Walking in My Client's Shoes

Over Labor Day weekend while visiting family in Los Angeles, I fractured the top of my femur at the hip, but didn't know it. I knew something was wrong, but I never dreamed I had a broken hip. Because most of the pain was in my groin, I thought I had pulled a muscle. I love playing tennis. Tennis exercises my body and mind and reduces stress. After returning to Albuquerque from Los Angeles, I tried to play tennis a few times. But my leg hurt so bad that I could not play.

Thinking that time would heal my groin pull, I stopped playing tennis. Over time, walking became a chore. The pain got worse. So, I tried to make an appointment with an orthopedist. But no one could see me for weeks. I started to realize what my clients endure. Too often it's weeks before a doctor can see them. When the orthopedist finally saw me, she thought I had a groin pull. But thank goodness she ordered an MRI to make sure a groin pull was all that was wrong with me.

Of course, my insurance would only pay part of the cost of the MRI. I pay health insurance premiums every month, but my health insurance hates to pay claims. They like taking my money, but they don't want to pay any money. My health insurance sucks.

The MRI showed the hairline fracture of my right hip, a torn labrum, and avascular necrosis. Avascular necrosis is “dead” bone caused by a lack of oxygen. The fracture reduced the flow of oxygen to the top of my femur at the hip, and the bone was dying.

My orthopedist recommended a complete hip replacement. I couldn't believe it. I'm only 56, and I needed a complete hip replacement. If I had a complete hip replacement, would I ever play tennis again? Would the artificial hip wear out? Would I need another hip replacement in 10 to 15 years?

Fortunately, I got a second opinion. The second orthopedist recommended core decompression. With core decompression, the surgeon drills holes in the top of the femur with the goal of re-oxygenating the bone. With core decompression, I had a 50 percent chance of saving my hip. I tend to see the glass half full rather than half empty. So, I decided to go with core decompression.

On the Monday before Thanksgiving, I went to the hospital for surgery. To be honest, I was scared. Would I wake up after the surgery or would the anesthesia kill me? To make matters worse, before I could go up to the surgical ward, I had to pay the hospital $2,000. Fortunately, I had $2,000. I don't know how many of my clients do it.

In the pre-op room, the nurse had to put a central line in top of my hand. That hurt like hell. I bled all over the place. I had a great anesthesiologist. He gave me a shot that put me to sleep, and they wheeled me into surgery.

The orthopedic surgeon drilled five holes in the top of my femur. He said the surgery went well.

After surgery, they took me to the recovery room. I didn't wake up slowly. I almost jumped out of bed. The pain was unimaginable. I did not know that pain could be that bad. I thought I would die. I wanted to die. The nurse came over. I held her hand. I pleaded: “Please help me. Would you please help me?” She gave me a shot of fentanyl. Fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine. I continued to plead for help. Over what seemed like hours, this wonderful nurse gave me more and more fentanyl. Finally, my pain was bearable.

They transported me to a regular room. I had a catheter. I hated the catheter. When I tried to move, my penis hurt. I never felt like I could fully drain my bladder.

My wife and son stayed with me for a while. I could not have made it without them.

I don't remember much that first night in the hospital. The nurse kept me comfortable with morphine.

Before sunrise Tuesday morning, a nurse came into my room and stuck another needle in my arm. That woke me up. But with the help of morphine, I went back to sleep.

I don't remember a lot of my hospital stay. I remember the physical therapist showing me how to walk with a walker. The occupational therapist showed me how to climb up and down a step with a walker.

I went home Wednesday night, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The first days at home were awful. I hurt all the time. I couldn't raise my leg. Sleeping was hard. I had to urinate in a plastic bottle. I couldn't defecate for days. I did not shower for 10 days because I could not get in and out of the shower and I couldn't get my wound wet.

The worst part of the first days at home after surgery was the fear. I had to use a walker, and I had to go up and down one step, one silly step. I was scared to death I would fall and break my hip every time I went up and down that one step. How could navigating one step be so hard?

My emotions were raw. There were tearful times. I don't know where the tears came from. Maybe the tears came from the pain or frustration or depression or a combination of all three.

I'm much better today. I'm partial weight-bearing for a total of six weeks. So, I use a walker everywhere I go. I'm learning to master the walker. I'm back at the office working. For the most part, I stopped taking Percocet after three weeks.

Shortly after New Year's Day, I will try to walk without the walker. I'm excited and hopeful the core decompression worked. If so, I should be back on the tennis court by Spring. If not, I'll need a complete hip replacement.

My wife has been great. Thank you honey. I could not have made it without you.

I appreciate my son. He's always there for me.

My office staff is wonderful. They continue to put up with me.

One of the things I've noticed is even with the ADA, handicapped persons still have problems getting around. Opening doors is hard. Many surfaces are rough and uneven, making walking with a walker hard. Commodes are too low. People still stare.

There is one silver lining in all of this. I understand more clearly what my clients endure.

James H. Wood