The Bionic Penguin

Here then, are the facts as will be recorded by history, by somebody…or not. I have been having what could be called ‘mobility issues’ for quite some time. It started off simply enough, with just some stiffness in my left hip. I didn’t think anything of it, really. I just figured that after all the years of baseball (being a catcher certainly affects your shelf life…), fire-fighting, police work, SCUBA diving, both recreational and professional, and just life in general, I was just showing the signs of wear and tear. The miles on my not-quite-yet 50 year old body were generally hard miles. It was no surprise that I was experiencing the aches and pains of getting a little older. If things would have just stayed that way, I probably would not have given it a second thought. I might have even started to believe my fitness-crazed, yoga-practicing, group fitness teaching wife (bless her heart) that I need to stretch more and eat better, blah, blah, blah… As time passed, I found that it was a little more difficult to take a full length step with my left leg, and I began to notice that it was getting more and more difficult to get dressed. Over time, crossing my left leg over my right was becoming an almost impossible feat. I literally had to grab my left ankle or lower leg and physically lift my left leg to accomplish this. The funny part is that at no time, and not until very recently, was there any hip pain. Some discomfort, yes, but not real pain. But that was only temporary….
A few weeks ago, the pain started. It was an annoyance at first, and it did not start with my hip. It started with my lower back. This had been going on for months, and I placed the blame, squarely and unfairly, on my 2-year old mattress. When I speak about that pain, it wasn’t an annoyance…it was agonizing! It would literally take me between 10-15 minutes to just get out of bed. I would drag myself into a hot shower, and by the time that morning preps were done, my back would feel okay, and I would carry on with my day. This continued on for some time. And then one morning, my aforementioned wife noticed that I was really struggling just to put on my socks. I mean really struggling. Even picking up my left leg to tie my shoelaces was a struggle. One morning a few months ago, it was suggested that I go and see a chiropractor to deal with my aching back, and by doing so, my hip might feel better. So I went off to my new chiropractor. This, my friends, was the port of embarkation for the odyssey that I am now on.
I met with my chiropractor, and in our first meeting she performed a few assessments, asked a few questions, and poked and prodded a little. She wanted me to get some x-rays done on my back before she started any course of treatment, and I was okay with that. After I get the x-rays back, we discussed the findings. While I was not surprised by them, it certainly was not overly encouraging. The x-rays revealed a compression of my L4-L5 vertebrae, as well as a sacroiliac compression. This was the reason that my back muscles were all in spasm and it was affecting everything else. That sounded reasonable, so we started treatment. For the next 5 weeks, every Wednesday afternoon at 4:30, I would walk (sort of) into Dr. Ana’s office and she would put me on an undulating table, and then a vibration platform. She would put various holistic oils on my back, and she would do the back-cracking thing. It felt nice, and my back was feeling better, but now I was very aware of my hip. Hmmm…Could this have been the wolf in sheep’s clothing? We were about to find out…
All we knew for sure was, 1-it was getting harder and harder to walk normally, 2-I had progressively less range of motion in my left leg, and 3-it was beginning to hurt…a lot. Dr. Ana decided at this point that perhaps some x-rays of my hip might be a prudent thing to do, and I agreed. So the next week, I show up at the diagnostic imaging facility to have some internal portraits taken. It should be noted that at this point, I had started to use a cane to help get around. It was quite a help, and I actually learned the correct way to use one. The common misconception is that the cane is used on the same side as the injury. Not true. It is used on the opposite side. I will not bore anyone with the kinesiology or physics involved, but let’s just say that when a chiropractor, a Doctor of Sports Medicine, and my General Practitioner all give me the same exact instructions on the use of a cane, I am going to listen. If anyone out there thinks that they know better, I will give you their phone numbers and you can debate the issue with them. As for me, I will stick with their advice.
SO….we get the results of the x-ray back on my hip. This is the part where if we had a soundtrack, we would cue the ‘Dragnet’ music. The pictures are not encouraging. Right there, in stunning black and white, are my hips, or should say what is left of my hips. It is quite obvious that arthritis has taken its toll. The balls and sockets of both of my hips are eroded, and the left side is worse than the right, but the right side will most likely catch up in another year or so. I am thrilled beyond words at this news… At this point, Dr. Ana has decided that there is really nothing more that she can do for me, and has told me to have a sit-down with my regular doctor, and decide where to go with this from there. I appreciated her honesty. She is awesome, and I will continue to see her for any back and neck issues.
My next step is a conversation and exam with my family physician, Dr. Aliceia. It took her exactly three questions and 15 seconds of manipulation of my left leg for her to order up an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon who specialized in sports medicine. We both knew where this was going. Dr. Aliceia looked at the x-rays and said straight out that when she has seen an x-ray that shows this much deterioration, the result is usually a hip replacement. She had the front office schedule the appointment with the orthopedic surgeon right then and there. Dr. Aliceia gave me a prescription for pain pills and wished me well.
I was given an appointment to see one of the leading orthopedic surgeons in the area. We met the following week. By this time, pain was a constant and vigilant companion, and walking without a pronounced limp was a memory. I was led to his office and we spoke for a few minutes, reviewing medical histories and all the events leading up to my visit to him. He spent a few minutes on his physical exam and review of the x-rays, and proclaimed that ‘You are a man who will need a hip replacement…’That statement, although rehearsed many times in my head over the passing of the past few months, still hit home like freight train. I would have an MRI a few days later, just to confirm what was suspected. In between the time of my discussion with the orthopedic surgeon and my MRI, my wife and I started to talk about the possible outcomes. We thought that while injections and therapy were certainly an option, we both agreed that it was not really the best option, and that the possibility of needing a hip replacement loomed large as the most probable solution. The day for the MRI arrived, and I left work a little early to go to this appointment. I was led to a room where I was to disrobe and change into scrub pants and a shirt, take off any jewelry, and head town to the room that had ‘The Tube’. Some people are somewhat freaked out by the thought of a closed MRI. For me, it was not a big deal. I am someone who is used to confined space. Confined space fire-rescue, confined space search and recovery scuba diving are all things that I am very familiar with. 20-minutes in a tube with open ends and music playing would do nothing except allow me to take a nap, which I gladly did. The MRI was done in about the prescribed 20 minutes, and then I was on my way home to finish my nap. But now came the waiting for the MRI results, and let me tell you, waiting for lab results sucks, especially when you know what might be waiting at the end…
One of the ladies from the orthopedic surgeon’s office called within 48-hours. What she told me got me really cranked up. She said that the Dr. was suggesting injections and maybe therapy. It was at this point that I remembered some very sage advice that I have received over the years. YOU MUST BE THE ADVOCATE FOR YOUR OWN CARE! This advice kept ringing through my head as the lady kept talking, and then the old advice sprang to life! I said to her “The MRI performed last week revealed ‘considerable’ damage and erosion caused by osteoarthritis in my left hip. If the hip is damaged to a point where there is ‘considerable’ damage and erosion (and has been confirmed by 2 doctors), why bother doing injections as a course of treatment when all it will do is mask the symptoms? This only prolongs the inevitability of the hip needing to be replaced. In the meantime, the hip will continue to deteriorate and the pain will continue to be present and worsen with time. Injections will not help with the mobility issues either. The point was brought up about my being on the young side to have a hip replacement. The argument is irrelevant, because whether I am 50 or 85, the condition still exists. Also, because I am at a young age, I am the strongest that I am ever going to be right now. That being said, I would also have the best chance of recovery now while I am strong, not when I am weaker. Injections and other therapies will not improve my quality of life. The condition of osteoarthritis does not improve with cortisone or collagen injections. These are temporary fixes at best. The most prudent course of treatment would be a hip replacement before any further damage occurs. I would ask that you present this argument to the Doctor and call me back after you have done so.” With that, I hung up the phone and stewed for a little while. Do not misunderstand. I am not a fan of having a part of me cut out and replaced with airplane parts, nor am I a fan of what will be a difficult recovery period. But I am also not a fan of being in constant pain, and I am certainly not in love with the idea of limping around with a cane. If this will need to be done at some point, I want to do it NOW, not later. I want it fixed, not patch-worked. A few days later, after receiving no call back, the advice that’ YOU MUST BE THE ADVOCATE FOR YOUR OWN CARE!’ came back to light. I decided to grab the rooster by the rocks and call them. The appointment scheduler who answered the phone sheepishly apologized for not calling me back, and said that the doctor agreed with me, and gave me a date for surgery. I was also told that I would be scheduled for a Joint Replacement Class.
‘The Class’ was exactly what we expected. I had told my wife that I wanted her there with me, largely because she would need to understand what was going to happen, what care would be needed, who was coming to our house after the surgery, and so on. But I also wanted her there for support. I think that it was important for both of us. It was a way to show her that I needed her, and for her it was a confirmation that she was needed, not that there was ever any doubt. The class was held in a small conference room at the hospital where my surgery was to take place in three weeks from then. I was the youngest person in the room (50 years old), and I immediately started thinking to myself that we were going to spend the next two hours listening to war stories from old people that would be better left to another forum. There were about 20-25 people in the room, all of whom were in need of either a hip, or shoulder, or knee replacement. The room was divided up into what I assume were the hip section, the knee section, and the shoulder section, each with different loose leaf binders for the specific joint being replaced. There were just as many hip replacement patients as knee replacement patients. Oh, and I was absolutely right about the war stories! Everybody had a sister who had ‘a friend whos’ friend contracted a rare and serious form of some disease from a medication that they were given when’…you get the idea. Our ‘class’ had not one, but several different versions of ‘that guy’. You know who I am talking about. There is the comedienne, the grouch, the expert, the lead actress of geriatric edition of ‘Clueless’, the ‘Mrs. Laugh-at-Everything-For-No-Reason’…we had them all. I don’t even want to start with the questions that were being asked. That would fall under the part about ‘shutting up long enough to learn something’ part of the conversation. Let’s just say that there wasn’t enough of that…
And that brings us to now, to today. I am about a week and a half away from my scheduled surgery. On that day, I will be sliced like the proverbial Thanksgiving Turkey, and made better…stronger…faster, like the Bionic Penguin. I had lunch with my wife today, and as she was walking and I was limping with my cane out to her car, we giggled at the thought that this was about as fast as I used to run the bases when I was healthy (was that a slow catcher joke?). I don’t want to say that I am nervous, even though I have a minor trepidation or two. I truly believe that anyone who goes in for an operation such as this and tells you that they are not at all nervous is lying, whistling a happy tune, and keeping a stiff upper lip. A little nervousness is natural. The truth is that even though you asked all the questions, did all the homework, and made every possible preparation, there is still more to come. What will happen during surgery? How will I fare after the surgery? How will I respond to anesthesia? How will therapy go? There are those that say that they have had surgery before and that they were fine, and they are probably right. But that was that surgery. That was then. This is now. This is this surgery. It is just like playing a game against the same opponent multiple times. Every game is a new game, and an opportunity for a different result. There are different variables…so many different variables, that to say that one is just like the other is misinformed at best. I am not saying that you should be predicting gloom-and-doom, nor am I saying that something will go wrong. It probably won’t, as modern medicine is as safe and advanced as you could possibly want. I prefer to be positive and upbeat as possible. But it would be foolish to not at least consider all the possible outcomes. But there will always be the naysayers who insist that everything is fine and that there is nothing to worry about. I submit that they are wrong. If everything were fine, you would not be having surgery, now would you? If there was nothing to worry about, then all the tests, consultations, and precautions would be a pointless waste of time, right?
I am going to end this blog here, as there is nothing else to add at this point. I will see everybody on the other side of this journey to a new hip!


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