This post has been in my drafts since early December last year. I really wanted to finish for the sake of the conclusion. If you don’t want to read the whole thing (it is very long), the tl;dr is this: if you or someone you know has thigh pain, do see a doctor or physiotherapist. Physiotherapy works. If you or someone you know needs a hip replacement, go for it: it’s life changing.
In May 2018, I was walking home from work when my right leg almost gave way underneath me. The pain passed as quickly as it came but the same thing happened several more times during the summer. I thought about going to my GP to get his advice but as I was working as a temp at the time, I didn’t want to take the time off work.
The summer turned into winter and I started experiencing pain in my right leg, specifically my thigh, on a more and more regular basis. In April and May 2019, as chronicled elsewhere on this blog, I walked the Camino Francés, from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela. The pain remained with me every day but I managed to complete the walk thanks to Ibuprofen, trekking poles, and the use of public and private transport. Simply saying ‘thanks to’ doesn’t do justice to the fact that without all three of these things, I would never have made it.
Once I returned home, I started a new job. The pain in my thigh got worse and worse. By November 2019, I couldn’t walk around the house without limping. In December, I began my current job, which involved working from home. Now, you would have thought that I would choose this moment to visit my GP. After all, I was also working part time. It was very easy for me, therefore, to work out my own working hours. Not a bit of it. I have a most wonderful GP but I still hate going to the doctor unless I absolutely, absolutely have to.
Finally Facing the Problem
That point was coming, though, and it eventually arrived in February 2020. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what triggered this move. I don’t recall the pain getting any worse at that point. I think it was just a case of finally not being able to live with it any more. Anyway, I visited my GP and explained the problem. He recommended that I get physiotherapy. I looked up the (NHS) website, e-mailed the application form, and waited.
February 2020. You would be forgiven for thinking that I had a long wait ahead of me. Like, a two year wait, for Covid was just around the corner. However, I was blessed. In early March, I received a call. An appointment was made and just two or three weeks before the first Covid lockdown hit, I saw a physiotherapist for the first time. As a result, I went into the first lockdown with physiotherapy exercises to keep myself busy with.
I kept up the physiotherapy exercises all the way through the first, second, and third lockdowns. In fact, I was still doing them – with some adjustments here and there as I realised what worked for me and what didn’t – when my NHS contact called me to make a new appointment to see a new physiotherapist (the first one I had seen was from Finland and, I think, returned home). Our first appointments were via Zoom but then, finally, we met in person. I was able to report an improvement in my leg to him… although, there was a fly in the ointment: the pain in some areas had disappeared, but appeared in others. That was no problem for him, he just gave me new exercises to do.
One of the new areas to experience pain was my hip. I thought nothing of it at the time. It was just one more. In the subsequent months, however, the pain did not go away. In fact, slowly but surely, it got worse. My hip got more and more stiff.
The year got off to a good start. In January, I realised that all the pain in my right thigh, that had been with me since 2018, had now gone. My thigh wasn’t in perfect shape – there was the pain in my hip and one or two other areas – but after visiting the physiotherapist again in February, I believed that the pain of those ‘other areas’ was connected to my hip problem.
The visit to my physiotherapist in February was the last – to him. There was no more he could do. He sent me on to another physiotherapist who would be able to look at my hip. I can’t remember now but maybe he suspected that I had osteoarthritis, something which this other physiotherapist would be able to diagnose. That’s what happened. I went to see her. As we walked into her treatment room, she walked behind me. After she had done some exercises with me she said that from the way my leg reacted to those exercises, and the way I was walking, she was fairly sure that I had osteoarthritis. Only one thing would confirm it: an X-Ray.
I was referred to my local hospital. A few weeks later, I went up there, got the X-Ray done and then, a week or two after that, went back to the physiotherapist. It was as she had thought. The cartilage that connected my hip bones had worn away. Ouch! What was to be done? The physiotherapist warned me that there were really only two options: pain management or a hip replacement: a plaster over a deep wound, or the nuclear option. As soon as she said this, I knew I would prefer the hip replacement. Managing the problem would mean avoiding an operation but it would also mean no longer being able to walk very far, to probably having to use a stick, to having to rest more, and so forth. I wanted – and still would like – to be able to walk the Camino again one day. It may be a pipe dream, but I won’t even be able to consider it if I can’t walk an hour without hurting.
The Final Decision
The physiotherapist referred me to a hip specialist (at least, that’s what he is to me; I imagine he specialises in much more!) at my local hospital. I went to see him in April. We discussed my situation and looked at the X-Ray of my poor hip. He confirmed what my two choices were. I could not tell him quickly enough that I wanted the hip replacement operation. Very good, he said, the waiting list is nine months, but we’ll get there. I left the hospital with so much gratitude for the consultant, physiotherapists, GPs, and the state of British medicine.
A nine month wait meant that I did not expect to hear from anyone until January 2023. During the summer, I was called to UCL Hospital to get scanned in a machine that looked like a giant polo, and which, rather inexplicably, had a device in the ceiling with an X-Box logo on it. Do you think they play games in there? Once that was done, I again didn’t expect to hear any more until the New Year. Towards the end of October, however, I received a letter informing me that my operation would be on 23rd November! Had someone dropped off their waiting list? I was filled with nervous excitement.
The Lead Up to the Operation
In the lead up, I had two phone calls with a nurse and physiotherapist to discuss my medical history and what would happen after the operation. I also received two letters, one of which – my admission letter – told me what I needed to do three days before the operation (i.e. take a Covid test) – as well as what to bring to the hospital on the day, etc.
Everything was clear. 23rd November was a Wednesday. Just after 5pm on Sunday, 20th November I took the Covid test. It was negative. After I had logged it on a government website, however, it occurred to me that I should have taken the test in the morning. The letter, after all, had said that the test should be taken 72 hours before my admission (which was scheduled for 7am on the 23rd), and it was now 62 hours. Oh dear. A few weeks ago, I had woken up thinking I had missed a detail of my medical history and so fired off a worried and apologetic email to the nurse to whom I had spoken. As it turned out, however, I had nothing to fear: I had actually mentioned it to her. This time, the same thing happened. I had nothing to fear. Someone from the hospital called me the following day to make sure I had done the test and was all ready to come in. I mentioned the timings and he wasn’t at all bothered. The only important thing was that I had done the test no earlier than 72 hours before the admission.
Right up until the operation took place, I half expected a delay of some kind or another. Given the overworked nature of the NHS, such would not have been a surprise. It never happened. I arrived at the hospital, was checked in, shown to a bed, and there waited. Doctors and nurses came and went, I was given a gown to wear, questions were asked, my possessions were bagged up and taken away. Details of my next of kin were taken, and I waited.
At about 10:45, I was taken up to the operating theatre via the X-Ray room. In a room next to the theatre, the chief anaesthetist and her staff spent several minutes looking for somewhere in my spine to inject the anaesthetic. They tapped, they prodded, they pricked, but all, it seemed, to no avail. I would have to be given a general anaesthetic. Finally, however, they managed to find a vein (which is what I guess they were looking for), and started injecting. I was rolled onto my side. Curiously, I was rolled onto my right side and my bad hip, not my left; I was assured that I would be rolled over in the operating theatre. Speaking of which, they were playing dance music in there! I asked if they could play Bruce Springsteen. Someone went to ask the surgeon if he had The Boss on his playlist. He did! Sadly, however, the anaesthetic got me before I could hear any of it.
I woke up all of a sudden in the recovery room. Very groggy, I just listened to what I was told and lay back. After a short stay in the recovery room, I was wheeled off to a ward. In the following hours, the grogginess went and I was told that the operation had gone well. In the written notes, given to me when I was discharged, the operation is described as being ‘uncomplicated’.
There were four beds in the ward. Only the one opposite me was being used – by a patient who had had a foot amputated, and he left later in the afternoon. I had the place to myself until another patient arrived not long later. I love my iPhone, but not its lack of a phone jack. I don’t use AirPods as they fall out of my ears too easily. I would have bought my iPad and headphones but my admission letter said no tablets or laptops (the second patient ignored this advice and tapped happily away on his laptop). As a result, I was without music. As I had nothing to do but lie there all afternoon and evening, I really would have appreciated having something to listen to.
continued on 1st March 2023
I was kept in hospital overnight. Being (more or less) physically fit, however, I was able to leave the next day. My sister, H., came to pick me up. We called a minicab and before long were back home.
December was a time of rest and gentle physiotherapy. For three weeks, I did very little else. At first, I was certainly happy with that but as the month wore on, I did start to get bored. Finally, my patience broke and I resumed my part time job. Through the month, I continued to take the cocktail of pain killers that had been prescribed to me. Only at the start of December did the pain level rise, and then just over the course of an evening and morning. I had been warned that this might happen, and had been given morphine to counter it. I wasn’t keen on taking the morphine as the label said it was addictive, but the pain was such that I could not resist doing so. Thereafter, as December progressed, the wound in my right thigh healed and I grew stronger. At the end of November, I hobbled about with two crutches. As time went by, I was able to get by with just one. In December, I started going to Mass again – using still just one crutch before finally, I became able to walk/hobble without it. Finally, I no longer hobbled.
In this month, I recommenced my lockdown exercise of walking on the spot while watching a YouTube video (to counter the effect of boredom). Except now, I was able to jog. When I began (around the third week of Jan.), I did this exercise for 45 minutes at two different speeds (25 minutes at a very brisk pace, 15 at a brisk one, then 5 minutes very brisk again). Within a few weeks, however, I was able to jog for an hour. When I started this exercise, I couldn’t talk to myself (which I often do as I try to develop story ideas) as I needed to breath deeply. In the last couple of weeks, that has changed. I can now jog and talk at the same time.
On 1st October last year, I weighed myself. I was 17 stone and one pound. I am quite tall (6’2″) but I thought that is really too much. In the seven months leading up to the operation, I started doing what exercise I could (mainly the on the spot walking as I couldn’t jog with my bad hip), and used an app on my iPhone called Lose It! to monitor my calorie intake. I lost several pounds – nearly a stone, in fact, because on 22nd November, I weighed 16 stone 3 pounds. I stopped exercising and checking my calories in December as I focused on recovering from the operation. Having largely done so by the end of the year, I weighed myself again on the last day of the year. Amazingly, I had lost more weight and was now 15 stone 12 pounds. As of the time of writing, I am currently 15 stone 7 pounds. Slowly but surely, I am heading towards my target of 15 stone 3 pounds. I have no doubt that the improved exercise that my new hip is enabling me to do is helping me get there (unfortunately, it has to contend with my still high calorie in take. Just last week, I recorded 15 stone 4 pounds. I celebrated by eating a lovely beef burger, which promptly gave me back a shed load of calories that I had lost!).
I would like to conclude this post by saying this: if you, or someone you know, has problems with their thigh muscles or hip, encourage them to go to the doctor or physiotherapist. The physio that I did between 2020 and 2022 helped wonderfully in that regard. If you (or a person you know) does require a hip replacement, they might for very good reasons choose not to have an operation. If they are tempted by the idea, though, it is a good one. My hip replacement has given me a new lease of life. I sleep better now. I can kneel down. I can walk without pain. I can walk long distances: just last Saturday I undertook a three-and-a-half hour walk! Yes, I felt very stiff afterwards, but my hip was just fine. No need for a stick. No need for pain relief. It was wonderful. My only regret about the whole business is that I left it for so long. I put a job that in some respects didn’t even treat me that well first. Having an operation can be a nerve wracking time. The recovery period can try the patience, but it’s worth it. It is so, so worth it.