Thank you to all who have had me in your prayers and thoughts this past week or so since I had an “anterior total hip replacement”. The team led by my surgeon and anesthesiologist did their work masterfully. I was the third hip replacement by this team on 18 May, the first day after the corona virus shutdown was lifted for elective surgeries here in Seattle.
In a marvel of modern allopathic medicine and medical technology, they mounted me on a human-sized “spit” that allowed them to manipulate the leg and thigh bone as they cut off the old damaged top, added and aligned new titanium, glass, and polyurethane components, and then stitched me back together. The whole procedure took about an hour from lights out to when I began chattering and asking questions in the theatre after they were done. No anaesthesia. A spinal block, and none of the druggy after-effects. Here is a picture of the spit on which they “roasted” me:
Missing from the picture are the operating theatre, perhaps 50 feet in diameter, the x-ray machinery integrated with the spit that allowed them to measure and make sure that old and new components were aligned properly and of the right dimensions, and the half-dozen or so physicians, nurses, and medical assistants who made the whole thing work. After the surgery they took me into recovery where over the next several hours my torso, chest-down, regained the capacity to communicate with my brain that had been interrupted by the spinal block. Later that day I took my first walk with the new hip. I spent the night in the hospital, was returned home the following morning and helped up 14 stairs to the second floor of our home. Since then I have been down and up those stairs pretty much every day, and Shirah has been attending to my care day by day.
By far the most interesting thing to me about what is happening right now in my life is the ebb and flow of moods through me. Getting ready for the surgery I thought that the “up” (very positive, all-but-giddy) mood I felt as the date approached might have been fueled by three things. First, I have been very proud of the way that Shirah and I have been spending time together as partners of nearly 40 years, enjoying each others’ company for the most part, listening and taking care of each others’ concerns, and generally navigating the corona virus time with kindness, care, and positive moods. Second, I guessed that my body was anticipating the coming era in which once again I would be able to take long leisurely walks, missing from my life for many years now. Third, I am terribly excited about the upcoming publication of some of the essays I have written over the last 40+ years, in which a team of colleagues and friends are helping me. (Lastly, of course, the fact that I knew that any encounter with a hospital is life-threatening, and so may invite a kind of lunatic emotion at encountering the possibility of dying.)
I woke from the surgery in a mood for which I don’t have adequate characterizing words or phrases. To speak of it with an analogy, think of your first experience as a parent with a new human being coming into the world. Like the cornucopia — the horn of plenty — the mood announced the opening of a whole new experience of life. A transformative mood, albeit that word today has for too long strained to carry more weight than it ought to be responsible for. The mood was not accompanied by sublime music or beautiful vistas, although I was experiencing waking dreams that were vivid. Rather, I felt more like a teenager, full of life and good questions, surrounded by adults pleased to be in my presence and happy to talk to me. I told them that in my work I am concerned with making sense of the way teams of people doing tight coordination with each other speak and listen to each other. In that background, I was fascinated by their work with each other.
The path of healing from the vast indignities of the replacement of the biological hip structures is not simple, free of pain, or straightforward. The night before last I think I began withdrawal from the opioids I was taking to address the pain, and the withdrawal (if it was that) produced a mood of intense panic, claustrophobia, terror, anything but a blessed mood. That night I got only two hours’ sleep, none of it deep or restful, and that all by itself invited a further kind of panic, because nothing is more critical for my health at this moment is my sleep. I have switched over completely from opioids to acetaminophen and pray that it will be enough to stave off the pain.
Meanwhile, I am guessing that this surgery will turn out to have been a transitional moment in my life, alongside the events of my marriages, births of my children, meeting the critical mentors of my life, my stroke of a year ago, and so forth. My intuition is that it may mark a transition from a life in which I have been a mostly private person, working intensely and intimately with smallish highly technical teams taking on large challenges, to a more public phase of my life. I don’t have more than that at this moment, except to notice that this is a moment in which so many things in life are changing rapidly as a consequence of our collective incompetence for navigating in and adjusting our behaviors for coordinating in the world in which the tiny corona virus beastie is busy hunting us.
I send to each of you my love and appreciation, my affection for you and my gratitude for having you in this world with me.