By Ed Staskus
A football team can have the best running backs, linemen, and defensive backs but if they have a goat taking the snap instead of a GOAT, they are unlikely to make it to the Super Bowl. If they have competent role players and a ‘Greatest of All Time’ spiraling TD passes here there and everywhere, they are not only likely to get to the promised land there’s a good chance they will be hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy and going to the White House to be hosted and boasted by POTUS. Tom Brady has proven that to everybody’s satisfaction and Bill Belichick’s discomfiture. Nobody needs the best coach of all time. They simply need the best QB of all time.
Almost everybody develops osteoarthritis sooner or later, even the GOAT’s and POTUS’s of this world. Live to be a hundred and the odds are hard against you. Live to be two hundred, like the ageless Tom Brady will probably do, and you can absolutely bet the family farm on it.
I knew my hip replacement surgery scheduled for the third day of spring had been coming for ten years. What I didn’t know was that Light Bulb Supply, a commercial lighting distributor in Brook Park I worked twenty-five years for, was going to go out of business as fast as they did. When they did my blue-chip health insurance disappeared in the blink of an eye. Without it I couldn’t afford the surgery. I pushed the idea to the back of my mind. It stayed there for a long time.
I started walking more, flipping upside down on a Teeter, taking supplements, taking yoga classes, and ignoring get-healthy-quick claims, but not before trying some of them. I might as well have set my paper money on fire. I waited to get on Medicare. Two years ago, I fell down walking on a beach when my hip gave out. It was a warning shot. I kept limping along, even though my mind was made up. When the 19 virus made its appearance, the flat tires in the Oval Office ignoring it, the ineptitude screwed everything up, but eventually I got to see Dr. Robert Molloy, who had been recommended to me.
I had never been operated on. I wasn’t looking forward to it. But there was no going back because there was no future with the bone-on-bone bad news I had unless I was up for crawling.
“How are you walking?” the surgeon asked after looking at my x-rays.
“On one leg, more-or-less,” I said.
If Dr. Molloy didn’t have a stubble beard, he would have looked like Doogie Howser, maybe younger.
“Let’s get you going on two legs.”
Five minutes later he was done with me. One of his outfit walked in and made an appointment for the procedure. Five minutes after that I was in my car driving home. After that it was a matter of waiting. The week before surgery was a long week. I wasn’t allowed to take Celebrex, which is an anti-inflammatory. Until then I hadn’t realized what a nitty-gritty role the drug played in keeping me on my feet. I barely made it to the Cleveland Clinic’s Lutheran Hospital under my own power
An operating team is like a football team. It is made up of many moving parts. The surgeon is the top dog but unlike teams that throw catch kick balls, he is less the star of the show and more the lead man of the ensemble. He doesn’t spit snort chaw or scratch his balls while at work. The surgeon, the team, and the operating room have to be as sterile as possible. The surgeon doesn’t pretend what he does matters, like pro athletes do, because it does matter. He doesn’t throw interceptions because what he does is a matter of life and death.
Dr. Robert Molloy doesn’t earn the kind of the paycheck Tom Brady does, although if it was a left-brain world he would, and more. But it isn’t, so sports heroes have the key to Fort Knox. He doesn’t do hip replacement surgeries in front of 70,000 crazy cheering fans, which is probably a good thing. What if they were cheering for the other side? When Tom Terrific makes a mistake, he gets a do over the next time the offense takes the field. That isn’t necessarily the case with surgeries.
“While I’ve done over 10,000 operations and invented devices that are used every day in surgery, the joy I receive from watching even one person take back their health just can’t be surpassed, and certainly can’t be measured monetarily,” Steve Gundry, a heart surgeon, said. In the meantime, Tom Brady has $4 million dollars of sheet metal parked in his garage, including a Rolls Royce Ghost, two Aston Martins, a Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, and a Ferrari. “Moderation in everything,” he says is his go-to mantra. Hip, hip, hooray for moderation.
Hip replacements got going in Germany in 1891. Themistocles Gluck used elephant ivory to replace the ball on the femur attaching it with screws. The cement he used was made from plaster of Paris, powdered pumice, and glue. He might have added some spit to the mix. I’m glad I wasn’t the patient. He couldn’t have lasted long. Molded-glass implants were introduced in the 1920s but were mechanically fragile. Metallic prostheses started to appear in the 1930s.
The first metallic total hip replacement was performed in 1940 at Columbia Hospital in South Carolina. It ushered in a new age. Modern technological advances spare surrounding muscles and tendons during total hip replacement surgery. The surgery protects the major muscles around the joint and the surgeon can see that the components fit just right. It allows the patient under the knife to take advantage of better motion and muscle strengthening after surgery. About 400,000 of the procedures are performed annually in the United States, making it the most common of joint replacements.
Once I was checked in, checked out, and fitted with a one-size-fits-all gown, I was wheeled to the staging area, which is the pre-op room. It looked like the deck of the Starship Enterprise. There were computers and flat screens everywhere. LED lights blinked and there was a buzz in the air. The body shop nurses and doctors came and went, some of them dressed like spacemen.
Two nurses were attending to somebody next to me. I could hear them on the other side of the curtain. “I don’t know how Amazon does it,” one of them said. “You order what you want and it’s at your house the same day, the next day at the latest.”
“I know,” the other one said. “It’s like a miracle.”
When I looked around, I thought, Amazon puts things in boxes, puts the boxes in trucks, and then puts the boxes on your front porch. It doesn’t seem like a miracle by any stretch of the imagination. The miracle is this pre-op room.
An anesthesiologist with a Brazilian nametag asked me some questions. “We’ll have you up and dancing at Carnival sooner than later,” he said. He asked me to sit up and hug a pillow, hunching over it. I felt a cold solution being rubbed on my lower back. The next thing I knew somebody was waking me up. I was in the recovery room. There was a group of men and women standing around and looking down at me.
One of them reminded me of Doogie Howser. “It went very well,” Doogie said. Whoever he was and whatever he was talking about went over my head and I fell instantly back asleep. The next time I woke up I was in a different room, cold and shivering. My left side felt like I had fallen from a ten-story building and landed on that side. When I gingerly felt for the soreness, my hand landed on an ice pack. That explained the shivering. I drew my blanket tighter around me and fell asleep again.
The night nurse came and went, taking my vitals. I tried to explain to her how vital it was that I sleep, but she woke me up with her thermometer and blood pressure gizmo every couple of hours. I was hooked up to an IV. She told me it was for my own good, full of anti-inflammatories and pain killers.
“It still hurts like hell,” I said.
She brought me a small white pill that she said was Oxycodone. It did the trick. I fell asleep and stayed asleep, at least until she came back to get more vitals. It was two in the morning when she woke me up. She had brought a walker.
“It’s time for you to take a walk,” she said.
She must be new, I thought. I patiently explained that I had come out of major surgery just a few hours earlier and that there was a foreign object made of ceramics and plastic, titanium alloys, and stainless steel inside of me. Nurse Ratched shrugged it off and before I knew it, I was out of bed and plodding down the long hallway. She made sure I stayed on my feet and got me back into bed safely. She gave me another small white pill and I went back to dreamland, which was nothing if not wide-screen technicolor.
When breakfast arrived the next morning, I wolfed it down like I hadn’t eaten anything for nearly two days, which I hadn’t. Its tastiness belied its reputation for blandness. When the lady who delivered the breakfast came back for the tray, she asked me how it had been.
“Better than hospital food is supposed to be,” I said.
“That’s good, honey, that’s good, got to keep your strength up,” she said.
After breakfast the day nurse strolled in and stuck a memory stick into the flat screen on the wall at the foot of my bed. It was a 45-minute Cleveland Clinic video about what recovery was going to encompass. Halfway through the video a troop of nurses walked in to check on the Palestinian in the room with me, and me, too. I paused the video. The Arab had been there when I arrived and was still there when I left. He had a Frankenstein-like incision on one side of his Adam’s apple. “They did surgery on my neck, on some herniated disks,” he said. All that morning a nurse had been trying to get his medicine to go down, but even when they crushed and mixed it with apple sauce, he couldn’t swallow it. His throat was so swollen he couldn’t swallow anything. After a doctor showed up with something new, he was right as rain an hour later. When his wife came for a visit, they called their children to let them know how it was going. They toggled their phone to speaker. While they talked to their kids in all-Arabic, their kids responded in all-English.
When the troop of nurses was done with my roommate, they turned their attention to me. One of them asked what I thought of the video. “It’s good,” I said. “The lady doing the talking got off to a slow start, sort of fumbling around, but got her footing and some spice soon enough. I liked the part about doing recovery the Cleveland Clinic Way and not the Burger King Way.” The narrator meant don’t do it your way, do it our way. “She’s a Salty Dog, that one,” I said.
“Meet the Salty Dog,” one of them said, motioning to a woman at the back of the pack. It was Karen Sanchez. She was the leader of the pack. She was the Salty Dog. She shot me a tepid look. I wished I was still out cold.
One day after entering the hospital I was on my way home. I said goodbye to the Palestinian. “Remember, follow the rules or follow the fools,” he said. The day nurse wished me luck and called for transit. “Ron will be up in ten minutes,” she said. The last person I saw before leaving my room was Karen Sanchez. She came alone and gave me a stern talking to about what to do and what not do the next few weeks. By the time she was halfway through I was convinced. She wasn’t convinced and continued her lecture. When she was done, I gave her a thumb’s up. She gave me a reassuring smile from behind her mask.
I was put in a wheelchair and wheeled to an elevator. My last look back was of the stern watchdog admonishing somebody trying to get out of bed on his own. “What are you doing?” she barked. “Get right back in bed and ring for your nurse.” She was as much mother hen as anything else
The pre-op and post-op teams, the check-in and check-out teams, had done their jobs. The transit team was Ron. He sported a jet-black Elvis pompadour and asked if I liked rockabilly. “I don’t like anything just now,” I said. I couldn’t have gotten into my car without him. My wife watched while he showed me the tricks of the trade. If I had tried to do it myself, I probably would have dislocated my new hipbone and he would have had to wheel me right back inside. Everybody described that kind of thing happening as “excruciating.”
Surgical teams need a top dog, but unlike fun and games in colorful jerseys, they need a team as good as the surgeon to get the patient to the operating table and afterwards get the patient back on his feet. The goal isn’t to kick a field goal and win the Super Bowl, while the other guy slouches away dejected. The goal is for one and all to win the Super Bowl. The day after the operation I went home. When I got there, it took me five minutes to get up to the second floor, on the same steps my grade school niece and nephew could barrel up in less than five seconds. Our cats always ran the other way. They looked me up and down quizzically.
It was a cold and overcast day. It was raining. I got into bed and slept for thirteen hours. The next day was cold again but sunny. My aftermarket hip needed breaking in. I broke open the recovery book the Salty Dog had given me, flipping to page one, and got down to business.