RA Diaries: My year in titanium

A year ago at about this time, two anesthesiology residents were trying to find a vein. They weren’t having much success; I’m a hard stick at the best of times, and I hadn’t had anything to drink or eat in 15 hours.

Many jabs later (including multiple ones in my left foot), they were able to put in an IV. A later attempt at an epidural failed miserably, requiring intubation. And yes, I am also very difficult to intubate.

It was not a good start to what’s been, to date, my largest and most complex surgery — a complete hip replacement. But by the end of the day, bruised and woozy and aching, I had a piece of metal where my bone used to be.

And thus began my life in titanium.

“A.K. Whitney is now full of titanium,” I wrote on my social networking page once I was released from the hospital and back home with my laptop. Friends were kind and encouraging. They called me bionic. Comparisons were made to Wolverine (yes, I know he’s got adamantium, but still).

I spent the next three months getting used to this new life, as my muscles rearranged themselves, nerves sort of regrew (as I write this, my leg is still slightly numb around the incision), and I realized I would never take the simple act of sitting down on a low surface for granted again.

I also realized I would likely never do yoga again, or cross my right leg over my left. Or that mountain cow syndrome would continue to affect me when I was tired.

My surgeon was so pleased with my progress — the bone has been growing into the metal nicely — that he told me I could stop seeing him at the 8-month mark. It probably also helped that I’ve managed to lose almost 30 pounds in the last six months, weight I piled on in the last two years before the surgery, when moving, sitting, sleeping and of course standing became difficult. And yes, I eat for comfort. I don’t think any avid cook or food writer doesn’t.

My year in titanium has been pretty good overall, but I dread the next time I have to deal with the TSA. I took a trip to Yellowstone Park earlier this fall, and it was lovely. What was distinctly unlovely was the “enhanced patdown” I received at Jackson Hole Airport because the titanium set off the metal detector.

No amount of explanation, no doctor’s note, no skinny jeans could prevent it. It was completely upsetting, and I can’t even imagine how awful it would be for anyone who is a sexual assault survivor to go through it.

The TSA agent offered to do it in private, but I said no. Better to have witnesses (two close relatives I was traveling with) to any possible misconduct. Bad things can happen behind closed doors. And unless the world becomes a more peaceful place, or I never fly again, I will have to resign myself to this crap every time I go through an airport without a scattershot imaging machine. By the way, I just read that the European Union thinks those cause cancer!

Yes, there are unexpected drawbacks to a life in titanium.

But a year has passed, and I just returned from a jaunt to the Farmers Market. I was able to navigate the crowds without Hamish (my walking stick). Nothing much hurt. I felt light on my feet as I perused the produce, picking out some peppers, some eggplant, some heirloom tomatoes. Ratatouille is on the menu next week.

I’ll be able to sleep in my own bed tonight, uninterrupted by orderlies checking my vitals every four hours. I won’t likely be awakened at 6 a.m. by a phlebotomist trying to find my remaining vein.

I will have a good cup of coffee for breakfast. And I will try my best to take care of the titanium hip, because I need it to last me as long as it can.

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

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