Riding bikes with nephews James and Timothy.
The devastating injuries caused by the terrorists to the victims in Boston have made me think an awful lot about the skills of doctors. I cannot in any way compare my own medical issue with what they are facing: but doctors did save my ability to walk a decade ago.
Just about every day, as I walk, bend, rake, sweep, ride my bike, go to the gym and garden, believe me--I think about this.
Thirteen years ago, I began to suffer sharp pains in my right hip. I've always been athletic and assumed I had just pulled a muscle. So I did my best to do what I had always been urged to do by my parents, I "worked through it."
It didn't get better. It got worse. I could only walk if I limped and I discovered this really annoyed people. "Do you have to limp?" Lots of people asked me that. Then my left hip began to give me sharp pains too. I was only fifty years old. One doctor looked at my X-rays, said the cartilage in my ball-and-socket hip joint was thinning. He tossed an advertisement for hip replacement surgery on the examining table and left the room. I didn't go back and see him again.
Another orthopedist whistled when he saw my X-rays. "That's bad," he said. "How are you able to walk around?" I told him I took Advil by the handfulls and was spending a lot of time not walking around. "Well you can't have the surgery now anyway," he advised me. "Those devices only last 7-10 years. You'll just have to have hip replacement surgery three or four more times before you die." I didn't go back and see him either.
I was really devastated and spent three years trying to find new explanations for my excruciating pain since denial felt like a better place to hide than reality. By the time I reached Dr. Robert Murrah, the X-rays showed neither hip joint had any cartilage at all. I was walking around with one bone scraping on the other. On both legs.
Murrah is a wonderful doctor. Kind and thoughtful. "You don't have to live like this," he said. Then he researched the devices available and found one that had a chance of lasting me the rest of my life. "It's new," he said. "Let's see if I can get approval to use it for you. Most of my patients are 80 years old," he said. "This will go well for you since you're so young."
I felt about 100 at that point. But oh well.
It wasn't easy. When you have hip replacement surgery, the orthopedist essentially saws off your leg at the hip, puts in the new joint, then puts you back together again. I had my right hip done in September of 2003 and my left hip done three months later, in January of 2004. I had no family that lived nearby: my sister did come and help out during both surgeries.
I have lived most of my life in the public eye and this led some people to be very cruel. One local (female) politician in Orlando said to me: "I'm so glad you had that hip surgery. You were looking just awful. You can't imagine the things people were saying about you." Lotta false friends out there if you're a public person.
It took me a full year to get myself back together and regain my strength. I fell down a lot that first year, getting my new hips working in sync. As usual, I was probably going too fast.
Now, ten years later, I feel absolutely wonderful.
Sledding a with niece Mary.
I do keep my eye out for places to put up my feet, since I still cannot stand in one place for as long a time as I once could.
I always take a carry on suitcase when I travel, because a carry on suitcase makes a very good ottoman. Good reading material is also essential.
But, where once I had to use one of those electric carts to get down the aisle in the grocery store, nowadays I can ride my bike to the grocery store--and back again--and walk around my house without having to hold myself up by grabbing onto the furniture.
It is possible I may need to have the surgery again before I die. Both of my hips squeak occasionally, if you can believe that--kind of like the Tin Man--a sign there is some coefficient of friction that could one day wear them out.
But I still remember the woman who used to live across from us when I was a child. She was in her sixties or seventies and had fractured her hip. She lived her life in a wheelchair. They could not repair hip joints in those days.
A wheelchair and a lifetime of pain medication were the options I faced. But I was lucky enough to find an alternative and a good doctor. I count my blessings every morning when I walk out into the driveway, bend to pick up my newspaper, and walk back into the house. Life is good. And I'm a lucky kid.
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