Liza, 59 “It’s Not the Knee, It’s the Hip”

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Liza, 59, is a married lawyer with two adult children. She was an avid skier and though she had reconstructive surgery on her knee 16 years ago, she was able to everything she wanted to activity-wise. Liza hid her new, chronic pain for about a year. She had to help herself get into her car with her arms. When she finally got a doctor’s opinion, to her surprise, she was told she needed a hip replacement. The pain had been radiating from her hip and Liza mistook it for knee pain a common mistake with this diagnosis. She was initially in denial but after getting a second opinion with the same diagnosis, she decided she had to do it.

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Liza, 59, is a married lawyer with two adult children. She was an avid skier and though she had reconstructive surgery on her knee 16 years ago, she was able to everything she wanted to activity-wise. Liza hid her new, chronic pain for about a year. She had to help herself get into her car with her arms. When she finally got a doctor’s opinion, to her surprise, she was told she needed a hip replacement. The pain had been radiating from her hip and Liza mistook it for knee pain, a common mistake with this diagnosis. She was initially in denial, but after getting a second opinion with the same diagnosis, she decided she had to do it.

LIZA: I’m Liza, I’m 59 years old. I’m a lawyer. I was in private practice as a litigator for 16 years and now I’ve been in-house counsel for a major corporation for another 15 years.

LIZA: I have two grown children from a prior marriage. I’m relatively a newlywed and we’re just having a wonderful time.

LIZA: I used to ski quite a lot and I blew out my knee skiing 16 years ago so I had reconstructive surgery on my knee. Which was fine, it was never the same but it was always fine. I skied again, I used to referee soccer for my daughters. I was able to do anything I wanted to do. Then about two years ago I was aware there was something wrong and I didn’t tell anybody but for over a year like I couldn’t get my leg in the car. I had to pick up my leg just to get in the car. And I couldn’t walk or stand for more than 15 or 20 minutes. And putting on socks became [LAUGH] a challenge everyday. And I thought well it’s been awhile since I had that surgery so maybe the warranty’s up.

LIZA: I would stand up because I sit most of the time at my desk and I’d have to stand there and wait a minute or two for the pain and the strength to sort of kick in so that then I could walk to go to the printer or something.

LIZA: We actually did go biking one day and we went out to breakfast. When I got off my bike I couldn’t lift my leg enough to clear the bike which surprised me so I fell, the bike fell, I’m like, “What is wrong with me?”

LIZA: So finally it was Christmastime, 2014, I wanted to go see some decorations on a house that I’d noticed in the neighborhood so we walked over there and I was in pain. And then I thought, I can’t get home. I’m going to have to sit on the curb and send my husband home to get the car and pick me up. I can’t do this and then I just toughed it out and made it home but I was crying, I was in such pain and I thought [LAUGH], wow, that house most of been four miles away. I clocked it the next morning in my car. It was three quarters of a mile. I thought, “Oh, this is not good, something’s wrong.”

LIZA: So finally I made an appointment to go see my knee surgeon. It happened to be New Year’s Eve and he checked out the knee and did all the manipulation and did a scan. Uh, he said, “The knee’s fine but your hip is not fine.” And I’m-I was very surprised. He said, “You need a new hip and you have no cartilage left.” Oh, and I used to get, uh, occasional shooting pains like just, shoo, right down my leg which I still thought it most be the knee, anyway.

LIZA: When I was first told I needed a new hip and I had no idea that was coming I didn’t believe it. I was in denial. On one level I thought that explains a lot but I wasn’t ready to accept it and as soon as I was told then suddenly I couldn’t climb stairs. [LAUGH]

LIZA: We went to a concert. At the Disney Hall I had to climb stairs and I found myself like, “Where’s the railing? This is hard.” So it maybe started to give me permission or acknowledgement of why I was having these kind of growing issues. And I wanted to get another opinion. My best friend happens to be in the rehabilitation business and so I talked to her. She recommended another doctor so I saw him.

LIZA: When I saw two doctors and they both said exactly the same thing and I knew that they were both respected doctors I just said, “All right, well let’s do it, how soon can we get this over with?” He actually was very booked but he was available on Friday the 13th, [LAUGH] ‘cause nobody wanted hip surgery on that day so I took the day ‘cause it was available.

LIZA: There was, uh, stuff to do, like I got all these lists of things to buy, the shower chair, toilet commode, and all the little stuff you had to buy, the grabber, and the sock puter-oner and I did all that, I guess it gave me something to do.

LIZA: So I went to a class they had at the hospital that was for people going in for hip or knee surgery. I kind of felt like I was in the wrong place ‘cause it was a lot of old people. [LAUGH] I thought, “What am I doing here?” And when I left there I felt great, I thought, “You know, this has been some big mistake, I don’t think I need this after all.” But, I knew I was kidding myself.

LIZA: Then when it got up to the week before surgery, there were a lot of inconveniences that I had to deal with. Like I wasn’t allowed to touch my dog, this did not make me happy, and all this ritual cleansing. You know, I’ve never been given so much information on how to take a shower, but I did everything they told me. You know, stop any kind of medications, and if, you know, taking my shower the wrong way was going to somehow mess this up I wasn’t willing to take that risk so I did everything they told me.

LIZA: I had to get a walker, I had to get a cane, these were… [LAUGH] My parents were both very old at that time so I borrowed a walker from my dad. He thought that was kind of cool. [LAUGH]

LIZA: I had surgery I mentioned on Friday the 13th. So we checked in early and there was a lot of prep, and people are poking, and measuring, and taking every kind of record they can.

LIZA: Then they rolled me, I guess I had some sedatives but I was definitely awake. They rolled me up through this long hall, it went on and on to this big operating room. So I saw the table, uh, that was not a pleasant sight. [LAUGH] It’s not pretty. I guess it’s a special table they have to use when they do the anterior approach. There was a lot of discussion about what is the right procedure. Well anyway, they need the special table to do this anterior approach, ‘cause basically your leg is like disconnected from your body during surgery. [SHAKES HEAD] Very creepy.

LIZA: And I met this assistant surgeon. I did see my surgeon that morning, I quizzed him, at length. So then I was out, and I woke up. My husband said I looked gray, just gray, and he was concerned about that. I had two different visitors that first afternoon, and they looked funny. And I think they [LAUGH] were reacting not favorably to how I looked and I couldn’t figure out why they looked so strange.

LIZA: They made me get up, I couldn’t walk at all, I stood up, I took one step and I got back in bed. I was nauseous, I was, ugh, in pain, it was miserable. And I was uncomfortable and I’ve got to say, you know, they keep asking you on a scale of one to ten, I never was past a four or a five ever. I was never afraid to say it seems to be getting worse, let’s get something on board now ‘cause I don’t really want to find out what a seven or an eight feels like and I never did.

LIZA: My second day in the hospital I was able to get up and walk more but I still felt terrible, I think the sedatives make me sick. I was nauseous when I would try to walk and get up then I felt even worse. And they had talked about going home on Sunday. I said I can’t go home, I feel terrible, I can’t even get around. And then miraculously I guess those drugs wore off and I felt better. Sunday morning I was able to walk around the hospital. I went up some steps because there’s a few steps to get to my house.

LIZA: At the hospital somebody gave me a shower. It felt strange but I just went with it. Then I was ready to go home. They made me wear these things on my legs that were supposed to prevent blood clots and, you know, they’re constantly squishing and they were uncomfortable so I was happy to get out of there.

LIZA: So I came home from the hospital on a Sunday afternoon. My husband was very attentive and it was fine. I got in bed, it felt great to be in my own bed and I had a lot of instructions and information and I just started doing exactly what they told me. I was using a walker, my husband fixed it up with a little, uh, carpenter’s apron so I had places to put all my little things that I might need.

LIZA: The physical therapist was fantastic. She came to the house I think two or three times a week and would go through a routine of exercises and wrote them down for me, told me how often to do them, and how many repetitions, and part of her initial instruction was I had to take two naps everyday. That was really nice. [LAUGH]

LIZA: That helped me to understand that my body had really been traumatized and it really needed rest in order to recover.

LIZA: I took that first week off of work. That whole week I was just taking care of my body. Trying to get it back to some kind of normalcy.

LIZA: I would say for the first couple of weeks the pain was worse than pre-op. Pre-op it was more just a dull ache and occasional shooting pains. The shooting pains were gone because that was just the bone on bone with no cartilage to protect it. The pain afterwards I think was the pain of the incision, you know, you’ve been cut. I think it’s like a broken bone healing. There’s pain at first but after a couple of weeks it was very manageable.

LIZA: They sent me home with meds and I used the pain meds somewhat for that first week. I’m sure I took them at bedtime and maybe at other times during the day. I think the therapist recommended I take one before she was going to come so that I would be able to tolerate the exercises better but it was never that bad, the pain was never that bad, and after the first week I did not take any pain meds other than maybe Tylenol.

LIZA: I started the rehab with the therapist. She gave me a prescribed regime of what to do and walking was part of it and there were a lot of other exercises too. I mean anything that required me to bear all my weight on the leg where I’d had the new hip was hard, it was very hard. I had to do things at the kitchen sink where, that was like a ballet bar kind of thing. My husband was amused. There was one where I had to like prance, you know, sort of a little marching thing. And I called it my pony walk and he had to hold me and I had to walk forwards and backwards and I had to use him as-as a s-support, he loved that. [LAUGH] He sometimes says, “I remember those pony walks, that was so fun.” [LAUGH] It wasn’t all that fun for me but it was fun to see the progress.

LIZA: As far as walking, at first I was just, you know, walking around the house. And she always reminded me not lean too much on the walker, not favor the strong leg. To try to be as balanced as I could from the beginning which was hard but I did what I could.

LIZA: I would say after… I don’t know, a week or ten days, then I got to go outside. I really missed walking the dogs. That’s our pack walk, my husband and I and the two dogs. So we would go and she said, “Count the houses you walk past and when you start to feel the least bit tired or fatigued turn around and go home.” So at first I think I went three houses and then I had to turn around and come back. And I was still using a cane. She said, “Then each time you go for a walk and do this at least twice a day, go one more house.” So if this morning I did three houses, this afternoon I did four, tomorrow morning I did five. Pretty soon I could walk to the park. I’d bring my newspaper and sit while my husband walked the dogs around the park and then I was able to get back and with-within a week or two, I mean, uh, I wasn’t doing long walks but I was able to go around the block.

LIZA: By the second week I was able to work. I worked at home and I was still using the walker but I was mentally alert and able to, uh, work on the computer. I don’t think I even needed to keep my leg elevated. Maybe at sometimes I did and the icing and all this stuff. Whatever I was supposed to do, I did, and there were a lot of people calling me and from the hospital and checking to see how I was doing and they were all very helpful, supportive, answered any questions, and made me feel like I was definitely on the road to recovery.

LIZA: But after two weeks I was back at the office. Exactly two weeks, that Friday after the surgery I wanted to go to this full day seminar that was something I really wanted to do and I went. It was hard but I did it.

LIZA: So trying to regain normal, uh, rhythms in terms of work and other life, uh, activities. You need to take it slow, I had to gradually work my way back so I went back to work. Physically driving and going to my office, um, after two weeks I was still using a cane for three more weeks after that and the first week I was going home early for sure. It was definitely a re-entry process and, uh, yeah, mentally you have to give it time as well. It’s hard to just focus on-on that and it’s nice to be able to think of about something besides [LAUGH] your broken body. You know, to just get back into work and to talk to people or email people who can’t tell that I have a cane you know. I look the same on the screen as I did before so that was kind of nice.

LIZA: So the bigger picture in terms of recovery. I definitely did not want to be an invalid, and incapacitated, and unable to live my life the way I had. That was one of the reasons when-when I was convinced I needed the hip surgery I didn’t want to put it off because from what I’d heard and seen the more you put it off the harder it is to recover.

LIZA: My husband was my primary caregiver. He didn’t know exactly what to expect either but he wanted to do whatever he could to make this a success story so he enjoyed it and as I started to get to the point where, you know, uh, I could do things for myself I think he was feeling a little displaced and happy that I could start, you know, walking the dogs with him again.

LIZA: And at that point and there were post-op visits with the doctor and his advice was just keep walking-walking-walking as much as you can.

LIZA: 10 weeks post-op we had a trip planned to Paris and I was concerned all along am I going to be able to do this trip? Well we landed in Paris on 10 weeks post-op. Our first day after the flight we walked all the way up and down the Champs-Elysees and then the next day which was our first full day in Paris, we walked over 10 miles. I was tracking it and we just had a blast and I didn’t feel any pain at all. I mean I was tired but I would be tired from that before. So that was to me like, oh man, I-I won. [LAUGH]

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