Why I Chose a Double Hip Replacement and How I Bounced Back
Glenn, 54, a married father of one teenage daughter living in New York State, was a longtime fitness buff who lived with unbearable pain in both of his hips. Knowing that he'd have to replace them, he made the bold decision to have double hip replacement surgery, a choice that made his recovery significantly more challenging. He spoke with Health.com just a month after the operation.
Glenn was up for the difficult recovery that a double hip replacement entails.(PHOTOMORGANA/CORBIS)A last moment of athletic greatness
I first woke up with pain on June 1, 2006. It was 10 days after I had run San Francisco's Bay to Breakers [a 12K run] with my college roommate, faster than we had run it 30 years earlier. It was as if God were giving me one last moment of athletic greatness before shutting me down.
I thought it was my knees because I've had a bad knee. I hurt for about two months and I finally went to an orthopedist and he said "No, you idiot, it's your hip, not your knee." It felt like knee pain because often with hips your nerves shoot down your thigh to your knee.
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The orthopedist said the hip is like the tread of a tire. When it wears out, there's nothing you can do. You have cartilage between your leg and your pelvis and when it's used up, like mine was, it's gone. He said my left leg had 25% left, but my right was all gone.
Despite the pain, I delayed surgery
If you ask my wife, she would say I'm out of my mind. She would say it's because I'm stoic.
[But] people say you should wait as long as you can before getting the hip replaced because [hip replacements] only last so long. It's harder to do it the second time, but I hope that over the next 15 years they improve the technology.
So I held off for that reason. And I kept thinking, "Is the pain really so bad?"
The pain continued to worsen
It was about the point where it woke me up every night three or four times. The two hours standing at a cocktail party were so agonizing that I would ask people, "Could you sit down with me?" I couldn't walk across town anymore. I couldn't wash my feet in the shower. Hip patients have real trouble reaching their ankles and their feet. It was degrading in so many ways. I felt about 90 years old.
The hardest thing besides standing at cocktail parties was getting into the car. I used to go out five minutes before because I didn't want [my wife and daughter] to see me psych myself up for the pain of swinging my legs into the car. It would take five minutes. Some mornings I just said to myself, I don't want to do this, I dreaded it, it hurt so damn much.
Next Page: Taking a toll on my emotional life [ pagebreak ]Taking a toll on my emotional life
You don't realize it day by day. You realize it every few months, when you see how your life has been diminished. It's not like I was grouchy with my family… But you're in so much pain, you don't have the energy to do other things and you say no, in times when you would normally say yes. Your life starts shrinking. Opportunities you would have taken, you let go—and your world gets smaller and smaller.
Even walking the dog. It was hard to walk the dog and I felt sorry for the dog because I had to leave him behind.
I stopped running because it was agonizing. I started spinning, and that is actually why I lasted [so many] months. Spinning didn't hurt.
Then my left hip started to go, earlier this year. And I said "OK, this is really bad."
I looked for a doctor with a lot of experience
I said, "Sir, how many of these have you done?" And he said "Over ten thousand." And I said, "That's impossible, that means you've done one every business day since 1967." And he said "That's right, I started in 1967."
I liked him because he answered my emails. How much trouble that saves you. I think he's 70, at least, but it was so impressive to me that he respects his patients enough that he answers their emails.
Making the leap: two hips at once
I said "Sir, it's going to cost my employer a fortune to pay for this, and I'm going to be out of work for a month. I can't do this to my employer, and I can't do this to myself. Do them both at once. I'm vigorous enough."
It's heavy duty. It really tears you up. But somebody my age, you can get a double, you can get them both done at once.
The other day I was in physical therapy and there was an older man, I guess he was in his early sixties. He had had one hip done and he said "You know, my other hip is killing me." And I thought, "This is what I avoided."
Next Page: First post-op order of business: Sit up in bed [ pagebreak ]First post-op order of business: Sit up in bed
The day after surgery, they say, "OK, let's see if you can sit up at the side of your bed." I have run three marathons. I once portaged a birch bark canoe with one other 14-year-old kid one mile through six inches of mud. Nothing compared with how hard trying to sit up in bed was. I pretty much fainted.
The physical therapist started walking away. She said, "I'll be back tomorrow." I said, "What are you talking about? I'm going to lose a day in the hospital?"
She said, "You are not ready to sit up. You're in incredible pain and you're incredibly weak."
So I was like one of these athletes waiting for the next big game. I was practicing all of these exercises they give you with your ankles and your feet and I was getting myself on the backs of my hands pushing myself up. I was [determined to] be ready when she came back. And I was.
They actually kicked me out after two days, which is extraordinary for a double hip replacement. The operation was on a Tuesday night, and I was out of the hospital on Friday morning.
I'm doing physical therapy three times a week for four weeks and it's great. It hurts. They stretch you and they give you electrodes that stimulate the muscles. It's not pleasant, but it's worth it.
I've been telling everybody to not be an idiot the way I was. Mix up your exercise. My doctor told me five years ago I shouldn't be running every day. I didn't listen to him. Now I say mix it up: swim, bike. Don't run every day—it's not worth it.
The importance of attitude
God forbid this ever happens to you. But if you are vigorous and you are determined and you are optimistic and full of life, it does make it easier to get through these things.