Hip Revision Chronicles 2 Gratitude

Gratitude. If you read Hip Revision Chronicle 1 you might wonder why I am gong to devote a post to gratitude.

Let me tell you how grateful I am that my hip replacement device broke while I was brushing my teeth in my bathroom in my home in Little Rock.

I have lived at 7,200 elevation in a cabin on the side of a mountain in Pagosa Springs, Colorado for the last three years. We moved to Little Rock two and a half months before the incident. There is no cell service for miles around the cabin, so we used Wi-Fi calling in order to use our phones. The range of the Wi-Fi did not go much past the walls of the house. I couldn’t make calls from the deck for instance, and forget going out in the yard. The internet was spotty at best. It went out completely frequently. Not just at our place, sometimes the whole town was without cell or internet service for hours or days.

Our house perched on a steep slope. The dogs and Noodles houses were a good distance away. During the winter we dug paths in the snow so that we all could go back and forth. Those paths became very icy. We called them snow tunnels and toboggan runs. While we had a railing to help with footing there were several times when my feet went out from under me and I sat down hard. Steve was gone for hours almost every day playing pickleball. Not a good scenario. The Apple Watch and cell phone didn’t work there.

The slope of our backyard was such that I needed crampons on my boots to keep from sliding down the hill while waiting for the dogs to potty. I was out there alone during the middle of the night many times. Once I lost my shoes in the deep snow and spent several frustrating minutes on my stomach trying to reach them. I never could have crawled out of that. The temperatures were in the teens or minus zero frequently.

These are the stairs I used during the winter in order to get in and out of the house. They are made of sharp toothed metal. The driveways were impassable once it started snowing.

This is the special place that I spent many hours practicing yoga and developing my balance. I did tree pose on that leg on these rocks in the Rio Blanco over a mile from my house. The place is completely private. No cell service. What would have happened to Mick? Would my body have floated past our house down the road?

I went on hikes at high elevation with trails that were washed out on mountainsides of scree, which is treacherous loose rock and gravel. Hikes that crossed the continental divide. And of course no cell service. The drop offs were terrifying.

I rode my horse on rides that went miles into the wilderness where we spotted bear and moose. Miles from the nearest road, several hours of driving after reaching the trailhead to reach cell service. Many times it was just me and one other person. What would that have been like for me if I even survived? What trauma for the person or people with me?

I stood on that leg on a rock with a 5,000ft drop off.

My last horseback ride in Pagosa was with my friend Mary Beth. The helicopter circling as we rode the trail. A father and son had ridden out before us. The fathers horse slipped and fell on one of the switchbacks. His back broken, the father had to wait hours to be found, and then to be extricated from the area.

There are so many places and scenarios where this could have happened and I would be dead. No doubt. Or for me, worse than dead. A quadriplegic. In a coma. How many hours in what conditions waiting for help? And yes, there were many times when I rode or hiked alone. I carried a pistol for bears. I might have needed it for me.

As I lay in the hospital bed that first morning there was a beautiful sunrise. I cried, hot tears running down my face as my heart swelled with the knowledge that I was so very lucky, blessed, to be alive. I thought about what it would have been like for Steve to find me at the foot of the steep stairs in our house in Pagosa. If he had gotten up in the morning, thinking I was upstairs painting, not realizing I had frozen to death just a few yards from the house.

I loved my house in Pagosa Springs. But we also came to realize that it was not a house for us to grow old in. Shoveling snow, dealing with roof curl. Steve was outside for hours during the winter when it snowed. While incredibly fit and strong, he is 71 and it was hard. The outside stairs and icy slippery slope during the winter. And the stairs. The steep narrow stairs between the downstairs main living area and my upstairs art studio.

In February my 25 year old martial arts injury started to create havoc. Again. A torn quad after knee surgery resulted in leg and knee pain. I’d nursed it, even discontinuing long hikes, CrossFit. But the slope of our land and those stairs finally did me in. Beginning in February my leg and knee steadily got worse. I couldn’t bend it. I couldn’t straighten it. Yoga hurt. Walking hurt. I woke up during the night from the pain. X-rays showed that my knee structure was fine, the pain was muscle and tendons. I am so very grateful for that injury that told me in no uncertain terms that it was time to leave my beloved cabin in Pagosa.

Pagosa Springs is a beautiful small mountain town. It is relatively remote, Durango is the closest town of any size. We drove four hours to Albuquerque, NM to shop at the nearest Costco. Denver was five hours away. With this injury, I would have had to be airlifted to Denver for surgery. I would not have had the friends and connections I have here. No Kevin Heifner to clear the way at the hospital.

So yes. I know how lucky I am. Blessed. And the certainty grew, as I lay in that bed for ten days, that I am here for a reason. My life has a purpose.

The orthopedic doctor in Little Rock explained to me that this would be a very complicated and difficult surgery. It would be several days before he could schedule it. So I settled in to wait.

Because my leg didn’t have any bone structure holding it together anymore I had to lay in bed and move it as little as possible. It hurt, more each day. My right leg, my “bad leg” also hurt. I’d been going to physical therapy for it over the last few weeks, so as I lay in bed I did whatever movements and exercises I could to continue the progress I had been making. I was very aware that my bad leg was now going to have to be my good leg.

Getting out of the bed and going to the bathroom and using the toilet was not possible. Let me tell you about the Pickwick. It’s a blue tube with a tampon type cotton insert. It is connected to thin tubing which suctions the urine into a container on the wall. I was able to use this instead of having a catheter inserted. I am grateful for that

I mentioned in the previous blog that a nurse commented that I was in good shape. I was able to lift myself and use a bedpan without any help. I was able to lift my body when bedding or pads needed to be changed. That fact kept me from having to be rolled. I was able to maneuver around and give myself a bath. I am grateful for that.

Dr. Kevin Heifner stopped by every single day to check on me. Angels can be men too you know.

Steve was there every day, only leaving to go home and sleep and go by my house to feed Noodles.

My ex husband Charles took in Mick. His dog Pepper was a gift from us many years ago. Pepper and Mick were reunited and had a grand time together. Steve and I didn’t have to worry about Mick.

Friends and family called and texted. There were numerous messages on Facebook. I cried a lot, reading those messages and realizing that I am loved. I am so grateful for the support system I have in Little Rock.

The doctor who was originally going to do the surgery had expressed to me that it was going to be difficult and complicated. He was an orthopedic surgeon but this was not his specialty. I was concerned about that.

Monday morning, the day of surgery he came by the room very early. He said “I have an option for you. I was talking to a colleague at our Christmas party about your case, he has offered to do the surgery. He is an expert at this. Is this something that you would like to consider?”

Of course my answer was “yes”. I am forever grateful to that doctor, for caring enough about me and the outcome of the surgery to ask somebody else to do it. So very grateful for that.

Surgery was rescheduled a couple of times, I was resignedly patient and in retrospect grateful that mine was not done at the end of a long day of other surgeries for my doc. On Wednesday almost a week after the break I went into the operating room. The doctor explained that the best case scenario would be about a 45 minute long operation. I was in there for over three hours. I’m not grateful that it was the absolute worst case scenario surgery. But I am incredibly grateful that the man who did it has lots of experience, I was in the best hands possible.

And by the time I was released after ten days, lots of forced rest and inactivity , pain medicine and muscle relaxers, my “bad leg” was doing really great! I now have two good hips and two good legs.

So yeah. I am grateful. Because I had a ticking time bomb in my body for years. And I am sitting here in my warm house, alive.

First day home. Wearing Steve’s pjs because of massive swelling in my hip and leg

Hip Revision Chronicles Part 1. The Night My Titanium Hip Broke (warning graphic)

I was standing in front of the mirror, brushing my teeth. It was Thursday December 4, 2021, about 9pm.

My left leg buckled and I sat down abruptly on the tile floor of my bathroom. I said out loud “what the fuck just happened?” I sat there, alone in the house. “This is not good” I thought. I was calm. There was pain, but it was vague, not sharp at all.

I knew it wasn’t my knee. I knew that artificial hips could pop out of the socket, that had been discussed with the surgeon before he installed the titanium metal on metal device in my left leg. With that in mind, I lay on my back, held my leg by the thigh and gingerly moved it around. Closing my eyes, I tried to sense what was going on. There was a very unpleasant feeling, a scraping, grating sensation. Opening my eyes I looked at my leg as I attempted to rotate my foot. My muscles were still working but my foot was acting wonky…it kind of flopped instead of rotating. I observed that for a while. I’m really glad I stopped there and didn’t try to move my thigh.

“This is really not good”

Time slowed as I sat there and thought about what to do. I live alone now, a recent development as my husband Steve and I sort through our relationship.

I don’t have insurance. That fact was a big factor as I thought about what to do. I can hear you ask “why in the world do you not have insurance Michelle?” That was a question I heard over and over during the next few days.

I am one of the casualties of the messed up disaster that is called healthcare in America. I had coverage when Steve was working, but that changed when he retired and went on Medicare. Our combined income was too high to qualify for discounts accorded through Obamacare. Did you know that where you live and the resources available are a factor in the cost of insurance? While we were in Penrose, Colorado. I was able to have excellent medical care through a Direct Primary Care doctor in the adjoining city of Pueblo, no insurance required. When we moved that option was no longer available. I checked on the cost of a policy when we moved to the small town of Pagosa Springs, Colorado The quote was $1,200 per month with a $5,000 deductible. I am healthy, I keep my weight down and need no prescription medicine at all. . I take vitamins and glucosamine chondroitin (for joint health) and the occasional pain reliever for a headache or muscle aches . I could not justify that astronomical amount of resources that we would have to pay before insurance kicked in. I paid $400 per month for four years to a faith based medical cost sharing organization in lieu of traditional insurance. I had read about problems with the group and lost faith in them when the one medical bill I sent in for payment went into collection because they didn’t pay it. I cancelled as of 11/30/2021. Four days ago. I decided to self pay for mammograms and check ups and take the gamble. And count down the months until I qualify for Medicare at 65. So I am self insured.

With the idea that this was all going to come out of my savings, calling 911 was not something I wanted to do.

The body reacts to pain and speaks in very obvious ways. I was nauseous and then I felt my bowels start to move. While I pondered what to do I had the idea that I could drag myself to the toilet and somehow lift myself up to the seat. I work out and have great upper body strength. That didn’t help me at all when faced with nothing to hold onto on the wall with which to lift myself. And I couldn’t use my left leg at all. It was rather floppy.

Next, I thought I would be a good idea to get some clothes on. That proved to be difficult and time consuming. I drug myself into the closet in my bathroom, but I couldn’t seem to get a tank top down from the hook. I flipped the shirt and cussed a bit, it finally fell down and I put it on. I got some joggers off the shelf but decided I didn’t want to try to put the injured leg in them. That was a good decision. About fifteen to twenty minutes had gone by while I calmly scooted and dragged myself all over my bathroom. I decided I needed to call for help.

Steve has an apartment just a few miles away. Six minutes away to be exact, he has timed it. Although we were living separately, calling him was my first thought. He is calm and steady in a crisis, a by product of his career working with chemical weapons. In the last decade I’ve had two near brushes with death. Once when he landed our plane after a catastrophic engine failure. The other when I had a reaction to fentanyl that had been prescribed by the emergency room doctor after being thrown from a neighbors crazy ass horse. When Steve couldn’t wake me the next morning I got another ride in the ambulance. My friend who was also the EMT told me later that it was real close. She called the hospital when she got back to the station to see if I had made it. Steve has also nursed me through the other hip replacement and two shoulder replacements.

My phone was somewhere in the house, I had no idea where. But I bought an Apple Watch last year. It was one of the best investments I could have made. I lay on the floor and told Siri to call Steve. He didn’t answer. I called, over and over. I found out later that the phone was in the other room and he was deep in sleep.

Thursday evenings were special in my life. As I returned to my hometown of Little Rock and reconnected with friends and family I realized just how important my women friends, my “tribe” are to me. I started a weekly gathering at my house, which began with a zoom yoga class led by my friend Margaret Burkesmith in Pagosa Springs. We followed the class gathered around my table sharing a meal, laughing and crying as we talked our lives and experiences.

Jill and Cindy had driven over together, as they live just a few blocks apart. I reached Jill and told her I needed help. I knew Jill had work the next day, but Cindy is recently retired. So I requested that Cindy come.

Cindy called to tell me she was on her way. I said something like “ok, but I am gong to pass out right now” and I did. The cool white hexagon tile of my bathroom felt good against my cheek and body as I lay there, going in and out of consciousness. That cool soothing tile balanced the heat of pain that was starting to build. Waves of nausea hit me I passed out a couple of times.

Cindy arrived. Luckily I had not locked up yet, and she was able to come in. I’m sure I was a shocking sight, sitting half naked in the floor.

Cindy knelt down, and asked me what I wanted her to do. Should she call 911?

“No, I don’t have insurance. Help me to my bed, I’ll deal with this tomorrow”

I thought I could tough it out. I thought Cindy, who weighs all of one hundred pounds was going to drag me across the floor and lift me into my bed. I was calm, but obviously not thinking straight.

“ oh honey, I don’t think I can do that”

“Steve is not answering his phone”

“ ok, who else can I call?”

“Call Kevin”

Kevin Heifner is a physician and long time friend. He lives close by.

I figured Kevin could get me into the bed and I would deal with the problem tomorrow. Again, I admit I was not thinking straight. But I was calm. Eerily calm.

Cindy found my phone, and called Kevin from the bedroom. As I heard parts of the conversation, the truth of my circumstances started to hit me. I felt a deep sense of dread, a deep sense that something was really wrong.

My body started reacting more violently. About 45 minutes had passed since my leg had buckled. I was shaking. My body began to speak to me in no uncertain terms. I drug myself over to the cabinet where I keep towels. I put one under my head, and one under my hips. I lay on my side, cold tiles on my cheek and side soothing and comforting. The first thing I felt when I regained consciousness each time. I. could hear Cindy’s voice fading in and out. I started vomiting and couldn’t lift my head. Explosive diarrhea blasted out of me. Several times I thought I would not wake up again as I passed out. Each time was ok with that idea.

Cindy came back to the door, phone in hand and said “Kevin says you have to go to the hospital. I need to call 911. He wants you to go to Baptist and he will call ahead”

Kevin told me later he could hear me in the bathroom and knew that going to the emergency room was the only solution.

“Ok” I said. I had come to the realization that I was not going to tough this one out. No amount of mental strength and determination was going to keep me out of the emergency room. . Getting to my bed and dealing with it tomorrow was not going to happen.

Cindy made the call. As we waited, I asked for my phone. The iPhone has a Find My IPhone Feature that I used to use a lot when I had mislaid my phone in the house. I used that feature to send the sound to Steves phone. I kept pushing the button. After just a minute he sleepily answered the phone.

“Something bad is happened and I need you. Cindy is here and the ambulance is coming”. I hung up.

A few minutes later he was at the door to the bathroom. “What happened? What can I do?” He asked.

“ I don’t know. My leg gave out and it’s bad. Wet a washcloth and help me clean up”

I was laying on the floor, covered in vomit and feces. I was shaking uncontrollably from pain and adrenaline. Steve gently helped me clean my self as best I could, rinsing and rewetting the cloths several times. He asked what he could gather for me. I told him where my backpack was and he put in my toothbrush and other necessities.

By then the ambulance had arrived. The paramedics came in and there was a discussion as to whether or not to try to put me into a wheelchair, or if the stretcher would fit in the door.

“A wheelchair is not a good idea” I said.

They brought the stretcher up to the narrow bathroom door.

“We are going to have to lift you and carry you to the stretcher” a voice said.

“Ok. I can hold my legs.”

I rolled on my back, and wrapped my arms mid thigh around my bent legs, knees towards my chest. Trying to hold everything stable as movement caused fresh waves of pain and vomiting. They lifted and then carried me to the stretcher. That was not a pleasant experience.

Lights lit up the dark sky as they took me outside. I was loaded into the ambulance and the door closed. “Take me to Baptist please, Dr. Heifner has called ahead”

I was wheeled through the doors of the Emergency Room. A familiar place for me. Once I had driven my mom here when she thought she was having a heart attack. I had put her in a wheelchair and banged and crashed my way up the ramp. “You are going to give me another heart attack “ she said. We laughed about it later, after she was admitted to the hospital. That memory was fresh as they took me down the hall.

We passed by the room where my Dad had been, after falling and breaking his hip while trying to kick one of the dogs out of his way. We told him it served him right.

They parked me in a room, and started the process of hooking me up to monitors and machines.

“Is your blood pressure usually this high ?” A voice asked.

“What is it?”

“190/110”

“ No, it’s usually normal but I am in a bit of pain right now”

“Ok. We will keep an eye on it”

The questions started. What happened?

“I was brushing my teeth. My leg buckled. I sat down and said “what the fuck just happened”

What medications do you take.

“ nothing but Tylenol or advil. Maybe a Benadryl . I eat right, walk, ride horses and do yoga”.

“ you are in better shape than most people on this floor, including the doctors and nurses” someone told me. I share this not from ego, but because that fact became important over the next few days. At age 64 I work hard to be as healthy, strong and flexible as I can be.

The doctor came in. “Oh! Michelle Cox! I know you! Dr. Heifner said you are a friend and to take care of you! Let’s find out what is going on, I’ll order an X-ray”

By then Steve had arrived. He held my hand and told me that it was ok. That whatever it took we would pay it. He was so upset that he had not heard the phone and apologized over and over.

The X-ray machine arrived, the process quick and painless.

The doctor, nurse and Steve stood in front of the monitor. I could see their faces, I couldn’t see what they were viewing. There was a look of shock and horror on each of their faces.

“I’ve never seen anything like that. I didn’t know that was possible” said the doctor.

“Holy shit, Michelle. Let me take a picture “ said Steve and he snapped a photo of the X-ray and came to the side of the bed. He held his phone out.

My titanium hip

“We will get you admitted. It might take a while” said the doc. Reluctantly Steve left my side, but I was concerned about my little pug Mick who was alone in the house, scared and confused. Steve took him home with him that night.

The nurse came over with a syringe.

“I’m going to give you something for the pain”

“What is it?”

“Fentanyl”

“Well before you do that let me tell you a story”

After hearing about the horse wreck, fentanyl reaction and near death experience he said “ ok” and released the drug into my IV.

Over the next few hours I lay on the very uncomfortable gurney as they tried to find an available bed in the hospital. A sick feeling of fear in my stomach as I second guessed my decisions on insurance and what this was going to cost. Frustration that I was going to have to rely on Steve and others at a time when I was finally becoming independent.

And gratitude. Deep gratitude that I was here, in my hometown of Little Rock with friends and family and resources. And that I was alive.

Hip chronicles day 7: Crying over Banana Pudding

banana puddingHip Replacement was a week ago. I’m getting around really well, off of pain meds, no depression.

And last night I had a total meltdown over banana pudding.

While I had cooked and frozen a lot of healthy food, these first few days out of the hospital I didn’nt even feel like finding something and warming it up,

Steve said on Monday “Look I can’t cook for you, and you wouldn’t want to try to eat it if I did. But I can pick stuff up. So you order it, and I’ll pick up dinner for us on my way home.”

Good deal.

Now if you want to see Steve Cox’s face light up, suggest going to eat at The Black Eyed Pea. Since I didn’t have much appetite, I thought The Pea would be a good place to get some decent food that everybody would enjoy. I spent a while looking at the menu, and even looked at the desert menu. I NEVER look at the desert menu. Ever. I do not believe in using food for comfort. Been there done that and had the fat to prove it.

But the cobbler and the banana pudding sounded really good. Comfort food. And there was a little voice in the back of me head saying I deserved some banana pudding. My mom was a really awful cook. But one of the few things she made that we could actually eat was banana pudding. And as I have been hobbling around this week I’ve seen my mom in the ways I am moving. She had such problems with her legs and hips those last few years, finally going from a cane to a walker. So when I reach for the counter to walk my way through the counter I’m seeing mom do the same.

I don’t really know of mom had anything to do with it but I was really looking forward to banana pudding.

So I called in the order. Cobb Salad (for me to eat the next day) Chicken tender dinners for Keely and Steve, Pot Roast with sweet potato fries for me. And Peach Cobbler and Banana Pudding.

Well guess what? We got the wrong order. Chicken Fried steak, pot roast, lots of mashed potatoess. No sweet potato fries, and NO BANANA PUDDING! I was disappointed. I was pissed. But since we live 30 minutes away from the restaurant, there was not a lot that could be done.

Tuesday night we had take out Thai.

Wednesday, one week anniversary of my surgery, we decided on The Black Eyed Pea again. Keely was going to church with a friend so it would be just me and Steve. . Intermittently during the day I would look at the menu. I knew what Steve would have…Chicken Tenders, okra, black eyed peas. I knew I was going to order peach cobbler and banana pudding. I still didn’t have much of an appetities, so finding something that sounded good to me was more difficult. I finally decided on a plain hamburger steak with sweet potato fries and spinanch. Healthy, and I was going to indulge in a bite of cobbler and some banana pudding.

Now there are some things you have to understand about my first week after surgery.

I have not had any of my vitamins and supplements for two weeks. Including the stuff that keeps my hormones in check.
I’m sleeping in a recliner next to our bed. I’m not getting a lot of sleep and the sleep I’m getting is not what I call quality sleep.
I really miss sleeping in bed my husband
I am trapped in this house, unable to drive (yet) and have not been out since we came home on Friday.
I have to think about every move I make. I can’t pick up something from the ground if I drop it. I have to walk with a crutch. I have to be careful about my leg. yada yada yada.

So understand that I was looking forward to this meal. I got to control it, choose what I wanted, and have it delivered to me with no effort on my part. Sheer bliss.

This time, when I called in the order, I told the very nice lady to put the full name “Steve Cox” on the order, because Monday we got someone else’s order. She was very apologetic and said she would make sure this order was right. She just didn’t understand how they could have messed it up that bad.

Steve got home and I took one look at that bag and I knew we had a problem. There was not enough food in that bag. In fact, there were several small round containers but only one entree sized container. And nothing that could possibly be cobbler or banana pudding.

“Is there another bag?”

“No, this is all they gave me.’

My stomach dropped and I could feel the emotions welling up.

“This is wrong. There is not enough food. Damnit WHY CAN THEY NOT GET THIS RIGHT? IT’S CHICKEN FRIED STEAK AGAIN! CHICKEN FRIED STEAK! I HATE CHICKEN FRIED STEAK AND THERE IS NO BANANA PUDDING!”

Steve did not say a word as I dialed my phone. I am ashamed to say that my voice was actually shaking when I told the woman that we had the wrong order again. She calmed me down. We went back and forth, I questioned Steve “There is only one Black Eyed Pea in Pueblo, right?”

Voice on the phone “Pueblo? You picked up in Pueblo?”
Me: “Yes”
Voice: We are at Garden of the Gods in the Springs”
Me: “Oh shit”

So apparently I called the wrong restaurant, in the wrong city to place an order. Twice. And what is interesting is twice they gave Steve food. Someone else’s order obviously.

I hung up the phone, told Steve that I had called the wrong restaurant twice, and promptly started tearing up. Steve said “I think you need a hug” and started around the counter. He hugged me, I sniffled a little bit feeling like a total wuss baby. So I took a couple of deep breaths and said ok let’s eat.

Steve innocently asked what it was we were going to be eating. “Fucking chicken fried steak” I growled.

In a really chipper voice he said “Well I really like chicken fried steak! ”

Bless his heart, the poor man had no idea what he just got himself in for with that one sentence.

“I don’t care if you like chicken fried steak. I don’t like chicken fried steak. This is not about what you like, this is about me not getting once single thing I wanted last time or this time and I WANTED BANANA PUDDING AND THERE IS NO BANANA PUDDING!” And I burst into tears again.

He came back around the corner, held me while I cried. He did not utter a word. Not a sound. Smart man.

“OK” I sniffed. “You divide it up and I’ll get the silverware.”

Later, Steve looked at me. “You OK?”

“Yeah”
“That wasn’t like you”
“Yeah”
“You’ve had major surgery, you don’t have any control over a lot of stuff, and you were really looking forward to that meal and that’s why you reacted that way”
Yeah”
I’ll get you some banana pudding tomorrow.
Sniff.
“OK”

Today, I wont get any banana pudding. Steve will be home late and I’m warming up a zucchini lasagna that I froze a couple of weeks ago.

And of course, it’s not like banana pudding is all that important. It’s really not even my favorite desert. It’s just seem to symbolize comfort to me this week, maybe because it is one of the few deserts my mom ever made.

I don’t need banana pudding for comfort. I have a wonderful man that loves me and takes care of me. A daughter that is happy to help me with my compression socks, put my boots on me, and load the dishwasher and clean the house. Friends that cook me good food, bring me flowers and their company. Phone calls and cards from those that are not close. That is what is real. That is what is truly comforting,.

But I’ll certainly enjoy me some banana pudding this weekend.