The Path to Hip Replacement Surgery

It is countdown time until my total hip replacement surgery. Four weeks from now, for better or worse, I will be the proud owner of a metal hip joint.

If you find yourself contemplating this surgery, I hope my column series chronicling my experiences will help. Today, I describe my attempts to forestall surgery, and why I decided to go ahead. The next column will cover surgery preparations, and the last one will document my hospital stay. A little down the road, I will share my rehab experiences.

At first glance, you would not consider me a hip replacement candidate. At 53, I am considered young for this procedure. I can still walk without a cane (although it feels much better to use one), do errands, and tend to family and work. Because of my athletic swimming and pool rehabilitation exercises, I am very strong.

So why now? Simply put, my right hip joint is a mess. I can’t avoid limping, or rather, walking with a one-sided lurch. My right hip barely bends, and my right leg hardly rotates in or out. Sometimes my right leg won’t support me.

My right leg hurts, 24/7. The pain radiates from my hip, through my thigh, down the front of my calf, to my toes.

I examined my X-ray with my doctor. There is minimal cartilage in the hip socket, and there’s what doctors call “bone rubbing on bone.” There are cysts all over the part of my femur that fits into the hip socket, and bone spurs all around the edges of the femur-head—“like rust,” the doctor said.

My anti-pain regime has been prescription Vioxx for pain, Prilosec to protect my stomach from the Vioxx, and hormones to protect my menopausal bones, since weight-bearing exercise (even walking) hurts. I use acupuncture, Chinese herbs and liquid glucosamine, to relieve the inflammation and pool therapy to maintain strength.

I also rely on my muscles to support my right leg and entire body. For many years I have stood mostly on one leg.

Now my pain is stronger than my regime, and I am exhausted by all my efforts to compensate for the weakness. I hate all the pills. I think about my hip constantly. I hesitate to make future plans out of fear that I won’t be able to walk.

Key in my decision was my favorite book: “Arthritis of the Hip and Knee: The Active Person’s Guide to Taking Charge,” by Ronald Allen, Victoria Brander and S. David Stulberg (Peachtree Publishers; 1998). The book advocates surgery while one still has strength. Allen discovered this by way of two hip surgeries. For the first, he waited until he was practically crawling; for the second, both legs were still strong. His recuperation time was much shorter in the latter.

I highly recommend this book for tips on how to avoid and then decide on both knee and hip surgeries, clear descriptions of surgical procedures, rehab exercises and more.