New Hip, Old Body: Amputees and Cheese…All Will Be Explained

My 2 weeks as an inpatient in the rehab hospital was, in a word, “enlightening”. First. The place I was in was a top rehab facility in Columbus. They do wonderful things. It was exactly where I needed to be and wanted to be. Having said that, it was not a bed of roses for my situation.

Not. At. All. Let me explain….

I knew going into this whole thing that recovering from this surgery was going to be THE challenge. Recovery from a total hip replacement is difficult enough if you’re able –bodied from the get go. Add in a major disability of any kind and, well, I was traveling in a universe of rehab craziness where no one (as far as I could find) has gone before…. (in my head, that is Patrick Stewart talking!). But I was determined to work hard and get as much out of the structured physical therapy as I could…and hoped like hell for no post-surgical complications.

Imagine my surprise when I first met the nurses, therapists and team of surgical underlings and was told my case had been discussed the week before and they were prepared for my arrival in rehab. (Cue angelic choir….). After hearing that, I was elated and prepared for the world’s fastest hip-replacement recovery in history.

It didn’t happen quite that way. It seemed that knowing they had a double amputee with a new hip coming in for recovery and gait training and knowing exactly how to approach my exact situation….were two totally unrelated things. They were knowledgeable with patient recovery from hip replacements. They had experience with, but not as much as I had hoped, working with amputees. But many of the amputees they worked with were single, not double. The difference is immeasurable!

It’s kind of like Cheese. Hang with me and I’ll explain. There are a bazillion types of cheeses in the world but they all fall under the general heading of “Cheese”. And even though they are all cheeses, there is a huge difference between American, Swiss, Blue, Cream, Parmesan, Colby, Havarti, Limburger…..well, you get the drift. Just because a person has a limb amputation, and is under the category of Amputee …the situations and how they are handled can be vastly different. Just like no one would never make a cheesecake with Limburger or Blue cheese and douse it with brandied, chocolate cherry sauce…working with a single below knee amp as opposed to a double below knee amp, or a single or double above knee amp or any combo of lower limb amputations will never need the same therapy program. When you factor in age and other such things, it gets even more complicated.

So then I show up…and I did not fit into a one size fits all hip recovery patient box. There was a world of frustration ahead for all concerned.

First, Swelling. Swelling in my legs is very familiar to me. I’ve always had to deal with this during any hospital stay. Hell, just being in bed with the flu for more than a couple days makes walking difficult for a while after I’m well. I knew it would happen. My surgeon knew it. The nursing staff and physical therapists knew, after asking twice a day and me telling them not yet. I was proactive in my care. As soon as possible post surgery, I wrapped my stumps in ace bandages. Unfortunately, ace bandages tend to get tangled in the covers because I don’t have a lot of leg down there and bandages don’t stay on very well without tape..and that can cause irritation…so I switched and put on the stretchy liner inserts from my prosthesis and kept them on pretty much all the time I was in bed. It wasn’t comfortable but I knew it was the best alternative. I was way too swollen to fit inside the sockets of the legs, so there was no standing, but these gel liners fit with just enough added compression to help not only the swelling go down but they also stood in for the compression sleeves patients wear on their legs in bed to prevent blood clots after surgery…. when said patients have legs to wear them on. I didn’t, so I improvised. During the time I was in bed, I did what exercises I could under the watchful eye of the Physical therapist. Very limited, very boring, very rudimentary but all designed to at least get me firing muscles in my rear and thigh to help when walking was again possible.

It was a couple days after being in the rehab place (4-5 days after the surgery)before I fit back into my prosthetics and just standing beside the bed was a major and painful hurdle for me. Well, that is not entirely true. The first major hurdle was putting the actual prosthesis on without leaning too far and breaching the “Hip protocol”. My surgeon and I had discussed this prior to the surgery. I explained how I had to bend to put the legs on and that I would be careful to not go more than the magic 90 degrees and never lift my knee above my waist…but I had to bend enough to put on the liner. I practiced it at home even before the damn surgery. I was ready. But every damn time I sat on the side of the bed to put them on, a bed alarm went off and people were yelling at me to “stay in the bed until the nurse came” and when she did come.. not bend so much. I carefully explained…over and over….if they wanted me to walk; this was the way the legs went on. They really didn’t trust me but finally realized I was not harming myself, which allowed me to get myself together.

The day came I could actually use a walker for an actual stroll down in the PT gym. Walkers and I are old, OLD fren-nemies. I know they serve a purpose, I just hate them. They kill my arthritic shoulders and back because you have to lean into them. There is no standing straight when using a walker , even if it has wheels. But, again, I do understand the intended purpose of security, I’ve just always tried to ditch them asap! Also, I got so tired of repeating myself to anyone who was with me that I didn’t need to be schooled in the fine art of walker-y. Been there, done that, hate doing it, but would anyway.

I have to say something in my own defense. I WAS NOT TRYING TO BE DIFFICULT. But I don’t think the nurses or therapists saw it that way for quite a while. Being a person with a disability, I’ve had to learn to adjust to normal living by sometimes applying very unorthodox methods to things able-bodied folks take for granted. And it’s usually the little things that seem the craziest to those who aren’t familiar with my situation. I understand that….but it doesn’t make it any easier on me when I’m told or expected to do things that are impossible to do in the conventional way. That’s my disclaimer and I’m sticking to it!

More on the adventure later. It’s time for lunch. I think I want a grilled cheese!

Categories: bilateral BK amputees, Hip replacement, life

2 replies

  1. Mmmmmmmm grilled cheese. I might follow your lead and make one for my own lunch.

    Once again, my heart did a pitter-pat when I checked my email and found a fresh installment from you.

    I find myself reading a bit, and then closing my eyes and PICTURING you in my mind’s eye – the day you first started to put your legs on, the first day with the walker. How hard it must be to know your body and what you must do and how you must do it and have others hovering and “with the best intentions” …. driving you mad by simply being unable to truly get the fact that you aren’t trying to be difficult and that you have actually thought this thing through and even PRACTICED it already. Oof. Must be exhausting to do the difficult physical work you need to do to heal and to keep… Explaining that you’ve actually figured out how to get your legs on, and that you do know how to use a walker and and and….

    Oh Judith. I send up such a cheer of support.

    And I am so glad you had a good team. I’m betting they learned a lot from having the opportunity to work with you.

    Here’s a big ((((hug))) and a wish for a wonderful week ahead for you.

    Go easy (except when ya haveta go hard!) ~p

  2. Thanks Pam! I hope having me as a patient opened their eyes to the differences disabilities can have from one person to another and how that applies to post surgery recovery. That would make it all worth it.

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