Today is the one week anniversary of my total hip replacement surgery and what a week it’s been. I went into this well-prepared. I read the material given to me from my surgery team and then kind of hyperfixated on the subject. I bought the kit of grabbers, sock aid, and long handled sponge. I got the gigantic donut for the toilet. I knew my stuff when I was wheeled into the hospital. I felt like I could author an updated version of the very popular book that we referred to decades ago, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” to “What to Expect When You’re Facing Total Hip Replacement.”
Last week as I was wheeled to Day of Surgery Registration at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, I quickly realized that I had entered unexplored territory. I didn’t know what to expect once I had been gowned and prepped. My experiences in surgery had so far been in my hometown rural hospital and having worked in marketing and communications for two hospitals, I had been in the OR and was familiar with the surgical suite, scope room, pre- and post-recovery areas. I also knew all of the surgical staff by their first names as my co-workers. Surgery at a rural, hometown hospital can feel intimate and private. The patient will almost always know everyone in the room, as they all know each other.
Walking into the room at UIHC where I was prepped for the procedure, I was awed by the sheer scale of the entire surgical “operation” at a major teaching and research hospital. My anesthesiologist was a young man who had already earned a PhD in pharmacology and decided to become an MD and specialize in anesthesiology to interact with patients. He became my personal companion for the event who metaphorically held my hand through the entire surgery. He asked many questions about previous surgeries and my experience with anesthesia. I had stories to tell.
Both of my children were delivered by planned c-section and having a spinal block was the way to go. I wanted to be aware and present for their births. When my son was born, I felt the burn of the incision as the level of anesthesia was not where it needed to be. Three years later when my daughter was born, they over-corrected and I spent the afternoon throwing up with a pillow on my incision. It was all worth it to hear my babies’ first cries and finally meet the little person that only I had known for nine months.
When I finished telling my story to my anesthesiologist, I ended by saying that being aware of the tugging and pulling during my children’s births was doused by those amazing hormones triggered by a newborn’s cry and the touch of their skin. I told him that while I was eager to get a new hip, under no circumstances did I want to be aware of what was going on this time. He actually apologized for my previous experiences and told me that he would take great care with me. I immediately thanked his mother for raising such a compassionate human.
When the time came, my anesthesiologist was my escort to the event and wheeled me through the maze of corridors. He said that there are about 70 different spaces equipped to handle surgical procedures at UIHC. Extraordinary.
We went through a set of doors and the air was immediately much cooler. I’m fairly sure that my blood pressure was on the rise in anticipation of what was to come and happy that there was cool air so that I didn’t pass out before the party started. The operating room was easily three times the size of any I had seen before. I could see tables of equipment that went the length of the wall with a medical professional gowned and hooded arranging the items. I was without my glasses and relieved that I could not see the array of carpentry tools laid out for use.
I knew that this surgery was going to be transformative physically, but also emotionally. In addition to my escort, there were four other Physician Assistants and MDs training in orthopedic surgery. Like so many people my age, I always do for others and I also have a bit of an allergy in asking or allowing others to help me. I was doing my best to assist the team in getting myself transferred and settled, until one of them assured me that they were doing fine and that all I needed to do was to allow them to do it for me.
Why do we naturally assume that we are somehow supposed to be able to do things all on our own? All the time? Like in an OR before major surgery? I didn’t give my involvement a second thought until they showed me that this entire thing was about me and about giving me back mobility and eliminating my chronic pain. This was certainly something that I could not accomplish on my own and yet they still needed to remind me that I needed to allow them to do this for me. This would not be the last time I would be presented with this lesson.
I’m very glad that I remember this moment. As I was positioned on my good hip with the soon-to-be replaced joint toward the enormous lights on the ceiling my escort put an oxygen mask on my face and said, “Just relax and breathe now, Laura.”
I woke up in the recovery area with what looked and sounded like several bays with patients like me surrounded by medical professionals closely monitoring every thing about me. The next part of my journey had begun.