The Hip Chronicles, Part VII: On my back

In my series, the RA Diaries, I’ve tried to write about the weird, the painful and even the comical parts of having a chronic illness. Very recently, I had what for many RA patients is a rite of passage: my first joint replacement. My new right hip, with its festive combination of titanium, cobalt and plastic polymer, is worth five times more than my car. And it will surely be a great source of amusement to TSA scanners worldwide, because on x-rays it looks like I’m packing some major heat.

Now, kind reader, let me tell you exactly how I went about getting my new hip. But be warned. It’s gonna get gross. And graphic. And, maybe once in a while, somewhat amusing. I hope you get something out of it. I’m certainly hoping I will.

Since getting my hip replaced, I’ve had to get used to a number of things. Like not bending down. And not crossing my legs. And walking with a walker, then a cane.

Then, there’s having one leg feel longer than the other. And making sure I don’t sit in such a way that my hip is less than 90 degrees in relation to my torso. Or not sitting down on any low surfaces (this includes in the bathroom).

All these restrictions have been challenging, but the toughest one has been the one regarding sleeping: I’m not allowed to sleep in any position except on my back.

For years, I’ve slept most comfortably curled up on my right side. That would be my operated side. So for almost a month, I’ve been unable to sleep on my most comfortable side. (The other side is out too, lest I cross my legs.)

The only reason I’ve been able to sleep at all is likely out of sheer exhaustion. And drugs. Let’s not forget the drugs! And speaking of drugs, for almost a month, the surgeon had me on blood thinners. Blood clots are always a concern with hip replacements, so thinners are a must. Too bad a higher dosage (hitting the right dosage with me has been difficult) makes me have to get up to use the bathroom several times a night. Navigating a walker at 2 a.m. is no treat. A cane is easier, but I have to make sure it doesn’t fall over while I’m taking care of business, or I’ll be stuck in the bathroom all night.

One more note on the preventing clots issue — while in the hospital, they had me wear instruments of torture special stockings that inflate and deflate, one leg at a time. The purpose is to keep the blood moving in your calves. Sleeping in such stockings is nearly impossible. Just as you’re getting drowsy, one stocking clamps down on your leg like a shark. Then, as soon as it deflates, the other stocking clamps down. You find yourself anticipating the clamping, which is not exactly restful. (I blame the stockings for my sleepless first night.)

When I left the hospital, I had hoped I could leave the clamps behind. But noooo! Instead, I got to wear a low-tech version, which doesn’t clamp down every minute. But each stocking turned my legs into Ballpark Franks (they plump when you put ’em on!). And getting them on by myself was impossible. I had to have assistance, and my assistant hated every minute of it. Taking the damn things off every morning felt like a celebration, except I celebrated with Percocet, not Champagne. What she celebrated with is a mystery.

But back to sleeping on my back — as horrible as it has been for me, it’s been even worse for my bedmates. Why? Because I snore. And not only do I snore. I choke, and gasp, and moan. Sleeping on my back kicks off my sleep apnea.

I’m not unaware of the snoring or the apnea. I’m not sure how long I’ve been doing it, but it may be years. (Part of me hopes I did it freshman year of college. That seems like suitable punishment for my roommate, who would bring back her paramours for late night romps while I was in the room. We had a bunk bed, and she was in the top bunk. Umm, yeah. Fun times!) It seems I don’t have these issues when I sleep on my side. Or at least, not as much.

Now, I am not the only snorer in the family. My father sometimes sounds like a warthog wrestling a lawnmower. My mother sounds like a slightly decalibrated airplane engine. (This is the reason I, unlike children worldwide, never wanted to sleep with my parents after having a nightmare. Quiet darkness was preferable, even if the monsters were lurking. Besides, my parents slept in twin beds pushed together, and I would find myself sleeping on the gap, scared the beds would separate and I would fall in.)

My husband is a combo of the two. When he and I first started spending the night together, I thought I would never get any sleep. I contemplated sleeping pills, or even, at my most desperate, a well-placed pillow.

Then I discovered silicone earplugs (those foam ones don’t do a thing for me). They worked wonders, and I realized there was a future for this relationship. My husband also discovered earplugs, for those times I migrated from my side to my back. And he introduced me to nose strips, since we both get congested in the night. So picture us, if you will, in our cozy pjs, earplugs and nose strips. Tres romantique, n’est ce pas?

But now, earplugs aren’t doing the job. The first few nights after I came home (I spent three weeks convalescing at my parents’ home) my poor husband got no sleep. The noises I was making pierced the night, and no amount of foam, pillows, cursing or impulses to murder were helping.

But my husband is a creative man, and he finally came up with a plan. He dug out the headphones he used to wear at the gun range (yeah, I never thought I would fall in love with a gun aficionado either). He says they work like a charm.

So picture us again, if you will. The woman is wearing a sleeping mask (I go to bed earlier than he does), a nose strip and earplugs. She is propped up on a few pillows, but that doesn’t stop her from sounding like someone is strangling a puppy. The man is sans sleeping mask, but avec nose strip. He is also on his back, wearing a pair of industrial strength headphones. He is snoring too, but he sounds more like a restless warthog splashing in a watering hole.

The squirrels that live in the trees outside have fled. So have the possums, the raccoons and the birds. But the man and woman are dreaming — she of getting an journalism award. He of having a wife who doesn’t snore anymore. Both are happy.

She wakes suddenly, mostly because of the apnea, partly because of her bladder. As she gets ready to get up, she reaches out to her husband, wanting to pat his head lightly in a comforting gesture. Her hand brushes cold metal. She sighs.

The doctor and physical therapist tell me I can try side sleeping soon. I’ve never looked forward to anything so much in my life.

All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.

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