Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I'm hip!

I'm hip!

My hip replacement surgery was Wednesday, January 6th and everything is going well.

I was in surgery a little over an hour and left with a 3 ½ inch vertical incision in my left groin.  That's it.  No stitches that I can see.  The skin is held together with glue, so I don't have to return to have sutures or staples removed.

I chose a non-traditional surgery for my hip replacement called the direct anterior approach. 

The anterior approach differs from the traditional posterior hip surgery in that no muscles are cut during the procedure.  It's a minimally invasive hip replacement procedure. 

I watched the entire procedure before making my decision to proceed.  If you're interested—and watching an actual surgery doesn't bother you---you can access the video I saw at ORLive, Inc.: Anterior Approach to Total Hip Arthroplasty Anterior Approach to THA: Performed by Joel Matta, MD

Just Between You and Me

Most of the information I'm going to share with you is the same thing I'd tell friends over coffee.  They know I'm not a doctor.  Don't even play one on TV.    I'm just someone who---like many of you---has been looking for answers to this pesky hip pain.

Much of what I've learned in the past months came from people who had "been there, done that."

I'm grateful for their taking the time to answer my questions and for letting me know what worked for them and what didn't.  And, most importantly, for giving me enough background information to be able to ask the right questions when I had appointments with medical professionals.

In fact, it was fellow Oklahomans who had undergone the anterior approach hip replacement surgery who first told me about the procedure. 

The advantages to the anterior approach seemed significant:  no restrictions on movement following the surgery, less recovery time, less post-operative pain, fewer problems with leg length discrepancies and virtually no chance of dislocation of the new hip.

It was based on the experiences of those who had already had the surgery---and hours upon hours of my own research---that convinced me to head to Santa Monica, CA for the first of two hip replacements by Dr. Joel Matta at St. John's Medical Center. 

My Experience

I'll be happy to share my personal experience with the surgery---both the highs and lows---later in this blog.

But for those of you who want to "cut to the chase," here are several sites that will give you basic information about the anterior procedure and hip replacement in general:

So, here we go.

The Big Adventure

At least that's what my husband, Will, called it.   We arrived at St. John's Medical Center just before 7 a.m. for pre-surgery blood tests and paperwork.  

It's a beautiful facility, only opened a couple of weeks ago.  State of the art.  And, designed to withstand the earthquakes that had shaken the foundation of the old hospital.

Each surgery patient is assigned a number by which family members can trace his or her progress around the hospital on television screens.  Will knew exactly when I was in pre-op, when I was moved to the surgery suite and when surgery ended.

Dr. Matta visited with Will after the surgery and said everything had gone just fine.  He said he'd lengthened my left leg because arthritis had worn away the joint to the extent that I was a little shorter than I had been.  He said when he replaces the right hip and lengthens that leg later this spring, both will be even.

So, What Hip Implant Was Used? 

After discussing the options with Dr. Matta, we decided to have use a ceramic ball and cross-linked polyethylene for the replacement.  There are any number of good options that range from metal on metal to ceramic on ceramic to a combination of both.  All options have their own unique advantages and disadvantages---which makes the decision even tougher.

Much has to do with how old you are and how you intend to use the joint.  Someone who intends to jog is going to need a harder weight bearing surface than someone who is content to stroll.  

As I was advised, the bottom line is that you want the components that will give you the best chance of maintaining your lifestyle for decades to come.  With the information I had available, ceramic and cross-linked polyethylene seem to do just that.


The first thing I remember was opening my eyes in recovery and seeing a huge clock on the wall at the end of the gurney. 

12:45 p.m.

I'd been in recovery about thirty minutes.   The spinal block was still strong so I felt no pain from the operation. No nausea---which had always been my biggest foe in prior surgeries.  I felt great, which was a pleasant, unexpected surprise.

I was in recovery for an hour or so and then taken to my room.  One of the first people who came to visit was Deb, a physical therapist, who had me out of bed and walking across the room on a walker within two hours of the procedure.  
Frankly, the first day was probably the easiest one.  As the day progressed, I could certainly tell that something had been done, but it wasn't an overwhelming pain.  More like an ache or a feeling of pressure.  

In fact, on a scale of 1-10---with "1" being no pain and "10" being the worst---my pain level never went over a "4" during the entire 48 hours of hospitalization.    That's in marked contrast to times during the past year when the hip pain itself could sometimes top "8".

I had special stockings on both legs to help prevent blood clots from forming.  They'll be my constant companions for the next six weeks.   I also had compression devices on both legs that massaged my calves to keep the circulation strong---another anti-clot measure.  And, as a final precaution, I'll be taking two aspirin a day for the next month to keep clots from forming.

Ice Is Your Friend

In fact, my best friend. Nurses brought me several ice packs immediately after the operation and throughout the day.  I felt like a polar bear on a glacier.

But, it did what it was supposed to do:  it kept the swelling down.

Although Dr. Matta doesn't cut muscles when he replaces the hip, the soft tissues around the joint are manipulated and become sore.  The ice minimizes the build-up of fluids in the area around the joint replacement. 

(I made a crude measurement of the circumference of my left thigh, and it's swollen about two inches more than the normal.  That's not a lot, so the ice worked.   The nurses advised me to ice the joint as often as I want in the next couple of weeks, particularly if I've been exercising or standing for a long time.)

The Morning After

Deb, the physical therapist, was back bright and early.  She showed me how to use a walker, then a cane before we headed to the hallway for a walk up and down the corridor.

I'm able to put full weight on my new hip and there are none of the movement restrictions commonly associated with traditional hip replacement.   There's virtually no chance I'll dislocate the hip.  And there's no multi-week physical therapy required after the surgery.  Deb is there to make sure I get up and start using the joint as quickly as possible.

Our next challenge:  the stairs.

I thought it would difficult and perhaps painful.  But, she made it easy.  Deb said, "Just remember when you're walking up a step or a curb, your 'good' leg goes up first followed by the other. "

It's just the opposite going down stairs or down a curb.  Your operated leg goes first and then your "good" leg joins it on the same step.  

"Your good leg takes you to heaven (up).  Your bad leg takes you to hell (down)," she says.

Easy to remember.

Peaks and Valleys

I was warned that recovery would be marked by big steps forward and sometimes a few back.  The anti-nausea medication they were giving in conjunction with the pain medication worked well until the second day.  Then, my stomach rebelled.  I also felt weaker on that day than previously.

Although the anterior approach is classified as "minimally invasive," hip replacement is still major surgery.  I think on that second day I was feeling the results of blood loss.  (Some patients donate 1-2 units of their own blood prior to surgery in case a transfusion is necessary.  It's not likely but can happen.  The choice to donate is left up to the patient.  I decided not to bank blood because the donation had to be made in the month prior to the surgery and the timing simply didn't work out.) 

By Friday---just 48 hours after the operation---I was ready to be discharged.   Their standard protocol requires a leg ultrasound to check for blood clots. It was the last thing we had to do before we could walk out the door.  It was clear.  I was out of there.

Rest and Relaxation

It's suggested that out-of-town patients spend a night or two in the area to make sure they're strong enough to travel home.  I'm glad we did.  

I found that I tired easily.  A block-long walk was enough to make me want to nap.  My pain level, however, remained surprisingly good.  I took no prescription pain medication after leaving the hospital.   There was stiffness and swelling, but none of the pain that had been my companion for so many years.

One Week Anniversary

Seven days after the surgery, I remain surprised at at how well I'm doing---and grateful.  I used crutches for the first four days but then found, if I walked slowly, I could manage without them.  (I've thrown a cane in the trunk for any "just in case" moments that might pop up, but I'm very happy with the recovery so far.)

I'm driving, running errands and getting on with every day life.  I rode a stationary bike for a mile this afternoon with no discomfort from the replaced joint---although the right hip continues to talk to me.

The most discomfort seems to come from sitting for a time and then standing up.  It takes a moment or two to convince all the parts to work together.

In six weeks, I'll have x-rays taken locally and sent to Dr. Matta for follow-up.

In the meantime, I have very few restrictions.  I can sleep in any position that's comfortable.  I can put full weight on my hip.  I can resume any activities that I feel up to doing.

And, I guess that includes returning to work.

I'm really looking forward to seeing you again.


If there's something I've failed to cover, feel free to e-mail at linda.cavanaugh@kfor.com


  1. Great to hear you're doing so well!!!

  2. Mom and I are thrilled to hear that you are doing so great. We miss you and look forward to you returning to our living room nightly, updating us on the latest stuff. But you know, you'll need to do the 'runway' walk' for us (just like a model), so we can see for ourselves how you are doing.

    Mom (Faye) and me

  3. Linda, I am so glad you are doing so well. You looked really good on tv tonight. I am still having my knee surgery Friday..you give me hope that all will be well. Thanks for sharing your story, and welcome back. Catherine

  4. Hi, Linda Cavanaugh here.

    Thanks so much for the kind words. What great support---how could one not get better!

    And, Catherine, we'll be thinking of you as you recover from your knee surgery.

    Keep us updated.


  5. We all are so happy for you and are glad you are back. Just one thing--The suspence was killing us about what the doctor found during surgery and told your husband. My wife said loudly "She's pregnant!" Linda, you are KFOR-4. GODSPEED and best from St.Peter's Church Woodward.

  6. its good to hear from you that you are doing well..take care

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  7. Thanks Linda for your valuable tips on hip replacement. After surgery, the patient is taken to a recovery room for immediate observation which generally lasts between one to four hours. Knee Replacement Surgery in India. Benefit from medical expertise & experience in complex knee & joint procedures.

  8. Awesome! i am happy that you are doing a great job.

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