Update September 4, 2023
Yesterday I accompanied by 78 year old dad on his stock 20 mile bike ride. Hes fit and I can never catch him in the last mile when he kicks. Yesterday for the first time, I did keep with him!
And of course, zero pain.
I am just off to do my stock walk/run/walk loop of a few miles. I have had to take it slowly as my leg was quite wasted before the operation (I left it a long time for my reasons) so when I started trying to run maybe 4 months ago, I really messed my calf up. But its going well.
Long may it continue.
Original Story 2022
I had my left hip resurfaced last September 2022. I was 53. I’m male, and have been active all my life, mainly as a runner (from fell running to marathons, duathlons to 5k’s…and more).
My left leg had always caused bother. I used to turn up to boys walking weekends with my left leg covered in straps. My calf was always tight / pulled from some race the day before. I had various investigations in my late 20s/early 30s and was looked at by an ex England Olympic physio who pointed out my left leg was less ‘developed’ than my right. Anyway it never held me back and I managed, to me anyway, great things like 1:23 for a 1/2 marathon, 18:00 for 5k and 38:00 for 10k. I love running and always have. I even dabbled with indoor rowing and managed 7:11 for 2000 metres at the British Indoor Championships.
From mid thirties I changed my career for a physical one from desk bound duties. This continues today (I am an electrician). I continued running through my 40s. Children arrived. Then one day (aged 49) walking into school to collect them after a post-work, pre-school run run, another parent remarked that I was limping and was I okay? I replied “I’ve just pulled something” as injury and running walk hand in hand along a narrow ridge as many will know.
However! Other indicators I can recall are that when cycling, I noticed most strangely that my left foot heel was turned inwards and caught on the pedal bar as I cycled, and it required a conscious effort to correct this. It didn’t hurt, it just seemed….strange.
Again the running and post run limp didn’t hurt especially. No more than I have experienced over the years.
2015 was my last half marathon (Lake Vyrnwy). I finished it but looking back I think I knew something wasn’t right / something odd was brewing.
Then I noticed, while stretching, that my left leg was noticeably less mobile than the right. The right I could pull my knee right up to my chest- the left doggedly refused to go any closer than maybe 8-10 inches. I tried pulling really quite hard, just to see- no pain, just what felt like a physical inability / barrier to that movement.
I also noticed it was becoming harder and harder to swing that left leg on / off a bike.
My wife (who is medical) suggested I see the GP, maybe ask for an X-ray. Just to rule Arthritis out. It won’t be that, she said, you’re too young.
Anyway the Xray was done and I was called to the GPs. Asked to sit down. “They have written you have moderately severe Osteoarthritis”. So there it was.
So now I feel the need to explain the gap of 4 years between this moment and the resurfacing.
I could still run. I could still walk. The following March (2020), just before lock down I walked the Yorkshire 3 peaks without too much trouble. I was fit and it was more discomfort / annoyance at this point. However it kept me awake! So for a long period early on I used to take co-codamol and / or ibuprofen through the night to allow me to sleep. Not every day but it was a feature of my life for maybe a year.
I was referred to, and met a fantastic hip surgeon. He suggested a THR (look at me with my acronyms). He was a great guy, he answered all my questions, specifically those born in denial, like “will any supplements help”
“Are there special exercises I can do”
“Will new insoles help”
….he was basically making sure I understood this was something that was not going to get better, only worse. When, he did not know, or how long. I had a significant loss of cartilage high up above the femoral head, and osteophytes. Big ones. I think these were causing the restricted movement.
His most memorable quote was
“I cannot tell how much pain you are in. I have seen Xrays where there is hardly any hip left but the patient is fine, in no pain. Others where there is very little to see, but they are in terrible pain. So it will be for you, to tell me, when you want an operation”
I have never had an operation. I never wanted one! I will tell you I was afraid. Afraid of the thought of being cut, if something went wrong……
I think at this point I had come across the idea of resurfacing. And mentioned it in passing. But he dismissed it as an idea as there was an ongoing concern over the metal ion issue. So it wasn’t entertained at that hospital.
The other major factor was our family dynamic. We had two small children. My wife if the main bread winner. I am self employed so ‘pick up the slack’ so to speak. I tended to do more school runs, etc (and still do – one of the few advantages of being the CEO, tea boy, head of HR, billing, purchasing and everything else rolled into one!). So I could not see how we could easily or even with difficulty, manage without me for 6-10 weeks. We have no family living nearby. It seemed a big hill to climb organising daily life without me helping for several months.
So I carried on ignoring it.
I still ran. It got worse, but slowly. I think my last race was a 10k in 2019. I ran it loaded with pain killers. I was still fit but after the first 2-3 miles I could feel the ‘treacle’ mixed with sandpaper feeling building up and had to grit my teeth to finish. It wasn’t pleasant and that was the last one. I suffered after.
I also suffered alot of stomach issues. My wife reminded me that ibuprofen is an amazing drug but not good to take day in day out. I got a prescription for naproxen with a gastro resistant coating. These worked well. But long term, not the solution. I could still feel a minor burning sensation after taking one.
Over the next year or two my running tailed off dramatically. Our children moved to a new school, the second in late 2021. This was good, they were now both at the same school, and a bit older. It really got me down, the lack of mobility. I walked now with a significant limp/ waddle, that is reminiscent of so many fellow sufferers. Weirdly the sleep issue disappeared. No pain killers required at night. A silver lining? Clutching success from the jaws of defeat…….
By now Andy Murray was vocal with his story. I looked into it a bit more. Considered the cost of private medicine. My family offered to pay for it. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I plucked up the courage and revisited this option with the original (general hip) surgeon – as before, the perfect gentleman, he said it was of course an option for me if I wanted and he would refer me to his colleague, Ronan Treacy.
So now I was under the care of one of the exponents of hip resurfacing. I had my first appointment at The Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham. But I had two big worries.
1. Is there enough of my hip left to perform this operation? I had read by now that it required good bone density. I assumed (incorrectly) that I was destroying mine.
2. Would I have to pay for it? Although I had the offer from a relative to cover it if necessary, deep down I did not want to have to do this (pride, and a bit of “Ive been paying into a system that’s meant to cover this for 35 years”).
My first few visits came and went. I never met Mr Treacy, just colleagues of his. They all spoke very highly of him. And amazingly, there was loads of hip left. In fact the opposite of my worry was true, maybe due to my continued activity and physical job there was in fact loads of bone! And yes, it would be done on the NHS. So I felt like I had won twice at this point. When I arrived each time at the Hospital, I usually bounded up the stairs. In the corridor were the other patients. Most were close to being completely crippled, struggling to walk with sticks or in a wheelchair. I felt a bit of a fraud. But only slightly!.
The surgeon looked at my X-ray with me and said “my god, you must be in terrible pain”
When I left at one point I went to the reception on the 1st or 2nd floor and asked the lady where the nearest stairs were. She stared back blankly at me and just said “why?”. It dawned on me that no one asked where the stairs were. They all used the lift. I felt a fraud again bounding down the stairs. But in my mind I had to stay fit! Keep my bones dense.
So a few weeks later (in April / May 2021) I had a call – they could fit me in in a few days as there was a cancelled slot.
This was a big moment when actually faced with the reality of surgery. I have explained earlier that I am not afraid to say… that I was afraid, petrified I suppose of having a proper operation and all the worries that go with it. I want to use a phrase, but will para phrase it – I “soiled myself” metaphorically.
So I declined. Put my head back in the sand. I still could not see how we could manage as a family with me out of action for months, potentially, aside from money worries and potential things that could go wrong.
So the next year was transitional. I carried on, struggling to get into awkward spaces with my job, wincing with pain cutting the grass, putting the bins out, carrying anything heavy. I was constantly popping pills, drinking too much alcohol. I have described recently to someone that the last few months, maybe 6, I was by the mid afternoon, just hanging on gritting my teeth with the pain waiting to get home so I could drink some wine or beer (I would have had all the pain killers I could by that point). Not a great way to live. Not a long term health plan.
By now I could not run. I physically could not put power through my left leg. It was physically impossible. The change moment was on a walking holiday last June, I was full of pain killers as usual and suddenly gasped drawing breath in from the pain. Never happened like that before. My wife was next to me and said you need to get your hip fixed now. She had told me, years ago, that my denial would shift and change and flip from absolutely not wanting anyone messing with me, to having it fixed being the one thing I wanted above all else. Here we were…..
Maybe a month later I cut the grass for the last time in 2022…. I was in agonising pain, wincing and grimacing.
So by this point I had re-established contact with Mr Treacy’s team. He had retired from NHS work at this point but I was in the hands of his second in command, who now of course became the main surgeon.
At first they were confused- had I somehow slipped through the net…? I explained I was still in denial and had declined the date offered a year ago. Anyway I saw the main surgeon and he said I was still the ideal candidate, and as he walked away he looked back and said “should be in September”. I wondered which September (as waiting lists were become a headline at this point) but sure enough the letter arrived a few weeks later- September the 8th. This year! I can only assume that as it is a little bit niche (unlike a total hip replacement) there was not a long waiting list.
So at this point I think one of the hardest things for me was to let go. To just accept that it was going to happen. And I realised a funny thing. So far my entire outlook on it was to focus on only what could go wrong. And how awkward it would be for everyone else. So I changed that outlook. I focused on being positive, that this was going to fix me! By now the children were young teenagers. My concerns there were less prominent.
Family on both sides offered to come help at various points. My wife could take some time off for the first few days/ weeks. We had more of a network of friends that could lift share and so on.
I am self employed, so built up a bit of a cash buffer. There is no sick pay these days. If you are a company it is your responsibility to make provision for this possibility!
I was offered the chair lifters, toilet seat and crutches. I took them all. The toilet raiser was a big help.
We also bought the sock puller-onner device, which works, a litter picker, and a wee bottle!
I’ll continue in another post. I have been writing this for months!