A major part of our mission is to connect patients with better information and a supportive community of peers. We hope that these personal stories about hip and knee replacement surgery preparation and recovery, as told by PeerWell users, will help you feel less alone in your journey toward a healthier tomorrow.
64-year-old Susan is a former road-warrior who travelled Sundays through Thursdays for many years of her career as an independent software consultant. When she wasn’t flying for work, she was well, planning a trip for pleasure! Having travelled to over 35 countries, Susan’s mastered the art of preparing for the unexpected, problem solving on her feet, and leading with her best foot forward.
In our interview, it became clear that Susan’s successful professional life was balanced by her spiritual, bohemian nature, which is apparent in her general outlook and more specifically, in her openness to alternative joint replacement treatments. While still on the road, before being debilitated with joint pain, Susan described how she would counteract her hours spent on airplanes with long outdoor walks to detoxify her body. Susan explains, “I would walk as much as five miles to detox from the cabin fumes on airplanes.” On work-from-home days, she did step aerobics and the occasional yoga class at a local gym. However, as her joint pain and retirement came to a head, Susan would have to trade in these activities for a sedentary life indoors.
Are you in your 40’s and facing a replacement? Read the story of 46-year-old, Beth who ploughing through her recovery.
Cruising Toward a Hip Replacement
Living a fast-paced life, Susan initially chalked up her hip pain to the usual wear and tear. Seeing an acupuncturist more and more frequently to help relieve some of her joint problems, she was eventually referred to an orthopedist recommended by some of the acupuncturist’s patients. The orthopedist was known for recommending surgery only as a last resort. This orthopedist diagnosed her with medium-to-severe osteoarthritis, for which the ultimate fix would likely be a hip replacement.
Meanwhile, he prescribed an NSAID (Diclofenac Sodium) which helped immediately with the inflammation and allowed her to regain some flexibility while “Lessening (masking) the pain by 85%”. However, Susan still had to give up much-loved activities like step aerobics and yoga, replacing them with regularly physical therapy. This typical combination of anti-inflammatories and physical therapy kept things at bay for a period of time, but as we all know, when you’re onboard the train heading towards Joint Replacementville, there’s not a whole lot you can do to avoid the final stop.
For Susan, the turning point came in May of 2016 during a much-anticipated cruise to celebrate her retirement. During the 3-week cruise, which departed from the South of France to Normandy, it “Rained like crazy the whole time. The Seine flooded so much that we couldn’t navigate back to Paris because the bridges were too low from the torrential rains,” Susan illustrated. The cold, damp weather sent her hip pain spiraling out of control. Susan explains, “The pain was unrelenting and for the first time in all my travels, I was reluctant to go on some of the excursions because I was in such pain. I thought, note to self: ‘Get the hip fixed before the next big trip’.” The pain was so that Susan wondered if there could even be a “next big trip”.
“End of the Line”
When Susan was back on US soil, she began to research what the “something” to fix her joint pain would be. Making every attempt to avoid becoming “The Bionic Woman, with a titanium hip” by getting and full-fledged replacement, Susan explored alternatives. This online exploration lead her to stem cell therapy. The procedure involves injecting a patient’s own stem cells into the degenerative joint to encourage healing a regrowth. Susan went ahead with the stem cell procedure in August 2016. Unfortunately, it did nothing to help her condition. Describing her experience with stem cell therapy as “Exceedingly painful and an unfortunate waste of time and personal financial resources,” Susan considers this treatment “the most disappointing part of the whole process.”
Without any improvements from the painful stem cell procedure and the recommended 6 months of follow-up physical therapy, it’s understandable that Susan would see the whole episode as a waste. She elaborates, “The clinic’s literature emphasized any bad press about hip replacements, like trouble with heavy metals seeping into the bloodstream. Their pamphlets and online videos showed a patient effortlessly floating down a staircase the day after the procedure. This did not accurately portray reality…certainly not my reality.” In other words, Susan felt cheated from the stem cell procedure, as though they had played up her fears with a replacement and promised something that never came to fruition.
Frustrated with the failed procedure, Susan knew she was arriving at “end of the line”: Hip Replacementville.
Final Stop: Hip Replacementville
After talking with friends who’d undergone replacements, Susan knew it was time to take action. At the end of January, she met with orthopedic surgeon, Dr. John Tiberi. During the consultation, Susan remembers saying, “I’ve already done all of the above; I’m done.” We think this line couldn’t better sum up the feelings of most patients on the cusp of their replacement. Luckily, Dr. Tiberi agreed and immediately put her RTHR on the books. With just over a month to prepare, Susan’s surgeon recommended she start PreHab at home on her mobile phone immediately.
Enter PeerWell (stage right).
“I’ve told my friends from the start that I’m impressed with Peerwell. I like that the information is sent in small chunks that are manageable on a daily basis. I was pretty good about doing the PreHab exercises each day, although sometimes I substituted for a Silver Sneakers class.” She continues by saying how much PeerWell’s PreHab program, which includes mindfulness exercises that are designed to combat pre-surgery jitters, “Really helped as a tool to manage emotions.”
To illustrate, Susan told the story of a friend of hers who was facing a shoulder surgery. She describes, “My friend, who kindly offered me rides to places after my own surgery, was very stressed out by her upcoming surgery, specifically having to rely on others for everything. Her blood pressure shot up to stroke level. They had to put her on a high-level beta blocker, and now she’s in danger of not being able to do the operation.”
Pre-surgery anxiety is a common thing, and when uncontrolled, it can infringe on plans to get a long-awaited, life-changing operation. A comprehensive PreHab program should focus as much on mentally and emotionally preparing you for surgery as it does on getting your body ready.
“In the face of surgery, we’re not always rational. We can begin to catastrophize. For me that was the best part of PeerWell – the whole mental health and guided meditations aspects of it,” said Susan.
Two weeks ago, after 3 years in the making, Susan went in for a total right hip arthroplasty. She felt mentally and physically prepared for surgery after religiously following PeerWell in the weeks leading up to it. When asked about how her recovery was going, she was quick to point out how great her surgeon was, saying “Dr. Tiberi is a brilliant surgeon with knowledge of the latest technology, and he is a very kind person who is exceptionally considerate of his patients and their families.” Acknowledging that her prescribed pain medication could be playing a role, Susan said that the most surprising part of the whole surgery and recovery has been that “it was painless. It’s been 2 weeks and it’s essentially been painless. I was so used to being in constant pain. My friends tell me that I would sit with a group of people and grimace the whole time. Now I can sit in that same folding chair and not feel the least uncomfortable.”
“The surprise of hip replacement surgery is that it’s actually that easy. I have a little 3 inch scar, I go to physical therapy, I get better and that’s it!?,” Susan exclaimed.
She also discussed how important it’s been to follow her surgeon’s instructions and not over do it. She’s been keeping activity down to small spurts, like taking out the trash or working at the computer for a short time. “When I start to feel any pain, I stop and sit down or lie down with my feet elevated” she explained.
When this is all done and over with, Susan looks forward to “having a life again”. She elaborates, “My life had devolved to 4 walls. I want to travel again. I want to go to Machu Picchu and the Galápagos Islands, among other places. I want to be able to get around, not be in pain, and live a normal life.”
Rapid Fire Questions
As usual, at the end of our patient story interviews we like to ask “rapid fire” questions. Encouraging participants to answer with the first thing that pops into their head, this is what Susan had to say about surgery, recovery and beyond.
1. What advice do you give people preparing for a replacement?**
S: Follow the instructions and calm down. It’s going to be great. It’s not going to be as bad as you thought it was going to be. There’s next to no pain, especially compared to the presurgical pain. And, of course, as a practical matter if you can lose weight beforehand, great.
2. What is something that caught you off-guard about hip replacement surgery?
S: In one of the daily e-mails from my surgeon, I read that it is possible to experience continuing pain for life after a hip replacement. In addition, you may continue your pre-surgery role as weather girl (sensing via the pain when it will rain soon or the barometric pressure will drop). I didn’t realize some of the downsides.
3. Describe your replacement in one word.
4. Rate your entire joint replacement experience on a scale from 1-10 (1 being the worst thing ever and 10 being the best thing ever).
S: It’s a definitely the best thing I’ve done, so it’s close to 10.
5. What other advice would you give to others preparing for a replacement?
S: It’s more of a warning: I recommend going in for surgery while you still have decent mobility and at least one of your two limbs is working fairly well. Don’t wait too long.
Are you having hip or knee replacement surgery? If you think PeerWell’s PreHab smartphone app could help you, sign-up today. The more you do today, the better you can make tomorrow.