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Be Kind to Your Hips
By Dario Bollacasa

The saying goes: "An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure." My personal experience during a good part of 2005 vouches for that saying.

I am going to tell you my story hoping that nobody out there has had a similar experience to mine. I also hope that I can persuade someone out there to invest in an ounce of prevention. Had I been more aggressive in getting my condition diagnosed and treated sooner, what I am writing below might not apply to me.

It all started several years ago with a pain in my right hip. After "grinning and bearing" the pain for a while I sought medical attention. I had my hips x-rayed and received the diagnosis that there was "some" cartilage left in my hip. I was given a prescription for an anti-inflammatory drug, which helped. I continued my normal activities for a couple of years.

At this time a new x-ray indicated that it would be prudent to consult with an orthopedic surgeon to evaluate a possible hip replacement. I decided that only the best surgeon would do, and managed to get an appointment for 2 and ½ months later. The visit went well (i.e. I was a candidate for a hip replacement and it was suggested that I get on the list for scheduled surgery).

It took more than a month to get a date for surgery, which turned out to be 5 months away (thank God that our healthcare system is not like the Canadians', where you have to wait for months for an elective medical procedure). So here I was counting down days to surgery, while I felt that my mobility was suffering and that my left hip was getting worse since I was favoring the right side.

Almost exactly one month before my scheduled hip replacement, I experienced excruciating pain in my left hip and I was taken to an E.R. in an ambulance. Nothing unusual transpired and I was sent back home with an ample supply of painkillers. Fast forward 24 hours and the excruciating pain returned this time on the right side accompanied by high fever. Back to the E.R., and this time admission to the hospital because of an infection, possibly pneumonia.

The next 18 days were a nightmare. The infection-causing agent was identified, but its location was unknown and the antibiotic medication had no effect on controlling the infection, i.e. the bacteria were killed, but only after they got into the blood stream. After a battery of tests: CAT scans, nuclear tracers, hip-joint aspirations and MRI, the location of the infection was identified as being in my right hip joint. Unfortunately blood clotting in both legs was also discovered. The blood clotting emergency being life-threatening, took precedence over everything else. I was medicated with anti-coagulants and a Greenfield filter was inserted in my pulmonary artery to save me from a pulmonary thrombosis. The infection location was drained and I was on I.V. administered antibiotics.

Eventually I was sent home with two bad hips and an unclear diagnosis about the infection. CAT scans indicated that the infection was not under control a month later. I returned to the hospital for a surgical procedure that removed my right hip joint and the debris left over from the infection which had effectively destroyed my right hip joint and damaged the left one.

I spent the next four months immobilized for all practical purposes. One hip could bear no weight; the other could only hold me up with the aid of my walker. I hopped around the house with the walker. I could barely bend at the waist, I could not dress myself, wash myself, get into bed by myself. Motion equaled pain and I parceled pain to myself with great reluctance. Getting in and out of the car (only tolerated for doctor’s visits or for tests) was excruciating. Three rooms in the house, the TV and the radio defined my world. My computer and the web were practically out-of-bounds. Thank God for meds: anti-depressants (took them), pain pills (took them), and laxatives (took them, with impaired vital bodily functions you can easily get in trouble). And then there was the nightmare: will I ever walk again? What would happen when the surgeon opens me up again and has to decide whether or not to replace my hip joint? Any evidence of infection would kill any plan for a prosthetic device.

It was an interminable, hot, scary summer. I finally got a slot in the schedule at the beginning of October. Of course I survived the operation, got a new hip and was the most grateful patient the hospital ever saw. I started physical therapy for my right hip and immediately started lobbying to get my left hip replaced.

I got lucky (I and many others did a lot of praying as well) and found another slot in the operating schedule eight weeks after the right hip operation. It was the best Christmas present I ever had. I was again the most grateful patient in the hospital.

Now I am working at rehabilitating both hips and associated muscles and ligaments. I am mobile again, though I do not have too much endurance, I have been driving my car as of a few weeks ago. I have discovered strengths in me, my family, my friends and acquaintances that I did not know existed.

I hope that every person who is willing to listen to my proselytizing will take good care of the hips. An ounce of prevention in this case is one x-ray away.



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