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My Brand-New Hip: A Personal Tale

Helpful friends, expert therapy and a new surgery technique make hip replacement a success

The right pre-op prep

One thing I've learned — having had three prior orthopedic surgeries since 2000 — is how helpful it is to arrive at that operating room door as strong, healthy and lean as you can be. I had lifted weights to strengthen my arms to move myself in bed for several weeks using only my upper body. This "pre-hab" also gave me a sense of control as I headed into three months of healing and recovery.

Jose was willing and able to take three weeks' paid vacation from his job. We also asked our church for aid, and fellow parishioners stepped up, delivering us two weeks' worth of home-cooked dinners.

Caitlin Kelly wrote a personal essay about her hip replacement and her recovery

Caitlin Kelly and her French-made short crutches post-op. — Photo by Jose R. Lopez

This gave Jose a welcome break as I needed his help in every way: to dress, put on my socks, shoes and surgical stockings, even to help sponge bathe me for the first 18 days until my staples were removed.

Normally super-independent, I found it tough to be so helpless. My tight white surgical stockings — worn 23 hours a day for a month — were a challenge, as my poor husband wrestled hard every single time to get them over my foot and ankle until I could pull them to my thigh. For weeks, I wore his soft jersey boxer shorts; anything else put pressure in the middle of my wound.

A terrifying task

The hardest part of those first few weeks was having Jose clean my incision every day, which I found a little terrifying, even though he was very careful. He would wash his hands with surgical scrub, put on a fresh pair of latex gloves and very gently swab me with disinfectant and change the dressing as I lay on the bed. The best part was being fussed over, as he often brought me meals in bed and lent me his iPad to watch movies and play endless games of Scrabble.

Getting my 10 staples removed was difficult. The poor nurse practitioner, pulling them out as gently as she possibly could, cringed in sympathy as I yelped curses. My patient husband held my hand the whole time.

Building strength

After two weeks of home-based physical therapy, I started therapy at a nearby rehab facility, going three times a week for six weeks, with an hour each time of exercises, stretching and strength-building, including biking for 10 minutes and 10 minutes on an elliptical trainer. None of it was painful, and it was encouraging to hear my therapists tell me how well I was doing.

Within a few weeks of this regimen, I was walking a mile, using short crutches. Within a month I was walking with no aids at all. To my great relief, I'd been nearly pain-free — since leaving the hospital the only pain medication I needed was one or two painkillers once a day.

Within six weeks of the surgery, I flew to San Francisco from my home in New York on a story assignment. I walked everywhere confidently, easily and without pain or discomfort.

Friends, colleagues and neighbors in my apartment building — many of them in their 60s, 70s and 80s — told me I looked like a new person once I was free of pain again. Looking back, I wouldn't do anything differently. I took my time researching my options, making sure I fully understood the operation and the length and demands of recovery and rehab. I carefully chose a surgeon I like and trust, with a low infection rate and many satisfied patients. I worked hard at physical therapy and am still doing many exercises at home.

Life is now back on track.

Also of interest: Tai chi helps prevent falls.

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