Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Part III {New Hips = New Beginnings}

Once the reality of my left hip being collapsed and my right hip on its way to collapsing, I began to feel it more physically and boy did it hurt like heck. So the same day Michael and I saw the doctor in Newark, we knew we needed to get a consultation scheduled with an orthopedic surgeon that same day. After a couple hours of researching and many phone calls we finally got a consultation that upcoming week with an orthopedic surgeon from the Hospital of Special Surgeries (HSS) in New York City. I still to this day believe that God was answering our persistent and desperate prayers.

A week passed by and Michael, my parents and I met in the city for the consultation on a Thursday afternoon. The wait wasn’t too long and the people who worked at the office were quite friendly. Once I was called, the four of us and Dr. Alexiades all crammed into his small examination room. He basically told us all the severity of my condition and said a hip replacement in my left hip was needed and later my right hip would need one too. Because of my small frame I would be a good candidate for ceramic anterior hip replacements and that both have been successful for his patients. The anterior approach is when the hips are replaced from the front as opposed to the sides; which makes the recovery process much smoother and has limited to no restrictions. My dad asked if I could have both of my hips replaced at the same time and Dr. Alexiades said yes, that that would actually be better for me because I wouldn’t have to come back to get my right hip done in the near future.

After explaining the operation he went on to tell us that he was booked until June and at the time it was only January! But to lessen all of our anxiety, he told us that there was always the chance of a cancellation and to see what’s available when we schedule the operation. I began praying over and over again in my head as we sat with his nurse. She told us that there was a cancellation on Monday and both Michael and my dad said, “that’s good” before I could even wrap the idea around my head that I would be having major surgery in four days. To be honest I was terrified but at the same time I couldn’t fathom waiting until summer for another opening! We agreed and before I knew it I was being taken to different departments to begin the pre-op procedures. The next morning I had to go back into the city to meet with the anesthesiologist and take a total hip replacement class which was thorough and beneficial.

two days before my operation at my sister and brother in law's engagement party
Anxiety began to sink in two nights before my operation, I feared the unknown and how I would feel after such major surgery. Would it hurt? How long would it take for me to recovery? Would I be as physically active before all of this started? The questions grew but I knew in my heart that the only valid option was to pray and seek the Lord for comfort. My worries weren’t getting me far and I needed to accept my situation. I eventually did and when Monday came, I felt all sorts of prepared.

My parents let Michael be the one with me before the operation and I am so glad they did. He made me laugh and comforted me which helped distract any chance of anxiety coming back. Once it was time for me to go into surgery, anesthetics kicked in and later I woke up in a daze. I was temporarily placed in ICU and remember being fed ice chips and seeing my dad, and then Michael twice. I was parched and couldn’t feel my legs which I was told would wear off. A nurse told me she would bring me an ice pop but I didn’t see the ice pop until two hours later. I also remember pressing the epidural button once or twice because I was scared of what it would do to me. 

The next day was a lot better; I was functioning and able to have liquids. A physical therapist came in with a walker and helped me stand up which felt weird and heavy; my legs were numb and swollen. I began to walk slowly and while my legs felt unnatural, I could tell that the AVN wasn’t present in my hips and I was instantly relieved. I walked around the room with the walker and the physical therapist made sure I walked around a few times a day to avoid blood clots. On top of walking, I was given small exercises to do a couple times a day as well.
I didn't have a mirror but I had my phone to see what I looked like; ah!
A few hours later I was moved upstairs into a private room. The room had a little television and the nurses placed leg compression sleeves that covered both my calves and shins to prevent blood clots. They felt a little strange at first and would frequently pulse. Along with the sleeves, I had received blood work daily and several pain relief drugs that made me loopy and later nauseous. But to make my stay a little more pleasant Michael visited me all three days that I was there, along with my mom and sister Aria. Every day was better than the last and I was able to go from a walker to a cane on the second day. I was still swollen and in pain but walking and doing the exercises they instructed me was the best medicine. As much as I liked resting, the worst thing to do is lay in bed all day because the ligaments need blood flow and productivity in order to heal and strengthen.

On Wednesday morning, I was told I had lost a significant amount of blood and that my blood pressure was too low. I needed to receive a blood transfusion to help decrease my anemia and increase blood pressure. I was anxious because I just wanted to go home and knew if my levels didn’t go up I would have to stay longer. Don’t get me wrong hospitals are accommodating and all but they’re also invasive and will never replace home sweet home.

Michael sporting my headband 
I got a blood transfusion that afternoon and a few hours later when it was finished they checked my blood pressure and did more bloodwork to see if there was a difference in my levels. Unfortunately I was still too anemic and my blood count was too low. At that point I felt really light headed and anxious that I would die because my heart was racing. (It probably wasn’t as bad as I thought it was.) They began administering another blood transfusion and feeling a little lonely, I talked to Michael on the phone while I waited for it to be over.

The next morning, I was feeling better and was even able to keep down my breakfast. The doctor came into my room later that morning and let me know everything was looking better and I was all set to go home. Hallelujah! My parents came to pick me up a couple hours later and I was thrilled to be going home and start my journey to recovery. I have to admit the first few days I was home were a little brutal; I needed a lot of assistance from my parents, I had no appetite and couldn't sleep from the medication I was taking.

That weekend I met both the nurse and physical therapist that would come over once a week. The nurse came over weekly to administer Coumadin which is a blood thinner to prevent blood clots and the physical therapist taught me simple but beneficial exercises to strengthen the muscles around my hips. While I could do without the Coumadin, I enjoyed the exercise I was required to do daily and was excited to start exercising at the gym with Michael again. I retired from using the crutches and started using a cane which made me feel quite fancy. The day I started using a cane was the same day Michael proposed to me! I’ll keep it short by saying I knew he was going to ask me because he drove us to the park we went to on our first date, and also because he made me walk (2 weeks after my surgery!) in the snow to ask me; but it was worth it.

After about a month I completed my inpatient therapy and Coumadin, and began outpatient which was harder than I thought it would be; lots of squats, lunges and hip openers which while hard it was exactly what I needed to get stronger. At this point I was off of my crutches and had a slight limp which was the first thing the PT noticed. One of the most uncomfortable stretches for me was a hip opener stretch that was very similar to pigeon pose in yoga; but the most painful stretch was when the therapist would stretch my legs in different directions. I knew it was for my benefit but “OUCH!” is the only word I can use to describe it. I went three times a week and each week the therapist saw improvement in my walk, balance and overall lower body strength.

Just a few weeks before I completed my last round of therapy, my family and I traveled to Puerto Rico for vacation and to attend my grandmother’s 80th birthday party. At that point of my recovery I was walking straight and was blessed to have been given a second chance in being that young and active person I had been two years ago. And when I returned home and finished my recovery, I knew that the only way I could continue to strengthen my body was by committing myself to regular exercise and by also knowing my limits.

Having my now husband by my side throughout this whole journey has been so uplifting and such a blessing. Michael has encouraged me to push myself and helped me through a speedy recovery; I managed to finish a two month culinary internship at Good Karma CafĂ© which required plenty of standing and that summer I got my certificate and title as a Natural Foods Chef. But for me my biggest accomplishment was being able to walk down the aisle of our wedding without limping and being able to do the foxtrot as our first dance. Looking back when I was just out of surgery, I would have never imagined I’d be able to finish my internship, or do a choreographed dance at my wedding without feeling excruciating pain afterwards.

Today people do ask me every now and then if I still experience any pain, and my answer is yes. While it’s not the gnawing and dulling pain I’ve battled with the Avascular Necrosis, I am still challenged by my limited range of motion and often feel pain in my knees when I push myself too hard. But it's a pain that can be soothed through stretching and sticking to an anti-inflammatory diet.

It’s funny because people who meet me would never even guess that I've had both of my hips replaced due to bone disease and I don’t blame them. I may have scars but I feel normal, walk normal and can do anything a normal person can do; except run a marathon; but I don’t really care, I hate running! I also don’t bring it up unless I feel it’s completely necessary, or if I want to encourage someone else who’s about to have joint replacement surgery or if they’re battling AVN. I’ve met awesome people through Instagram who also lived with or are living with Avascular Necrosis today. It’s not a disease you hear about every day and it pains me to know that there are still young people out there who aren't getting the proper medical attention they deserve. I hope to use this as a part of my testimony that even though I endured so much pain, I still trusted in God and knew that He was strengthening me through this. He did strengthen me and provided me with many blessings along the way. 

To end this 3-part series, I pray that I can continue to encourage others who suffer from pain and that I remain grateful for the Lord’s tender mercies and faithfulness throughout this entire journey. “Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.” –James 5:11

Thanks for reading and being so patient!

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