For 45 years, my husband’s left hip did its job without complaint. It allowed him to play multiple sports in high school and survive four years as the smallest guard on the Oak Harbor football team. It helped him chase stories for three newspapers, play co-rec soccer into his thirties, run countless 10K races and complete one marathon. It even tried to swivel through a Latin dance class (my idea).
After we adopted the first of our two sons from Korea, that hip served as a baby bouncer and child seat. It was during a nature hike with two-year-old Casey riding on his shoulders that Mark felt the first twinge of what would become 17 years of pain.
He didn’t think much of it at the time, but the pain didn’t go away. It got worse, radiating down his left leg at predictable points that made us all suspect his back and a pinched sciatic nerve. He went to the doctor, who ordered an MRI of his lower spine. It showed nothing out of the ordinary.
Meanwhile, the pain bounced around from hip to knee to shin to ankle like a trickster. A cortisone shot in his knee brought only temporary relief. He tried physical therapy and acupuncture. I got him to try yoga. Nothing seemed to help, and some things made it worse.
Eventually the pain became chronic and debilitating, disrupting his sleep . . . and mine. The man who used to love to run now balked at taking a walk. No wonder. When he did, his limp made me wince.
“How’s your leg?” I’d ask him.
“You’ve got to do something about this, force the doctors to get to the bottom of it,” I said. “This is a quality-of-life issue.”
I complained more about his pain than he did. I wanted some semblance of our active life back, but our needs kept getting swept aside by the more immediate needs of our children and our aging parents – the classic sandwich.
Then came not one, but two, big wake-up calls: Mark’s blood pressure was dangerously high, according to the machine at our local Bartell Drug Store. I urged him to go in for a physical, which confirmed the hypertension and revealed signs of something else: prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer is common in men of a certain age, and usually treatable. It also happens to run in Mark’s family, but his relatives beat it, so I was optimistic that his treatment would be similarly successful.
Still, I had an eerie feeling watching my husband’s skeleton appear on a monitor while he got a full-body scan to check for cancer outside the prostate. As the machine worked its way down to his groin, his left hip emerged as a cloudy white blob. I immediately thought, oh my God, the cancer has spread to his hip, but the technician set me straight: not cancer, inflammation.
Fast forward a year. With his blood-pressure under control and a so-far successful treatment for prostate cancer, we both agreed it was past time to revisit the leg-pain issue. X-rays and another MRI, this time of the inflamed left hip, showed bone-on-bone arthritis. On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the worst he’s ever scene, the orthopedic surgeon said Mark’s hip was a seven or eight.
A complete replacement was in order.
Mark had the surgery June 7. We spent a day in the hospital. A shout-out to the fabulous folks at Swedish Medical Center-Issaquah: Thank you for making our stay as pleasant as possible. Former reporter that he is, Mark got to know each and every nurse, attendant and therapist and their family backgrounds. Our diverse crew of caregivers hailed from Korea, Kenya, the Ukraine and India.
Given that his new friends were kinder and gentler than our sons were likely to be, Mark wanted to stay in the hospital an extra day. But his physical therapist –a buff and jocular Korean man — told him insurance wouldn’t cover avoiding teenagers. Mark had already demonstrated the he could walk with the aid of a walker, go up and down a small set of mock stairs, and get in and out of a mock car. He was good to go.
In the week we’ve been home, he’s gotten progressively more mobile, graduating from walker to cane and striding less and less like Frankenstein’s monster. On Monday, we took the three-block walk to Roosevelt High school and back, no problem. He’s still on morphine, so we can’t be sure that the hip replacement completely fixed his leg pain, but we’re hopeful.
Getting back to a new normal will take time. We’ll never return to playing soccer and running 10ks. Those days are gone for both of us. But I definitely see some bike rides in our future.
Speaking of moving forward, I have my own news. I can’t spill the details yet because I don’t know them myself, but I think I’ve found a publisher for my novel. Stay tuned for updates.
In the meantime, if you have a hip- or knee-replacement story — and it seems that most everyone does — please feel free to share it below. I’d love to hear from you!
Race photo credit: W. McNeely
Football photo credit: Wallie Funk