Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Staying Healthy

Now, in last few weeks before surgery, the most important thing for me to do is remain healthy. I have heard too many horror stories of girls who have gotten a cold right before their surgery date and have had to have the whole thing postponed. Best to avoid that if at all possible.


Of course I am eating a healthy diet. Lots of fruit, vegetables and lean protein, very little sugar and starch. I have completely cut out alcohol. I am also focusing on iron-rich foods, to help my blood bounce back between autologous donations. So that means dark green leafy vegetables, red meat, beans, etc. A quick Google search can bring up a more comprehensive list. Liver anyone?

I am also taking iron supplements in addition to my usual multivitamin, omega 3 and calcium. There is a lot of information out there about what supplement to take (or avoid taking) with what food to increase absorption, but I just can't be bothered with taking it all in and regulating myself so much. So I'm just eating as healthily and ferrously as possible, taking the supplements, and hoping it all comes out in the wash. Or absorbs in the wash, as it were.

I have to mention that iron supplements will unpleasantly affect your digestive system. And I will leave it to you to look up why that is and what you can do to ameliorate some of the problem.


Since my hip has significantly been increasing in pain over the past six months or so, I have been decreasing my activity level to compensate. I can no longer walk for long periods around the city (like to and from work) or play tennis at the frequency I used to. I can eke out a match here and there, but I will pay for it the next day (or even towards the end of the match).

For the most part, I am not usually in much pain on a daily basis, but that is because I have curtailed my activity level so much to avoid aggravating my hips. I don't take (and have never taken) painkillers when my hips begin to hurt -- not because I have anything against painkillers, but because I just figured the pain was a signal that I should stop. This kind of hip pain is not pain you can "work through" like having sore muscles that warm up and loosen up; this is pain that gets worse the more you do. So I figured if I mask the pain to allow myself to do more, I am just going to pay for it in the end (or cause so much damage that I would need painkillers to do even routine things in life). So basically my "painkiller" is to stop moving around until my hips stop hurting. Which has meant I don't move around much anymore.

So with that backdrop comes the challenge of getting myself into surgery shape without causing myself pain.

For cardio I have been doing the bikes (seated and stationary). Elliptical hurts my hip. I also swim, since I am lucky enough to have a pool in my building. I usually hate swimming laps, but since I got a swimming armband and earphones for my iPod, the boredom is gone!

For strength training I have been doing weights (both general circuit training and a specific focus on the crutching muscles: lats, pecs and triceps) and some Pilates mat exercises that focus on the muscles around the hip. I also do some of the hip muscle exercises in the pool after swimming my laps.

To be honest, I've only really gotten serious about this pre-surgery health-nuttery since last week -- most of the PAO women whose blogs I have read started much earlier. But I was already in decent shape, with good muscle tone from regular visits to the gym prior to this pre-surgery frenzy. So I'm not starting from zero. I'll just have to do my best for the remaining 2.5 weeks!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Pre-op Appointments

Yesterday I had my pre-op appointments in Boston with the various hospital departments and Dr. Millis' team. Everything is now go-for-launch.

It was quite a full day, especially since my mother and I drove up to Boston and back to Connecticut the same day. Seven hours in the car plus five hours at the hospital minus one pint of blood equals exhaustion.


First appointment of the day was with Inpatient Admitting. I met with a nurse who did (another) full history and vital signs, and discussed the surgery process with me. Not the actual surgical procedure, but the process surrounding the surgery.

On the day of the surgery I am to arrive sans jewelry, colored nail polish, tampons... basically nothing foreign on or in my body. Last meal must be 8+ hours before surgery (so basically dinner the night before). The nurse advised me that one should make sure one is not constipated coming in to the surgery because one gets more constipated from the anaesthetics. Also best not to have a big meal the night before because you will regret it when you wake up after surgery and throw up everywhere because you ate too much the night before.

After the surgery I will go to recovery and then my room. They can't promise me a private room since I am a low priority for a single room (i.e. I am not carrying an infectious disease or something of that nature) but they told me they would not put me with a child. Even though it is a children's hospital they do treat adults (obviously) and so I'll get an adolescent or an adult roommate, if I have one.

Admitting is the department I go to for check in on the morning of my surgery. Since my surgery is scheduled for 7:30am, I will get to admitting at 6am and they will make sure I have followed all the guidelines above. They will also check vital signs and blood before sending me to the surgical floor.


I met with a member of the anaesthesiology team, but he is not necessarily going to be my anaesthesiologist on the day. We discussed my options, which were basically general anaesthesia and a) epidural or b) PCA ("pain pump," where you administer your own pain medication by clicking a button on your IV line). I chose epidural because I'd rather have a steady flow of medicine from pre-surgery through recovery than having to pump my own medication and get "behind" on the pumping while sleeping, etc.

The epidural is inserted pre-surgery (but post administration of sedation and pain medication such that I am not really conscious of the epidural insertion). After the IV line is put in and I'm on relaxy meds, I will have to lean forward and make my back into a C, like in Pilates. That opens up the spaces between the vertebrae and makes it easier to get the epidural in. They assure me it won't hurt very much at all, but if the actors on Grey's Anatomy are anything to go by, that is a big fat lie.

Once the epidural is in, I will be put completely under with general anaesthetic, my breathing tube and urinary catheter will be inserted and the games begin.

After the surgery I will come to in the recovery area and will apparently be very thirsty and dry of mouth, due to the breathing tube having let my entire mouth/throat system dry up throughout the surgery. I will also apparently be nauseous (hence the light meal the night before).

The epidural stays in for three days, after which I will be switched to whatever oral cocktail of painkillers works best for me for the remainder of my stay. The hospital has a "pain service," as the anaesthesiologist put it, so my medication can be increased/adjusted 24 hours a day, whenever I need it.


In pre-op admitting, you sign most of your necessary consent forms so you don't have to do it the day of the surgery. Consent/understanding of risks for anaesthesia and the surgery itself, naming of a proxy in case you can't make decisions on your own (gulp), acceptance of financial obligation if insurance doesn't pay for your surgery.

Insurance itself is, for now, a non-topic. My insurance (Blue Cross) has covered everything so far, and apparently the hospital's insurance department has already begun the process of getting my surgery approved and covered. They'll get in touch if they need me. So no news is good news in this department, I suppose.


During pre-op admitting, one is usually sent to the phlebotomist for some blood work, but because I was also doing an autologous blood donation yesterday I only had to get stuck once for both pint and vials.

On February 9th I gave my first autologous blood donation at the New York Blood Center in New York. I'd never given blood before because I always feared that my horrible, very bad, no good veins would be even worse if you tried to squeeze a pint of blood out of them. At the New York Blood Center, I was wrong. The guy found a vein somewhere in the marble blankness of my arm, got the line in with minimal pinch, and the blood came out so fast that I felt quite unwell and nearly passed out.

At Children's Hospital blood center, it was a different story. When I got to the blood center, my blood pressure was apparently 80/60, which is pretty low (standard is 120/80), and my nurse was concerned and told me to pound a bottle of water and try again. The next measurement was higher, though, and so the attempts with the needle began. The girl got a line in, but the blood was coming out SO slowly. And she had to keep moving the needle in the vein to restart the blood flow when it waned. Needless to say it was highly uncomfortable. Although the plus side of blood dripping out of me slowly is that I didn't practically pass out from the blood loss like I did in New York.

I have one more autologous donation on March 2nd in New York and then I am done. Hopefully I will get Mr. Expert again; I'll take a little syncope over a needle-wiggling drop-by-drop eternity any day.

When I donate in New York, it is shipped up to Boston. I had to donate at least one of my three pints on location in Boston, because it needed to be separated into platelets and plasma right away for concentrated injections during surgery. Shipped blood apparently cannot be separated in the proper way.

At my first blood donation, my iron was 14.6. In Boston yesterday it was 12.5, even though I'd been taking iron supplements in between the donations. Twelve is a normal reading, so I am not low, I just need to continue with the supplements and the iron-rich food through the next blood donation and up until the surgery.


I met with the physical therapist who will be working with me during my week in the hospital, and monitoring me during my recovery. She taught me how to walk on crutches, which was not really new considering I was on them for a month just a year and a half ago for the tennis injury. I remember them all too well.

The physical therapist said I should expect to be on crutches for three months after the surgery. I have heard varying reports from other women who have gone through this surgery, so it is clear that the length of time one is on crutches (as well as every other variable in this process) is highly individual and contingent, and so difficult to predict with any useful accuracy.

I was also told I needed a special raised toilet seat, a shower chair and a wheel chair. Honestly, I can't see myself ever using the wheel chair, since my parents' house and environs are not very conducive to wheeling rather than crutching. I am most likely not going to have a CPM (continuous passive motion) machine unless there is work done on my femoral head. I will do a more complete list of "things I need" in another entry.


Last but most importantly, I met with the surgical team, which is to say Dr. Millis, Dr. Prashant (who I'd not met before but I assume will be scrubbing in) and Erin Dawicki.

We went over the whole morning-of-surgery procedure that I'd discussed with admitting and anaesthesiology earlier in the day. Dr. Millis explained that depending on how it all looked in there when he opened me up, he might need to fix any tear there might be in my labrum or do some shaping on my femoral head if it is needed to help the (newly aligned) joint fit together properly.

Dr. Millis also discussed my left hip. It seems we are going to have to do the left as soon as possible after the right. I recently had some significant pain in the left hip (only) during a walk, which was unusual because it is usually my right hip that hurts first, most, or at all. And when I was on crutches a year and a half ago, my left leg was my "good" leg and took most of my body weight for a month, resulting in severe pain. I am quite certain that as soon as I start crutching around after my right hip PAO, my left hip is going to start complaining loudly. But we shall cross that bridge when we come to it.