The healing pain — a hip-op odyssey

There was a sense of déjà vu about the whole thing. After more than of year of pain, a refreshing air of calm pervaded Professor McCabe’s surgery. After an extremely short conversation, he asked me to walk the length of his office. “Your problem has nothing to do with sciatica it has everything to do with your hip”.

He had me lie up on his trolley, lifted my right leg up and down. “Yes definitely hip” and sent me for an X-ray. I was back in his office within 15 minutes and he showed me the result. Even I could see the hip was in serious trouble. In fact, there didn’t seem to be any hip at all, just a black fog.

The only solution was a hip operation to which, despite my innate fear of medical procedures of any kind, I quickly acquiesced.

He gave me a booklet, scribbled something on the cover and handed it to me. He told me I would have a five-night stay in the hospital, after which there would be at least a two and a half month period of convalescence (a word I was going to have a mountain of respect for ), that the hip replacement operation was one of the safest medical procedures there was and there was nothing to fear.

Refreshed

The whole consultation took less than half an hour – parts of it were like machine gun fire – and I left his surgery refreshed and in high spirits as though I had been handed a new elixir of life. It brought to mind a similar visit some nearly twenty years earlier, when the consultant, after listening to me for five minutes, ran his fingers lightly up the side of my neck and said “Yes, you have sleep apnoea, will you come in for a sleep test?”

By giving a cogent reason for the previous year of pain, John had temporarily neutralised it. What had begun as a shuffle across the kitchen floor, graduated through various stages until a short walk had to be negotiated, going up and down stairs a serious battle, where the putting on and putting on and taking off of shoes and socks was a twice daily challenge, the sitting down on and getting up from a chair was fraught with a fear of falling, getting in and out of a car was an exercise in gymnastics, indeed every aspect of movement, day or night was a nightmare.

However, this euphoric feeling did not last long. The moment Anne and I got home we sat down to a welcome cup of coffee and opened the booklet John had given me.

This was to become our bible and presented new challenges: sleeping on your back, sleeping with your legs apart, do not let the operated leg cross past the midline to the other side of your body, don’t cross your legs etc. etc.

There were also physical changes within the home, beds to be moved downstairs, the bathroom made more accessible and all objects that stood over the ground to be carefully placed so they didn’t present as unseen obstacles.

The question now was when. A shopping list was drawn up: raised toilet seats, a long handled shoe horn, grabbers to help to pick up objects from the floor, elastic shoe laces, and a non-slip mat for the shower.

Finally the day dawned. At 7 am I was admitted to the Bon Secours hospital and some six or seven hours later I was wheeled out of the operating theatre to recovery saying “There is no pain there is no pain, no pain!” Some hours later, I was moved to a ward and reality re-asserted itself with a vengeance.

For the next five to six days, the pain, particularly at night was excruciating. The nurses were magnificent, always cheerful, professional, ignoring my outbursts (at one stage I accused them of kidnapping me ), and worked incessantly at alleviating the pain.

A healing pain

Another great help was a comment my sister-in-law, a retired nurse, made before the operation: “Always remember that the post op pain is a healing pain”.

During my weeklong sojourn, along with the always attentive, professional and efficient medical staff, the nursing and non-medical staff of the Bon Secours were wonderful in were wonderful in every possible way. Always attentive, forever gentle and caring, they were to a person cheerful and professional making my sojourn a lot easier than it would have been.

While visiting, Anne suffered a muscular spasm which ended up her being admitted into a ward two doors down from mine. While this caused some amusement – we left the hospital holding hands and got a great send-off, it also presented our family with a difficult situation. They rose to the challenge.

Our youngest daughter moved into the house with her family — including a three-month-old baby — to take care of us. After two weeks she was followed by her older sister who also moved in. Our eldest daughter arrived down from Dublin with a car load of cooked meals she had cooked and our son made it down from Dublin a number of times.

They also got in touch with Bluebird Care and their personnel visited twice a day to help me dress and get ready for bed. They were punctual, professional, cheerful, and effective. As with our family, we would have been lost without them.

Before leaving the hospital, I asked John “What do I do now?” His answer was simple: “Walk, walk, walk, walk…..” after a minute or two listening to this, I interrupted with “What don’t I do?” The answer was: “Fall.” This has been my mantra for the last four months.

In addition to this, my GP Colm Walsh said somewhat forcefully: “Remember you are convalescing…….that means rest.”

It was a word I have come to fully understand since. Another extremely important element to the recovery has been my physiotherapist, Maeve Mitchell, who patiently coached me back to being physically independent so successfully that I can actually put on my socks without exclamations.

Perhaps the most important elements of the convalescence have been the Salthill prom and the daily lie down. Taking up Professor McCabe’s mantra (along with my own “have patience” ), everything he said would happen, did and precisely in the way and when he said it would, so every day when I wasn’t walking in the pool, I was on the Galway prom.

The weather since I left hospital – more than three months ago – has been extremely kind, indeed to such a level that I only got wet once.

Another helpful element has been the training circuit outside the Business School on the Lower Prom. This was put into place some two years ago by the City Council and is a wonderful free amenity.

But probably the most cheering contribution to my recovery was the constant encouragement I received from family, friends and the other walkers on the prom.

As first one crutch, then the second, then then walking stick disappeared, I was congratulated and cheered, although some people were a little dubious at the speed in which this was happening. When, however, I told them I was encouraged by my physio to do so, they too added their full approbation.

I can now say without hesitation, The Pain Is Gone! For this I am eternally grateful.

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