Learning to Listen

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From Jane’s World

I could hear the siren, but for once I wasn’t worried about who was hurt or what had happened. I knew it was coming for me. 

My left hip joint had popped out and needed to be reset. Lying half in and half out of my doorway didn’t make the EMTs’ job any easier. They decided a breakaway stretcher would work best. They wedged one part of the board under me, then, with some controlled wiggling, the other half, and the two were connected to lift me firmly into the ambulance. 

I’d asked Dane to grab my lavender oil and was trying to uncap it with my teeth when it spilled. I’d like to think the relaxing scent, although overwhelming, helped us all loosen up and enjoy the ride. I picked out landmarks and potholes on the way to track our progress toward the hospital. 

As soon as we arrived I started pleading for pain medication, but first my information had to be collected and my vitals recorded. While the nurse was cutting off my pants Dane leaned over and pointed out, “Those were your favorites.” 

Never one to miss an opportunity, I started asking how many people lying on this table in pain and fear mentioned their worries over meeting their deductibles. I droned on about the insane costs of health care in this country. But I was preaching to the choir: the staff were nodding their heads in agreement like bobble-head dolls on a dashboard.

Holding my hands on my left knee for so long kept making my right leg cramp. I was anxious to let go but knew I couldn’t until I got knocked out. Even though the ER pros were patiently answering my incessant questions, I’m certain they were biding their time until they could put me under!

When I first had my hips replaced Dr. L and his team gave me plenty of warnings: Don’t lean forward past 90 degrees. Never cross one leg over the other. Don’t reach back to the right or to the left. 

But I’d always felt so good, I didn’t take them seriously. Now I remembered Dr. L’s last words to me when I was in his office telling him the things I did that he insisted I shouldn’t. Sitting on a stool, facing me, he held up one finger, looked me right in the eyes, and said, “Once. It will only take one time and it could pop out.”

He was right. I had leaned down, breaking the 90-degree rule and simultaneously the do-not-cross-one-leg-over-the-other rule. As the drugs kicked in enough for me take one hand off my knee, I thought, There’s a lesson here: I need to pay attention.

Each year, more than 300,000 total hip replacements are performed in the United States, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. They have been performed successfully on young people (juvenile arthritis, birth defects), the elderly (degenerative arthritis), and every age in between. 

The surgery gave me back my active lifestyle and I have no regrets. I was well aware of the risks, including possible dislocation. But we tend to think “It will never happen to me.” Or, in my case, I’ve only imagined it happening during my what if musings. 

Back in the emergency room, I had seen the x-rays, I understood what had to be done, and I knew the risks and potential complications. Finally, Dr. Comfort (not his real name) was ready to proceed. But first he conducted what he referred to as a “timeout,” and Dane was escorted out to the waiting room.

The doctor then rehearsed with the nurses exactly how this would unfold: the oxygen hose placed in my nose, the heart rate monitor pads attached, a blood pressure cuff and pulse monitor in place, and the drugs that would be used to make me go to sleep. 

Before he finished, the ER door opened and in walked Dr. P, my general doctor. As he held my hand he asked what trouble I had gotten into this time. He also reminded me this was nothing compared to battling tick-borne disease, which he had successfully helped me with in the past. 

I felt perfectly at peace. Dr. Comfort’s confidence was contagious, his professionalism evident, and having my own doctor gripping my hand was reassuring. 

Dr. Comfort asked me to think about something happy as he started to put me to sleep. Without hesitation I answered, “That in 2020 we have a different president and we all go back to being kind to each other again.” I drifted off to the sound of soft chuckles in the room.

The statistics vary but it seems fewer than 4 percent of people who have undergone their first total hip replacement and followed the strict guidelines will suffer a dislocation. My friend’s new hip has dislocated twice. My other friend has had hers dislocated three times. Both, rule breakers and I like that about them. But I’m not planning to follow their lead.

At home now, lying on the couch, surrounded by my dogs and kitties, I’m busy making notes to myself. Number one: Pay attention Jane. Listen.


Originally Published September 5th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout