‘Observed mild antalgic gait” is what he documented. Another doctor wrote, “I do think that these injuries potentially could lead to further disability for him.’ He was pretty prescient.
Antalgic gait, what is that? Have you ever seen an old man walking with that side-to-side waddle, with a wince of pain at every step? Somewhere along the trail from youth to elderhood, I became that old man with the waddle.
Wear and Tear
Apparently, 30 years of daily Army life exercising, humping a heavy rucksack, jumping out of airplanes, and being ‘ridden hard and put away wet, had its inevitable effect. I was not aging gracefully.
It took years to evolve and these last two years of orthopedic appointments to diagnose. My new gait is a result of Bi-lateral Hip Osteoarthritis with labrum tears. The Docs finally told me that I’d end up getting my hips replaced. I quizzically asked, ‘when, how long?’ Their evasive answer, ‘you’ll know!’ They were right.
A few months ago, walking through a friend’s neighborhood, I bid my friend and wife walk ahead, ‘I’d catch up later.’ After they pulled out of sight, I furtively looked for a quiet alcove or shady bench where I could crumble down and cry! Apparently, the osteofied edges of my hip femur ball were macerating my labrum into minced meat. I could no longer walk. The pain exceeded my ability to just ‘gut it out.’ It was time.
The journey from the decision to ‘Just do it!’ Till today has been almost miraculous. One morning at 0530, Ursula accompanied me as I limped into the Regional Hospital. She left me in the Pre-Op ward around 0815, received a call from the doctor that I was out of surgery by 0930. By 1030 I was rudely awakened in the Post-Op Ward by an orderly fitting me with my new anti-embolism stockings. I was in a private room by 1130 (Why? I guess because insurance pays?).
My new nurse briefed me on the dos and don’ts, fed me with Post-Op meds, and passed me a bunch of paperwork. The Physical Therapist paid me a visit by 1230 when I took the first tentative steps with my new hip. She taught me a technique to safely ascend and descend stairs until I could regain complete control of both legs; she smiled, then left. The Occupational Therapist was in 15 minutes later, pretty much sharing the same information. By 1430, Ursula met me at the front door as I walked (actually wheel-chaired) out of the hospital. Nine hours upon arrival, we were on our way home from having my femoral head sawed off my femur and a new alloy one screwed into its place. Modern medicine is stupefying when it works right.
Recovery from the anterior variant of the surgery is surprisingly rapid and filled with small, basic goals and satisfying accomplishments. Getting into and out of bed on your own is the first priority. The day you can lift your new hip leg into bed on its own strength is a milestone. Hobbling to the bathroom with a walker isn’t too much of a challenge (but amazing when you think about it). But figuring out how to sit on the toilet seat is. It takes all sorts of ingenious exertions and contortions to position the walker while using the walls and water tank as leverage points to seat yourself. Standing up is more complicated. The day you can do it unaided is a minor victory over aging.
I transitioned from a walker to a cane in three days. Walking stairs was not too much of a problem, but doing it without using a cane or railing was another minor accomplishment. Changing my own socks and those damned anti-embolism stockings took the longest time to accomplish and is still a challenge today. I wore those ungainly (but comfortable) crocks sandals for three weeks because I could get my feet into them without bending over. It was an exciting day when I could wear ‘big boy’ shoes again by contorting my body into a position to reach the laces. Small steps every day.
At five weeks, I still use a cane, but only as an assist in the event of a stumble. The doctors were pretty clear ‘Do not fall down and pop the ball out of its socket and make us do this again!” Fear of pain is a good motivator.
I can walk a hilly 2.5 miles in 75 minutes, and the pain has noticeably switched from my new hip to my old hip, which needs a new hip.
The 7-inch scar is ghastly but healing well. I just wish it was someplace more visible so I could concoct some sort of false bravado war story about how I earned it in some foreign land. It might be worth a free beer or two….if I could pull it off.
The atrophied muscle mass is returning, as is the strength. By week eight, perhaps twelve, I’m confident the thigh nerve endings will be calmed, the numbed sensation abated, and my natural protective instincts focused elsewhere. I’m looking forward to that day. I’m not looking forward to starting this all over again with my next hip. But I will be more confident, assured that the marvels of modern medicine will see me fit and walking confidently into the new winter season.
The days of waddling back and forth, almost as much as I waddle forward, will soon be a thing of the past. My days of being searched every time I pass through airport security will assuredly be a thing of my future. It’ll be a welcomed trade-off. (Antalgic Gait)
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