Survival and Strength
Major surgery and the recovery that follows is a learning process
If you are told at 52, that you need a Total Hip Replacement (THR) you tend to be gobsmacked for a bit. But in my case, it was not earth shattering news. I knew I would have to undergo one at some stage. Yet, the whole combination of circumstances does give you a brief moment of 'zoning out'.
In any case, this event was inevitable given my long tryst with accidents and their love and regard for me. It's a whole new level of uninvited occurrences. like love at first crash... bang... boom! To cut a long story short, the destruction on my hip due to an accident in the late 80's had repercussions that would last a lifetime.
I had been warned by my surgeon then that I would need a THR in my 30s. Anyway, I plodded along and it finally caught up with me in my 50s.
The hospital rounds started again. The drill is so entrenched in my mind that I can do it blindfolded. Meeting with radiologists, doctors, surgeons, anesthetists and then a battery of tests and investigations. I was in the pink of health, literally and figuratively other than a minor hiccup of the hip.
My doctor was astounded after looking at my x-rays and asked me if I had been managing pain killers all this time because my hip was a mess, topped with osteoarthritis. I don't pop painkillers and I told him so and he just looked me in the eye and said that I must have great tolerance for pain. That I do and I have lived with pain in my broken bones and joints for decades.
Human beings are great. We can adapt to any circumstances thrust at us. Our survival instincts and ability to adjust to conditions is astonishing at times. I've managed to walk a certain way and do things even with a limp, due to shortening in my leg from the accident.
I've managed to do various chores even with titanium plates in my arms. You learn to cope and overcome. I've grown up watching my dad live his life to the fullest with an artificial leg, having lost it on the battlefield at a young age during the '65 war. He barely had four years of military service then.
His cheerful demeanor and zest for life never gave us a peek into the pain and agony that he bore inside him. With a larger than life personality in your own home, you grow up with values and teachings that set a strong foundation.
My pre-anesthesia checkup was even more interesting. When the young anesthetist started to write my medical history, I rattled off details of three surgeries before he looked up to ask me how many I had been through.
When I told him that I was going in for my 12th one, he looked up again and was silent for a few moments. He then mentioned with a smile that he had to squeeze everything in a small paragraph so I had to be brief! He did acknowledge that I was too calm and collected to be going in for my first surgery.
The first for me this time was a spinal block. All my surgeries have been under general anesthesia. Anesthesiologists and surgeons recommend spinal anesthesia for joint replacement surgery as it leads to less complications.
In spinal anesthesia, numbing medication is injected into the fluid surrounding the spinal cord in the lower back. This numbs your legs and blocks all sensation in the lower half of your body for several hours. It is a strange feeling when your lower limbs feel all wobbly and jelly like. Lying on the operating table I understood now what those 'James Bond' movie scenes were all about when the lethal chemical injections paralysed the protagonist for a while!
While I waited for the spinal block in the room adjacent to the operation theatre, there were distinct sounds of hammering, chiseling and sawing wafting through. That's when my brain cells got all activated and I knew what was in store for me.
Since I had already been given a sedative to help me relax, I think I was as cool as a cucumber, at least I think so. As I was pushed into the operation theatre, old Dev Anand songs came blasting through the speakers. The clanking of the instruments tapered away.
I could hear my doctor in conversation with another, a few whispers here and there, orders being passed while I was put on various monitors and made comfortable. I had a very sweet attendant who kept asking me if I was ok and that I needed to shut my eyes and go to sleep.
The problem was, at this time I was quite alert and all the sounds were amplified. I had elephant ears at that moment! That's when the sound of music hit me. Were they sawing through my hip? Chiseling through bone? Hammering parts?
The distinctive sound of drilling and hammering takes on a heady turn in an operation theatre. I remember my hands turning cold, freezing actually, and the attendant using a kind of a hot air blower to warm them up. My surgeon had his work cut out and therefore my surgery was rather long. I finally felt my legs tingling and the sensation of being stitched up.
Then came the staples and I started to count them in my mind… 30?32? I did mention to the attendant that I could now 'feel' things and he told me to hold on for a few minutes as they were nearly through. That's an experience of a lifetime I can tell you that. It's actually surreal.
My recovery was excellent and I was walking within 24 hours with support, and I was relatively pain-free from the start. I was discharged on the third day. I moved from the walker to the walking stick within 10 days. The stick and I parted ways quite quickly and I have been walking without support for a while now.
I've just completed a month since the surgery but I am already taking short early morning walks in my society. My movements are absolutely pain-free. That's what you call a new lease of life.
I was the youngest in the ward but I learnt something when I was there. We Indians wait too long to go in for replacements and surgeries. Either there is a mind-block or fear, and time just passes till it's too late.
The younger you are; the more positive change you see in your daily lifestyle. The older you get, the changes are not as dramatic as you would like them to be. Also younger age helps in your speedy recovery and mobility. If you have an issue and have been advised hip or knee replacement, do it as soon as possible.
With the removal of my stitches I now have another neat 'tattoo' and that too for free. I have a fairly good collection and all these scars have a story to tell. I believe all your scars are tattoos with incredible stories. Stories of survival and strength.