Hip chronicles: The bionic woman vs. the athletes

Here’s a little quiz.  You will know my correct answers by the end of this post.

 1. What does IT stand for?
     a. information technology
     b. iliotibial band
     c. idiot teenager

2. What does TFL stand for?
     a.  texting as a foreign language
     b.  Tahitian Football League
     c.  tensor fascia latae

3. What does GM stand for?
     a.  gross mismanagement
     b.  the general manager of General Motors
     c.  gluteus maximus

4. What does PT stand for?
     a.  part-time
     b.  physical therapy
     c.  post-traumatic

5. What does THP stand for?
     a.  total hip replacement
     b.  teenage halitosis problem
     c.  take your hands off my peanut butter

6. What does ACL stand for?
     a. anti-cheerleading league
     b. anterior cruciate ligament
     c. almond cocoa latte

It’s 3 pm on a Saturday and I have just migrated from p.js into sweats.  I’ve been so zoned into internet articles on my Ipad that my entire nutritional input for the day has been two cups of coffee, one of them gone cold.  I’m not even taking a walk today.  I’m stretching my IT band and feeling lazy—and smug.  I am so hip. I have the same physical woes as a triathlete.

I’m goofing off today because my IT band is hurting.  No, it does not refer to information technology.  It’s my iliotibial band, a band of muscles which stretches from the hip to the knee.  If you were a triathlete or distance runner, you would know this.  I know this.  My internet research repeatedly sent me to websites for intense athletes who are plagued by IT problems that have nothing to do with technology. Their knees hurt.  Just like mine.  The IT band is why hip problems result in knee pain.

I need to say this again, just to make me feel good: I have the same problem as a triathlete.  I feel so validated.  I’m not in the same shape as a  triathlete, but we both are referred to the same set of exercises I’ve been doing at physical therapy.  We both need to stretch the TFL (the tensor fascia latae) and strengthen the GM (gluteus maximus).  No need to get into the reality that a triathlete’s glutes are not all soft and jiggly like mine.  (In my defense, I will say that physical therapy has resulted in my slacks fitting pretty well, even if it has done nothing about the muffin top above the belt line.)  The fact is: triathletes have my same problem.  I feel so cool, although that could  be from the BioFreeze gel that the massage therapist gave me.  See, I am that cool.  I have a massage therapist as well as a physical therapist and an orthopedic surgeon.

Having a physical therapist and an orthopedist makes me cool with the athletes at school, too.  They are all falling apart on the soccer field and volleyball court.  I see high school athletes wincing in pain at the PT office while I increase the weight for my clam shell exercises.  At school, students on crutches hobble down the school hallway waiting for or recovering from ACL surgery.  I swap stories with the injured athletes about PT, surgery, and pain management.

During a fire drill at school this week, I trotted down a long flight of stairs with all the students.

“Hey, Mrs. Harp,” asked a student who has never been in my French class before,” What happened to your cane?”

“I had surgery.  I don’t need it anymore.”

“Hey, I’m taking French I next year.”  (No joke, he really said this.)

Whoa.  I’ve gone from being that old teacher with the cane to someone who has gone through orthopedic surgery.  And let me tell you, THP ain’t no walk in the park like ACL surgery.  I have earned some respect.  I won’t tell the student that my little  trot down the stairs has caused the IT to flare up.  He thinks I’m bionic.  No need to disappoint him.

Answer key for the little quiz:
Answers for normal people: 1.b 2.c 3.c 4.b 5.a 6.b
Answers for teachers: 1.c 2.a 3.a 4.a 5.b or c 6.a or c

Musings while medicated…

It’s been over a week since I traded in my last original hip for a new sleeker model. Not that anyone but an airport security officer can tell. I don’t think I weigh any less. I’m still wearing the same size pants. However, for those who have observed my gimpy gait since I got the first hip, the doc appears to have evened things out. I no longer ga-lump ga-lump with a side to side sway. I sashay with a sophisticated soft sock shuffle, gliding the walker through some indoor laps: kitchen to hallway to music room with a return to the kitchen and a victory loop around the island. The grunting with each step has been replaced by little phoo-phoo cleansing breaths. Me and my walker…the Little Engine That Could.

This morning, after two good cups of coffee,a shower, and a load of laundry spinning in the washer, I came downstairs to enjoy breakfast on the screen porch. What a good start to the day, you say. That pretty much WAS my day. Aside from some laps, the rest of the day involved resting on the glider, sometimes with my eyes open.

I thought of having some thoughts. People have been known to have creative spurts while on narcotics. Take Ethan Allen Poe, for example. Or was that Edgar Allen Poe? Yeah, so thinking was a bit of a challenge. A wisp of a thought would float by and I could almost grasp it. Or…I could stare at clouds with my eyes closed. It was a good day for that too.

I do have goals for this summer. I plan to see how many things I can accomplish without actually doing any of it myself. Yesterday was very productive. John cleaned the dryer vent AND I had the piano tuned. The piano and the dryer vent were equally overdue for attention. The dryer was potentially more dangerous, but the piano tuning was not without risk. Listening to the tuning was like being pulled into an upright position by my hair. As each string stretched its way toward proper pitch, each hair on my head felt pulled tighter and tighter upward.

Why did I think this would be a good idea while recovering from surgery? Because the piano needed to be tuned in order to have rehearsal for our singing group at our house. And why did I think I’d be in any condition to host rehearsal? Because I knew I’d be too incapacitated to drive to rehearsal.

Here’s a thought…I can almost grasp it…THE BIONIC WOMAN WAS A TV SHOW. SHE NEVER REALLY EXISTED. Last time I noticed, the actress was doing commercials for the Sleep Number Bed.

Why do I keep thinking I can do all this stuff? And then I think replacement parts will enable me to keep on doing all this stuff. Joint replacement is a lucrative field because it has a ready-made market of Superwomen who are wearing out. We need bionics. Get a new joint and be better than ever. Your employer and every one else can continue to expect you to perform beyond normal human endurance.

And the Little Engine said, “Phoo-phoo-phooey. Take a nap.” So I did. On my Sleep Number Bed. And when I woke up, I felt ready to face tomorrow’s challenge and the real reason I need replacement parts: Super MomMom will venture to the hospital tomorrow to meet her newest grand babe.

Marching into spring…with my rake

Last week the clock said to spring forward,  but there is nothing about getting up an hour earlier that gets me springing anywhere.  However, an extra hour of daylight in the afternoon was a good enticement to spring home from work, grab a rake, and head out into the garden.

I love to rake.  It makes me happy.  Raking gets me outside on a sunny day.  When the temperature is in the fifties, like it often is in March, the brisk air is perfect for working without getting hot.  The heart gets pumping while the arms get working and the sunbeams do their magic.  Endorphins are flowing!  Yay, it’s so good to be outside!  When the temp is in the seventies, like it has been this week, nothing can keep me indoors!

This year it is even better than usual, because I find that I can rake without pain.  My new two-month-old hip is perfectly content to get out there and rake.  Although my smart-aleck sister tells me I now walk like Dad, I actually feel like a normal person–or at least what I think a normal person feels like.  What a change from the impossible task of raking last fall.

Raking always makes me think of our long-ago neighbor Sam.  Sam had a perfect yard.  It was a small just-inside-the-Beltway yard, bordered by a chain link fence.  It was perfectly mowed, perfectly edged, perfectly bordered with little concrete bed borders and never a leaf to be seen.  Sam policed his yard wearing what looked like a cotton picker’s sack and carrying a pole with a point on the end–the kind maintenance workers used to use to pick up trash.  He’d stab each wayward leaf and stash it in the sack.  That’s how few leaves he had–he could stab each one with a stick.

Unlimited supply of leaves

Some people, like Sam, have immaculate yards and spring just marches in for them.  Out here in the Hereford Zone, immaculate yard-keepers are either leaf-blower fanatics or they don’t have a wooded lot.   No leaf-blowing fanatics live at our house; it is an unending task and there are so many other things to do.  Sam would lose his mind trying to keep ahead of the leaves out here.   Not only are the woods full of them, but the white oaks have an annoying way of waiting until May to drop their remaining leaves.   It’s best to toss aside any idea of “immaculate.”  “Perfect” needs to go, too.  “Aesthetically pleasing” is about as good as it gets.

First periwinkle blossom of spring

Nevertheless, raking in March is immensely gratifying.  It is a mindless task that yields immediate results.  Each swipe of the rake removes the dull cloak of winter-brown to reveal the fresh green of spring.  Vinca is just waiting to be seen.  Crocus are desperately trying to pop their colors.  Daffodils are begging for a fresh new bed to wake up in.  Off go the sedum twigs.  A sweep reveals new buds ready to unfurl.  Each section that I rake pulls off more of the blanket of winter.  Spring has just been waiting for me.

With so much to rake, I  must prioritize.  Who is blooming first and what do I look at the most?  No matter when I start–and this year I feel like I’ve had a head-start–it’s always a race against Spring.  I  must get the leaves out of the way before Spring appears. Crocus and daffodils have priority.  The front of the house and views from the kitchen window get targeted first.  A close second is the herb garden.  I know the chives are beginning to peek up.  By St. Paddy’s Day, they are tall enough to snip for my morning egg.

Saturday was a glorious St. Patrick’s Day–by the end of the day the yard was definitely wearin’ o’ the green.  Almost all the  beds were raked out and the grass was blown clear.  We were  rewarded with an al fresco dinner of corned beef and cabbage and a Bailey’s Irish Cream sundae for dessert.  Does it get any better than that?

Convalescence, The Invalid Wife, and Emerging Bees

The bees know that the red maples are budding

I’m convalescing these days.  Convalescence is a great word, although we hardly use it anymore.  It conjures up images of sickly people bundled up in thick blankets and wheeled outside for a bit of sun.  Or rich sickly people doing the same thing on deck chairs of a cruise ship circa 1923.  To my stressed-out co-workers it means I’m taking the winter off.   To John it means I’m his invalid wife, with the emphasis on the second syllable.  In – val – id.

Convalescence is a great concept and it’s something we need in a world that tells us to go full speed ahead until we crash, and then pick ourselves up and get on with it.  In our society, if you are not in critical condition, you are expected to be high functioning.  There’s nothing in the middle.  You can’t just do nothing.  There’s got to be a pill or something to keep you efficient.

The problem with convalescing is that convalescents don’t look sick.  They look like they’re lying around doing nothing.  Taking naps and reading books, what a life.  It’s surprisingly hard to properly convalesce in a “do it all now” world.

Ah, but convalescing isn’t about doing nothing.  To my doctor, it means regaining my strength.  The body is working incredibly hard on the inside to recover from an ordeal.  That’s why the doctor can say, “Don’t even think about going back to work before six weeks.”  I love doctor’s orders.  Someone else is the boss telling me to stop.

The hydrangeas are more than just sticks

The end of February is a lot like the end of a convalescence.  Spring is tantalizingly close.  Yet everything still looks so brown.  The woods are full of brown sticks–big tree trunks, tiny sapling twigs, and creeping vines.  Everything is brown, but there is so much going on that we don’t see.

We see twigs but the bees see "yummy"

Using both a cane and a walking stick, I hobble behind John down to the beehives.  The two hives are active (hooray!) and bees are returning to the hives with pollen.  Pollen?  In February?  Everything looks dormant to us, but the bees know that the red maples are starting to bud.  A closer look reveals the beginnings of buds on the hydrangeas and the lilacs, too.  It will be months before they flower, but they are beginning to wake up now.

Are the daffodils doomed?

In the front of the house, daffodils are peeking up.  How many people have moaned about the early appearance of the daffodils?  Don’t the daffodils know that it is not yet time?  Don’t they know that showing up early means  they will get zapped by a hard cold snow and be pathetic little nothings when spring arrives?  The daffodils remind me to properly convalesce, to take it slow and emerge strong.

For the many of you out there who are francophile word nerds, the word convalescence comes to us (mais oui!) via late 15th century French, which morphed it from Latin.

  • con–from the intensive Latin prefix cum meaning “with, together, thoroughly”
  • valescere– (to begin to grow strong) from valere (to be strong) which is related to valiant and valor

So what I’m doing by convalescing is becoming thoroughly strong.  And maybe courageous,too, because heading back to school is going to be scary and my Joint Journey Handbook says my strength should be at 80% by twelve weeks out.  What?  Eighty percent?  For a high-achieving, A-student type person, 80% does not mean “thoroughly strong.”  It means I will still be convalescing, even while I return to work. However, it does justify the handicap parking tag I applied for.  Dang, this is going to take awhile.

Now, as for being invalid…

Hôtel des Invalides

Both invalid and invalid have the same Latin roots.  And both the noun invalid (meaning “a sick person) and the adjective invalid (meaning “of no legal force”) came sneaking into English by way of French.  And quel surprise! The noun originally referred to the old and disabled soldiers at the Hôtel des Invalides, the military hospital in Paris where Napoleon’s body now rests (but is not convalescing) I assume that the soldiers all had valid disabilities, otherwise they would be invalid invalids.

John knows that I am neither a sickly person nor his not valid wife.  He’s just trying to help my convalescence along by getting a strong reaction out of me.  I’m thinking a sunny chair on a cruise ship might work better.

Hip Chronicles: In Which the Hipster and Hanny Go on an Outing

(If I’m lucky, Hanny won’t read this post.   But I’m not that lucky.)

In the third week after surgery, it is time for a real outing, but I need a chauffeur.  That would be my mom, aka Hanny, who is not old  but is a generation older than a daughter with a new hip.

The first stop of the day is the hairdresser.  Nothing restores one’s sense of normal like a good cut and color.  And a smart-aleck gay shampoo guy from New Zealand who eyes my walker and asks my stylist, “What’s wrong with ‘er?  Too much sex?”

Hanny picks me up from the salon.  Our next stop is lunch.  We haven’t decided where to go, but aim for Towson because our goal for the day is to purchase a Nook for Hanny at Barnes & Noble.

“Let’s go to Razmataz,” she suggests.


“You know.  Razmataz.  That place across from the mall where we had dinner when Dad was sick.”

I now know exactly which restaurant she means, but “Razmataz” has completely obliterated the real name from my brain.  It’s coming…it’s coming….Razorback!

And we’re off.  I limit conversation so as not to distract her.  Besides, I’m busy gripping the door handle and pressing my foot into the imaginary passenger side brake pedal, and it’s hard to pray and carry on a conversation at the same time.

Razmataz  just happens to be next door to the Loft, where my daughter Shelley works.  She’s not working that day, but we stop in anyway, eyeball a few things, and Hanny tries on some cute cardigan jackets.  I’m starting to feel like one of those geezer husbands in need of a chair while the wife tries on clothes.  The palms of my hands are pressing harder and harder onto the handles of the walker.  Maybe we should get some lunch.

We enter Razmataz, a long narrow windowless restaurant in a strip mall.  The first thing that hits me–after the darkness–is the smell of bleach.  As appreciative as I am that they are microbe conscious, the predominant smell in a restaurant should be food.  Really.  I just can’t stay.  I’ve been cooped up at home for a couple of weeks and I need light.

We cross the street to the Cheesecake Factory.  This involves parking at Towson Mall.  The Cheesecake Factory has valet parking, but why pay $5 to have someone park the car?  I suggest that Hanny drop me and my walker off at the door and then park, but she wants someone to witness where she leaves her car so that we don’t have “issues” later.  We need a spot that’s fairly close ( I do not have a handicap tag).  We find one, but one of the cars is not parked straight.  It’s hard to tell which one, but it’s probably the obnoxiously dominant big fat red SUV.  Hanny parks parallel to it because the other car is so nondescript that, well, I can’t describe it.

After a delightful lunch, I have another geezer moment in the ladies’ room.  The handicap stall has support rails!  Right where I need them!  Ok, I know they’ve always been there, but I’ve never actually touched them before.  I thank God for the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It’s time to head over the Barnes & Noble, but wait!  Pottery Barn is right here, by the Cheesecake Factory.  We can’t resist.  I use up the rest of my pedestrian mileage for the day gliding around Pottery Barn making a mental list of all the things I’d like my sister-in-law to get me with her employee discount.   The walker handles dig deeper into my palms.  I think my palms are bruising. We head back to the car, where Hanny finds a post-it note with not-so-friendly suggestions about her parking skills.  It was a rather lengthy note for a post-it and for someone with such a nondescript car.  Who has that much anger over a parking job?   Plus, even if Hanny  scratched the car (which she did not), who would notice?  It’s so nondescript.  Hanny checks her car, relieved to see that the parking fiend hasn’t keyed it.

Somehow the drive from Cheesecake Factory to Barnes & Nobles evolves into a tour of the entire Towson Mall parking maze.  Round and round we go.  Where we’ll emerge, nobody knows.  If it weren’t for my crippled-ness, we could have walked.  At last, the Barnes & Noble lot.  Hanny circles for a spot.  Ah hah, she finds one.  Slowly she turns…quarter turn by quarter turn.  Cars are lining up behind us.  She eases the car in.  But she’s sensitive after that friendly note at the last parking spot, so she must straighten the car.  Back out she goes. More cars are lining up.  Slowly she advances.  Inch by inch.  And we’re in.

Now it’s my turn.  Slowly.  I.  Open the door.  Swivel my legs.  Pull myself up.  Hug the car to reach the walker.  And we’re off.  Shuffle, shuffle.  Gotta cross the cross walk.  I have the right of way.   The cars line up while I do the escargot slide to the other side.

Finally, we have arrived at the mission for the day–a Nook Color for Hanny.  I inform the salesman that when we walk out of the store she should have a Nook, a cover, an account set up with email and her credit card, reading material and apps all set and ready to go.  Beads of sweat dot my brow as I stand at the checkout counter.  I collapse into a chair. We’re in the store with the salesman for well over an hour, uploading software, calling tech support, re-setting user names and passwords, re-typing the oopsies made by the salesman.  (Her account is not at hitmail or hotmale.)

Mission accomplished, we get stuck in rush-hour accident back-up traffic on 83.  We arrive home at dinner-time.

“I think you overdid it today.”

No joke.  I’m thankful to be off the narcotics and  back on wine.

The Ongoing Adventures of Bionic Hip Mom Mom: Week 2

new hip mom mom in need of a 4 wheel drive walker

I need a four-wheel drive walker.  The two-wheel drive model that  the hospital gave me is  literally a drag, especially on outings to the lab for coumadin checks.  The rubber thingies on the rear legs scrape along the parking lot, and lifting the walker every step is hurting my back.  Plus, it slows me down.  I am stable enough that John doesn’t have to worry about it rolling away out of control dragging me along behind it,  so he is currently en route to Austin’s Pharmacy to purchase wheels for the back.  Woo hoo!  I will celebrate by taking a walk outside.

Week Two with the bionic  hip has been a week of ups and downs.  At the end of Week One, I was overwhelmed just by having family around.  The girls all came over with their babes and it was great but I just didn’t have the stamina to deal with it.

“Mom, do you want to hold the baby?”

Um…not really.

We’re in the family room.  I have used my one trip downstairs to sit on a rock hard chair with a pillow because the sofas don’t provide enough support.  I ask for some coffee.  Shelley sits on the hearth with a bloomin’ cold, sneezing away into Kleenex.  Kristin holds eight month old John.  Julie holds  two month old Emily.  My mom has free hands.  Nothing against Hanny here, but she is the least qualified person in the room to make a good cup of  coffee.  Kristin hands little John to Hanny.  He decides it’s a good time to demonstrate separation anxiety and starts crying.  Kristin takes back John;  Julie hands Emily over to Hanny.  Little John comes to sit by me on the floor but bonks his head on the chair.  He starts crying.  That gets Emily crying.  Then I’m crying.  Finally, Shelley puts down the Kleenex and says, “I’ll make the coffee.”

That was the same day the washing machine died.

Sniveling, sneezing, stuffy, achy, gotta-get-a-neti-pot Shelley sits beside me in bed with her laptop and we research washing machines.  Sister-in-law Jackie just happens to call and recommends Miles Appliance in Shrewsbury.  So, armed with facts and prices, I call Kevin Miles.

“Do you want to come in and take a look?” he asks.

“I’m recovering from hip replacement and I’m not exactly mobile right now.”

Sight unseen, I buy the washing machine over the phone.

The washing machine arrives Wednesday.  And I’m feeling pretty darn good.  I’ve stopped taking the heavy-duty Oxycodone and have progressed to the non-narcotic Tramadol I was using before surgery (the very same medication that my friend Lisa’s dog takes for arthritis pain).  The laundry room has been cleared out for the delivery and there is hope in the world.  (Or at least the laundry room.)

The washer, the 4 wheel "drive" walker and The Claw

So what do I do?  Wednesday evening and all day Thursday I do laundry.   I’m so pleased with my productivity.   I use The Claw to pick  up dirty laundry and place it in the bag on my walker.  I shuffle over to the washer, toss in the laundry, add my detergent, press all the magic buttons, and lie down to listen to the quiet whirrrr of the new machine.  That, of course, is followed by dryer loads and folding.  But I am physically able to do it and I’m happy.

Until Friday.  The sore muscles in my leg are throbbing.  The incision staples itch.  My lower back is sore and the sciatica zips down my leg all night long keeping me awake.  I can’t do my lower back exercises, I can’t  take anti-inflamatories, I can’t soak in a hot bathtub–all of which I would normally do to relieve the discomfort.  I’m miserable and grumpy.

And I miss my dad.  When your dad had hip replacement in his fifties and twenty years later you have hip replacement in your fifties, he really ought to be around to coach.  (Reminder  to self: contribute to the Ron Smith Team Reason campaign against pancreatic cancer.) But then I try to imagine Dad’s style of coaching:

“Stop whining.  Suck it up.  Get off your duff  and walk.”

Ok, ok.  I will.  Just as soon as my new wheels arrive.