Less than a week since the op, and here I am! Came back last night, and happy to be in my own space, though it took me a long time to get to sleep last night through trying to find a new position that works. This means lying on my back, propped up with pillows, as I did in the hospital, so this will be an adjustment for a while.
Phew! The whole thing has been a harder process than I thought. So many people said they felt better straight away after the op, and they’d only be in the hospital one or two nights, that when I had a different experience, I felt a bit of a failure. The pain in the first first few days was really strong, particularly around the operated area. As the surgeon says, he cuts through a big muscle and stitches it up aftewards, so not surprising, but still, being rolled over was agony. I had to use a bed pan for the first two nights, and apart from having to deal with the indigmity, it hurt so much to use it, I kept this to a minimum, which didn’t help either. And then my blood pressure was very low (often between 80 and 90), so it took longer for me to be able to sit upright, and then to get out of bed. The first time the nurses helped me up an on to the commode, I actually cried. Then on the third day I was able to get up and sit for a while in the chair by the bed.
I took this selfie in the chair, feeling triumphant. The smallest of steps felt like the greatest of achievements.
The next day, along came the physios to start work. The hardest thing at first was trying to get out of bed myself, Wriggling and shuffling to swing my legs to the edge of the bed, then swing both legs over together, was painful and very slow. They gave me a walker to start with, due to the low blood pressure. But by this time I’d managed to have a wash and dress is my own clothes, and was raring to go – so here I am standing upright for the first time!
That smile really says how happy I was to be up on my feet again! I managed to get to the end of the corridor and back – it felt like running a marathon, I was exhausted afterwards, but really pleased.
Next day was moving on to crutches. At first my blood pressure was too low, but I begged the physio to come back later, and by that time it was high enough for them to risk it with two of them on hand. It actually felt easier than the frame once I’d figured out the rhythm, and I noticed immediately that I was standing straighter than I had for a long time, and that my back was feeling much better. Just shows how hunched I was over the walking stick. Again, up the corridor and back, which I did several times, and also bothered the poor physios with more questions and exercises (such amazing patience they have!).
Then came Tuesday, the fifth day after the op. The promise was that if I could climb up stairs, I could go home. I was concerned about the stairs due to the other hip being bad, and I was going to manage this. They took me in a wheelchair to a flight of stairs round the back of the hospital. I had to try out several ways of doing it, and realised that the operated hip is now able to lift my leg higher than the non-operated one with no pain – hooray! So going up is – new hip, old hip, crutches, and coming down is crutches, old hip, new hip. It took a while to have confidence that I wouldn’t fall, but I did it! Felt like going up and down Everest. So that was it – I was clear to go home! Of course it then took most of the day to get the paperwork sorted, and for the meds to arrive, but finally I could leave.
Getting in and out of the car needed some manoeuvring, and it started to rain as we drove. The very hardest part was getting up the steps into my house, They’re steep, and don’t have a rail. Luckily, Aqeel and Kate were brilliant and managed to hoist me up the last two to be in! Where I settled in the chair, seen in the photo at the top.
Since then, it’s been a process of learning how to do everyday activities, and be in the house, in a whole new way. My friend and colleague Kate is staying with me, and has been brilliant with sorting out the spaces, doing the cooking, fetching tea, and most particularly helping me up and down stairs. This is still where I feel least confidence. I went to bed early last night, and my legs had swelled up, probably from all the exertion yesterday. I managed to get to the toilet a couple of times myself in the night, though it takes me ages. Then this morning, Kate went of to train in her gym while I was still in bed. Getting up, going to the bathroom, washing in the sink, drying, going back to my bedroom, getting changed, and getting back into bed took me over an hour, and I was completely drained afterwards! But felt so much better having had a proper wash (though I’m really going to miss a hot shower for the next few weeks), and in fresh clothes in my bed. Every movement of each activiy needed thinking about – I realise I needed to move the frame that’s around the toilet to being around the chair that I’m sitting on by sink to wash, as it doesn’t have arms. This meant shimmying around with me, the crutches, the frame, the chair, and towels and rugs on the floor to make this work. Talk about a piece of room engineering! Even figuring out the best way to brush my teeth became a new journey of discovery.
Since then, Kate’s been home, we’ve had lunch, and I’m now sitting back in the chair, writing this. It’s already feeling better than yesterday, and I have to trust that each day will get a little better. Yet again, I feel so grateful to all the years of training in breathing, meditation, movement, and martial arts, as I’m using all of it to re-learn the most simplest activities.
Reflecting back on my time in hospital, i was thinking this morning about how the ward forms temporary communities of people. This may have particularly been the case on mine because it was orthopedics, so we’d all had some form of joint surgery, and were having similar recovery experiences and physio tasks. But being thrown together in an intense, close space, having all our body stats monitored constantly, our physical selves so vulnerable and on display, creates a strangely strong bond for the time that people are together. We were all very encouraging of each other to achieve the goals that meant we could go home, and also to help and support when things didn’t go well. But it went beyond that to the personal very quickly, where we were sharing private details of our lives with strangers we would probably never have met in any other context. My bed-neighbour Carole is 74, owns a smallholding out on the Devon-Dorset border, and we formed a strong connection, sitting and talking with each other. Then there was Maureen in the bed opposite who’d had her op on the same day as Carole and I. She’s 82, and had a much harder recovery time, with complications meaning she’d only just been able to sit out of bed on the day that I’d left. And then there was the ‘difficult’ one further down the ward who was very needy, talked loudly all the time, and people tried to avoid, to the extent one of the patients down that end moved up to ours. Those intense contacts and shared experiences became a big part of the time in hospital. I’ve been left with threads of stories of their lives which I’ll never know the answer to – will Carole’s daughter leave her husband who sounds like he’s controlling her; how long will Maureen take to recover and go home; and what about Sue’s lovely grandson who has cystic fibrosis? To become so intertwined with people’s lives on such a temporary basis was very strange. This morning I had to phone up the ward to say I’d left my walking stick there (as I’d come back on crutches I’d forgotten it), and nearly asked how Maureen is this morning, as I’d always ask her over the previous five mornings. And knowing now there’s someone else in the bed that I had such a full-on time being in, who has their own story that I’ll never know.
So it took five nights rather than one or two. In fact, the nursing staff said hip replacements often take longer than this, and really it would be better to tell people it’ll be longer. I’ll know for next time. All the staff were truly amazing. I could see where they were stretched, and resources are not what they should be, but the extent of personal kindness and care was in such abundance that having to wait a little longer for something wasn’t a big deal. So I guess in finishing the blog for today, there’s one message I really want to stress: