Avid readers of this blog will know that earlier this year, I had my right hip replaced. In fact, I had my hip replaced 12 weeks ago today – yes, I’m still at the stage of counting it in weeks, and thinking that each week is a significant milestone. It’s like this new right hip of mine is a newborn baby.
I had originally planned to blog about the hip replacement experience as I went through it but, for reasons that will become clear, that wasn’t possible for me. I feel like the time had come for me to share my experience of my first joint replacement and maybe bust some myths around it.
I’m very honest about my experience in this post, so if you’re waiting for surgery or have any concerns about it, you might want to consider if you want to read on or not. But the overall outcome is really positive, and I already can’t wait to get the other one done so please bear that in mind!
You might expect that it would, but it hurts in a different way to how your hip hurt before you had the replacement. For me, the pain I had after the surgery was preferable to the pain I was in before.
The pain of arthritis is a different kind of pain that I don’t really know how to describe, even after 25 years. But after my hip surgery, there was something almost comfortable about that pain compared to what I’d been feeling before. Maybe it was the fact it could be controlled by painkillers, and the knowledge that it would eventually fade.
They tell you before you have the surgery that you need to keep on top of the pain. Once you’re back on the ward after having a joint replaced, you’ll be offered drugs what feels like every 10 minutes, and my advice is to take them because they won’t last long!
You might be surprised by the drugs they give you
My surgeon wasted no time in breaking some strange news to me. In fact, I was still in theatre, still on the operating table, with my surgeon doing something I’m-still-not-quite-sure-what to the tendons in my groin, when he told me that my right leg was now 2 cm longer than the other. Well, 18 mm, but who’s counting?!
As a result of this sudden growth spurt they were concerned that I might have muscle spasms in my right leg, on account of the muscle being stretched. For this, I was prescribed diazepam – perhaps better known to you as Valium. Yes, it’s an antidepressant, but it also reduces muscle spasms.
During the first few days after surgery, it was hard for me to tell if I was in pain and struggling to move my leg because of the surgery or because of the newly stretched muscle, so I took the diazepam as suggested. It did not agree with me, but I know for some people it works really well for its intended purposes. We’re all different, I guess!
That afternoon, I was absolutely off my head. My friend Kat came to visit and I hardly remember any of it – apart from an ill-timed visit from an orthotist to measure my legs for some shoe inserts to even me out. Later that evening my boyfriend and three other friends took it in turns to visit me, and possibly thought having a hip replacement involved also taking out part of the brain.
The worst bits aren’t what you’d expect
You might think that the worst bits would be the pain from the surgery or the fact that you’re not very mobile for a while, but for me the worst bits were all the things they warn you might happen but you believe won’t happen to you.
Sometimes having a nerve block in your leg can make you lose the ability to ‘let go’ when it comes to weeing. This happened to me.
Sometimes painkillers make you constipated. This happened to me.
And let me tell you this. Once you’ve had your first ever catheter fitted at 4 am under the mood lighting of your nurse’s iPhone, having suppositories inserted into your rectum while separated from your boyfriend, three other patients and several nurses by a curtain is a walk in the park.
You’ll start to overshare
I think you can see the above section for evidence of this, but if more is required, I have a lot to tell.
My favourite stories to tell about my hip replacement all involve my catheter – my trusted friend for three and a half days. There was the time I was being taken to x-ray on a trolley, and the catheter fell off the bed as we went around a corner (nothing compares to that tugging feeling as if your insides are going to fall out!).
Then when I got to x-ray, because I was too close to my expected period date, the radiographers didn’t take my word for it that I wasn’t pregnant, so did a pregnancy test in the x-ray room from the bag to double check.
By the time we got to the Saturday, three days after my surgery, I was ready for it to be taken out and to go home. But this couldn’t happen until I’d pooped.
After the surgeon cheerfully referred to me and the three others next to me who were all facing this same challenge as ‘the constipation bay’, we realised something had to be done. It was a case of suppositories all round, and then high-fives all round as we all broke through that particular barrier.
You’ll probably know what’s going on during surgery
Most hip replacements are done under spinal anaesthetic now, as it’s safer to use than general anaesthetic. This means you will be conscious for the surgery, though most people will be given a sedative for it which makes you feel pretty chilled about having part of your leg removed.
Because I have problems with my back already, my anaesthetist wasn’t sure if I’d be able to have spinal anaesthetic, as scoliosis – which is when you spine is curved sideways into an ‘s’ shape – can make it difficult to find the right place to inject.
I was nervous about the operation, and nervous about having spinal anaesthetic for the first time, and nervous in case I had to have general anaesthetic if that didn’t work.
Luckily I was able to have the spinal anaesthetic, and then the anaesthetist gave me a sedative as well. This meant I had a sleep for most of the operation, which is lucky because it took three hours and I would have been bored to tears if I’d been awake!
I only woke up once, to the sound of hammering – which I assume was either them putting the cup into my hip socket, or the titanium stem into my thighbone. Everyone always cringes at that bit when I tell them, but I actually felt OK with it.
In fact, I’ve even watched a video of a hip replacement being done – but only since the surgery. I would recommend this, but maybe after you’ve had surgery and not before. It was very surprising and fascinating to see how it’s done.
It’s really hard work
Like, really hard. Nothing can prepare you for how hard it will be, but I’m going to try.
Regrowing soft tissue is bloody tiring. I thought I felt fine and then one day, about four weeks after my surgery, I woke up and realised I actually felt fine then. And that every time before that I thought I was fine, I was actually not fine at all.
You’re only allowed to sleep on your back for the first week – though different hospitals have different guidelines. I can’t sleep on my back very easily, so I spent most nights awake and uncomfortable. And most afternoons napping.
For the first few weeks you need to build up to exercising four times a day, and it’s so exhausting. When you finally get to the point where you’re doing all that you’re supposed to do, it’s such a good feeling, until you finish and realise how tired you are.
After a hip replacement, you have to wear really tight stockings for six weeks to reduce your chances of having blood clots. You’re only meant to have them off for 30 minutes a day so you can have a wash, but you need to have someone to take them on and off for you.
I couldn’t reach to shave my legs either, and didn’t want to get ingrown hairs (the stockings are that tight) so by the end of the six weeks, I was part gorilla. It really is all glamour.
I was also referred to hydrotherapy, and went to this once a week for six weeks. On these days I just decided I wasn’t going to do too much exercise before I went, because the pool just makes it easier to do more without feeling tired, and then it hits you like a wall when you get home. I did lots of napping on those particular afternoons.
It’s definitely worth it
As I said at the top of this post, I’m already looking forward to getting my left hip replaced. In fact, I want to get all my joints replaced now I’ve had a taste of one without inflammation and 25 years of damage, but unfortunately I don’t think medical science is quite ready for me yet!
In all seriousness, I can’t wait to get the left hip done. The right one has changed my life in so many ways – my height, my posture, my figure and weight have all improved since. I can move more freely and without pain in my right hip now, and I can’t ever remember that happening before.
Both my legs had turned inwards due to my problems in my hips, but my surgeon has corrected this on my right leg now which is great – though it does mean I have one straight leg and one wonky one. Once I get the left done, they’ll be the same length and point in the same direction as each other and I can’t wait.
The above probably sounds very traumatic, but when I tell the tale in person I promise you I laugh most of the way through it. I’d do it all again and worse if I had to, because it was so worth it.
I even feel happy enough to share photos that inevitably include a bit of my bottom and stretch-marked legs, because I just want everyone to know how delighted I am to have this scar. I’ve earned it.