the problem worsens.I was able to bounce back so quickly thanks to the unique nature of my situation: a healthy and young man. The older you get the harder the rehabilitation will be. Do yourself a favor by favoring yourself. Do not let stubbornness get the better of you. And for God’s sake: listen to your wife!