How to Deal with Hip Replacement and Travel

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"Nancy Brown"

Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown at Camp Augusta in Nevada City, California

On the disabled list – or am I? One travel writer’s journey

This is the first in a 4-part series that will help you deal with total hip replacement (THR) and travel.

Part 1: Denial to acceptance

Part 2: Preparing for surgery

Part 3: Recovery and travel

Part 4: On the travel road again

Disclaimer: Many people suffer from disabilities – either as a result of accidents, injuries, congenital or acquired disability, or other factors. Fortunately for me, my disability is temporary, yet my experience opened my eyes to inclusive travel and the physical and emotional challenges disabled travelers face. I am fortunate to have the choice of Total Hip Arthroplasty.

Hip pain equals travel pain

“Wow, you’re walking like my mom did right before her hip replacement surgery,” observed Katherine Johnstone of the French Tourism Office. “You should insist to your surgeon that the time is now. You shouldn’t have to put up with this much pain.”  As I limped along the cobblestone streets of southern France, popping Advil, I cavalierly offered this response. “After my visit to the Orthopedic surgeon and looking at my x-ray, he said that I had hip dysplasia – something I thought only Labrador retrievers got. He said that I would eventually need hip replacements. He sent me home with a prescription for Naproxen and told me to come back in 10 years. That was a year ago.”

"Nancy Brown"

Nancy Brown riding Quarter horse Jett on a cattle drive at High Lonesome Ranch in DeBeque, Colorado

From fit to fat; the downhill slide of a baby boomer

It hadn’t always been this way. In my youth I swam, rode horses and played tennis.  As an adult, I continued riding and added walking and a gym membership to my routine. Initially, I thought my left hip flexor muscles were the problem and added chiropractor and physical therapy to the routine, all to no avail.

Eventually, I gave up my gym membership and walking shoes, opting for deep water aerobics.  It was in my water aerobics class that I met Lucy Talbot. Fit and fabulous, Lucy had two hip replacements at the age of fifty.  She suggested that I return to the Orthopedic surgeon for a follow-up visit.

"Esther Vélez"

Esther Vélez performs at Museum of Flamenco Dance, Seville, Spain

Dance with denial takes center stage

My husband is the first to point out that I am a rule follower. I took a surgeon’s dismissive remark about my hip pain as authoritative. I had heard rumors that artificial hips only last ten years and didn’t want to have multiple revisions.

I have had multiple staph infections in my life and didn’t like the idea of having to take antibiotics the rest of my life before dental cleanings to stave off infections settling in my artificial hip.

I’m a writer, specializing in equestrian travel. Would I set off the metal detectors at security every time I went through clearance? Would I be able to horseback ride again?

As I watched my weight move up the scale and my interest in walking wane, I continued my dance with denial.  Finally, at my husband’s insistence, I returned to my primary care physician and made an appointment with the Orthopedic surgeon.

X-rays don’t lie

While the doctor was in his office, reading my x-ray, I was looking at the same results in the exam room. To my untrained eye, I could see that there was no cartilage in my left hip. The pain I was experiencing was from bone on bone contact.  The doctor considers many factors such as your pain level, weight and activity level before determining the best method of treatment.  Ultimately, the patient determines when a hip needs replacing.

I see the logic behind this hip replacement approach. The patient needs to come to terms with the trade offs and the reality that a hip revision may be in their future.  My approach to total hip replacement; I wanted quality of life now, at age 51.

Preparing for joint replacement surgery

What about you? Have you had joint replacement surgery? Are you facing hip or knee replacement in your future? How will joint replacement affect your future and travel? Let’s travel on this path together.

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22 Responses to “How to Deal with Hip Replacement and Travel”

  1. Everyone I know that has had this done said they wished they’d never waited. GOOD LUCK! It will make a difference!

  2. @Jessie
    Thanks for your note of encouragement. I have heard those same comments.

  3. I know several people who have had this procedure done and they are ALL grateful for it….you will be too, I’m certain. Wishing you a very speedy recovery when you go for it!

  4. @Trisha
    Thanks for your vote of confidence. Check back for more updates.

  5. kimba says:

    I’ve heard a lot of good things about hip replacement surgery. Good luck in moving forward with it!

    I’m interested to know about your travel adventures both before and after! With my back-hip-knee thingie, I am almost terrified to travel (the actual travel part, sleeping on strange beds, etc.) but I still LOVE walking. Luckily walking actually makes me feel better.

  6. @Kimba
    I was thinking about you when I wrote this post. I think a lot of people have experience with back, hip, knee and joint pain and are now apprehensive to travel.I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

  7. Fly Girl says:

    Well I have friends that have had knee replacements, no hips yet. I actually fell on my left hip roller skating (derby) years ago and have thought about what that might mean years down the line. My doctor does regular bone scans so no danger at this point Everyone I know seems to come though with no major issues. I’m sure you won’t have to give up riding or traveling. Hang in there!

  8. Carol says:

    Good luck Nancy! One of my closest friends had it done and she feels brand new! I wish you a speedy recovery

  9. @Fly Girl
    I wish I could say I injured my hip doing something daring like roller derby skating. Alas, my bum hip is a result of hip dysplasia. Thanks for the well wishes!

  10. @Carol
    It makes me feel better to know that so many successful hip replacement surgeries have gone before me. My surgeon performs these all the time.

  11. Hi Nancy: So brave of you to share this, especially since our profession is littered with 20-somethings who travel without a thought about pain. As you know, I’ve also struggled with joint pain. For years, I thought it was my left knee that was the problem, and I have had arthroscopic surgery to remove damaged cartilage in that knee, but over time I began to understand it was the left hip that was causing all the problems. Fortunately, I found that restorative Yoga was a solution for me.Unfortunately, when I travel I find it almost impossible to maintain the level of practice I need in order to keep the pain away. This past week was a good example. Two months ago I was trekking in the Himalayas. Last week my hip went out because I haven’t been doing my Yoga and I hobbled around for five days, wincing every time I had to go down stairs. Like you, I suppose I’ll have to bite the bullet at some point and have the replacement surgery, but I also don’t have adequate insurance so that worries me as well. I’ll be reading with interest as you go through this process.

  12. @Barbara
    I’m sorry to hear that your left hip is giving you trouble. I am a baby when it comes to surgery. Other than the birth of my two kids, I have not broken any bones…knock on wood. I’m sure I will be happy with the outcome after the operation.

  13. Lucy says:

    Hi I am 36 years old, have had rheumatoid arthritis for the last 7 years & had a left total hip replacement last year. It was the best thing I could have done, I was in a wheelchair, couldn’t drive, go on holiday or play with my young son. My relief was immediate after the op & yes, I have to get my right one done soon & yes I’ll need them re-done in approx 10/15 years I needed the relief now!
    Good luck with your op-I’m on holiday now for first time since & have been fine but found this site when looking up how to say ‘hip replacement’ in Turkish, and yes, the airport alarms do go off! Lol

  14. @Lucy
    Thanks for your positive and upbeat comment. I’m glad your hip replacement went well.

  15. So very sorry to hear about your health challenges Nancy and thanks for the comment on my post about traveling with medical challenges. I had two badly broken bones in my lower leg from a ski accident as a kid and then broke my femur and crushed my knee at 36 while jogging in the woods, so I DO understand the challenges of joint pain and may have to have knee replacement in the future. I am doing all I can to avoid that though.

    My aunt had 2 hip replacements and is doing well now, but it was a very long recovery and last fall I was swimming daily with an older friend who was on her 2nd leg knee transplant and also dealing with long recovery. It didn’t look fun and I remember how long my recovery and long physical therapy took after knee operations and and surgery adding a metal implant in my arm. ( Over a year for the latter and I was in a wheel chair for a long time with the former).

    Do research things like WAPF about how much diet plays a part in this and research things you can do to increase your recovery both before and after the surgery…so you don’t end up with the kind of severe problems I ran into after a surgery and metal implant to my dominant arm which was broken and paralyzed during a bike crash abroad a few years ago.

    I am STILL working on recovery, primarily from the harm the antibiotics did to my gut ( and now I know ALL health begins in the gut). Amazingly so much is preventable by diet.

    http://www.soultravelers3.com/2012/10/how-to-make-nourishing-bone-broth-recipes-to-heal.html

    My 84 year old mother recently broke her collar bone ( her first broken bone) and we discovered that she has osteoporosis but thankfully, all I’ve learned about health and bone health the natural way has given her a full recovery and she is back out golfing 18 holes several times a week.

    Be very careful of what you take for the pain as I almost bled to death abroad by taking a small amount of advil for joint pain. http://www.soultravelers3.com/2007/11/bloody-monday-i.html and it does serious havoc to the gut. Read Dr. Campbell-McBride M.D. and GAPS protocol about what can harm the gut and how to prevent degenerative diseases with diet.

    Look into making your own fermented food ( like kefir) and doing bone broths ( MANY recipes and reasons on our website) and also perhaps look how others have prevented hip replacement surgery just by diet. Might be worth a try or even help you if you decide to do the surgery.

    http://paleozonenutrition.com/2012/03/16/triathletes-paleo-diet-with-bone-broth-dramatically-reduces-osteoarthritis-pain/

    Good luck! Boomer travel brings on a whole new way of thinking!

  16. @Jeanne
    Thanks for the tips and resource links. Boomer travel is taking on a whole new meaning for me.

  17. Pediatric Surgeon in Indore says:

    I am very happy to read your articles. They are very useful for me. 

  18. Griffin says:

    My hip joints get so stiff anytime I sit that I have trouble walking when I get up, for a few minutes. The longer I’m sitting for, the longer it lasts. It’s been happening for about 3 years but is getting much more frequent now. I don’t know if age and/or heredity matters: I’m 43 and arthritis does run in my family. I’m reasonably active (don’t regularly work out, but walk a lot and don’t have a desk job) and not overweight. Anyone know about this?

  19. @Griffin
    I experience the same thing, only I have a desk job and am overweight.

  20. Carole says:

    Nancy,
    By sheer luck I came upon this page as I am preparing for the first of two total hip replacements. I had back fusion surgery last June (scoliosis related) and now the hips need replacement. The surgeon will be doing an anterior approach, rather than the old posterior approach, the first surgery is going to be May 6tth.

    I also am a horse person, rode all my life mostly hunter jumper, but that degree of riding is probably not going to come back because quite frankly I don’t “jump up” as quickly as I did when I was 40! (I’m 55 now, 5′ 8″, 135lbs) Probably will move into reining horses after I recover. But, I’ll never be horse-less I hope.

    I have found that the information available on this procedure is plentiful, but not always the most helpful.. I love the sites where the “helpful hints/suggestions” are available because it helps people like myself arrange for everything possible that will decrease the pain, increase the healing and help with the slow process of rebuilding muscle tone.

    Some concerns I have is that since both hips need the procedure the reliability on the stability of my left hip to endure most of the weight and stress of recovery. If my left hip ‘gives out’ as it has a couple of times in the past that would seem like a sure fire way to cause major damage….however, I don’t have much choice unless I can convince him to try doing both at once. I haven’t talked with anyone who has, but I sure wonder what they would suggest – do one at a time or both ?

    Anyway, Nancy, I can tell you that even the trepidations of surgery is out weighted by the pain of trying to sit down in a chair, get up from a chair, get in and out of a bathtub, pick up something off the floor, put on a pair of pants, empty a dishwasher, all painful. As a litigation attorney I can’t go into a trial situation never knowing if I’m going to fall on my face in front of a jury, the pain medication makes anyone stupid (to an extent) all in all girl this is one of those things ya just gotta do !!! Hope things go well for you and starting May 9th or so I should have some interesting daily commentary about recovery. Best of luck.

    Carole

  21. @Carole
    Thanks for your comments and good luck with your hip replacement(s). My hip replacement was Nov. 14, 2012 and I’m happy to report that I am back in the saddle. I have a friend who had both of her hip replacements recalled (metal) and she had no choice other than to replace both hips at once. I am no expert in hip replacement surgery, but I don’t think it is recommended to replace both hips at once.

    Please be aware that I wrote a four-part series on “Hip Replacement and Travel.” I also have a post on my equestrian blog http://www.writinghorseback.com.

  22. alex jorge says:

    Good Images and Good mixture of the stories. I love your writing method for stories. Nice blog.

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