Saturday, October 4, 2008

Background to my Hip Replacement: Around the time of my 60th birthday in November, 2006, I began to feel an ache in my right hip. At first it seemed that my right leg had grown just a bit and was now longer and out of balance with the rest of me. It caused me to hobble on occasion, but most of the time I felt fine so I assumed that it would pass like all the various strained muscles and other twinges that happen when you live in a body. However, ongoing discomfort caused me to go to Dr. Lisa Capaldini, my primary care physician, who listened to my symptoms and said, “Sounds like osteoarthritis. Most people take anti-inflammatory drugs for a few years and then they’re ready for a hip replacement.” I was shocked. Lisa has been my doctor for several years and I consider her a first-rate diagnostician. But I disagreed with her assessment. I told her I was too young for a new hip; we don’t have arthritis in my family, etc. So, she wisely said, “Well, let’s look inside and get an X-ray of your hip.” This was done, and the result came back with a bit of arthritis in the hip, but it didn’t seem like an emergency level that would warrant surgical intervention. I wish I had looked more carefully at that first X-ray.

What followed were almost two years of being increasingly uncomfortable. In my psychic class, we took a look at the reasons why I might have a painful hip. A class member recommended a chiropractor and I went to him for several sessions. There was brief relief, but nothing lasting. Another friend recommended acupuncture so I dutifully had treatments for a year. I have to say, I enjoyed the bliss state once the session had started, but again, no lasting relief. Eventually, I went to a physical therapist and we worked on my back, my legs, my hip, etc. In frustration, I went back to Lisa and reiterated my discomfort. This time, she sent me to Dr. Christopher Cox, a fine osteopathic surgeon who had done hip and knee replacements for several of my friends. Within half an hour, Dr. Cox had taken an X-ray and shown me the decayed cartilage in my right hip socket. Whereas the left side hip had a plump, evenly toned cushion between the ball socket and the top of the femur, the right hip’s cartilage was crumbling and uneven. To compensate for this decay, the bone had grown several spurs that were also pushing into the leg and pelvic tissue. Ouch.

I looked at the X-ray in Dr. Cox’s office and it took me about 20 seconds to understand that I needed—and wanted—to get a hip replacement. There was no way that I could heal that corroded cartilage in the image. After months of discomfort, I finally understood that Lisa had told me the truth of my condition back when I originally consulted her about my hip pain. The day after meeting Dr. Cox, I was scheduled to fly to Seattle to see the Mark Morris’s Dance Group and a performance of I Puritani, then on to Washington DC for a performance of Handel’s Tamerlano. Dr. Cox gave me a prescription for anti-inflammatory medicine designed to clear up the pain for—hopefully—a few years. “When you’re ready, you’ll be back,” he said.

While in Seattle I planned to see my friend Lorenzo, a fellow who I’d met years before when I ventured into his store: Distant Lands. Whenever I went to Seattle, I looked forward to seeing Lorenzo and wandering through the old Chinese and Tibetan furniture, sculpture and textiles in the store. This time, we had a very spirited visit with vivid story swapping about operas we’d seen, cities we’d visited, architecture we loved; a rapid, well-phrased conversation that happens between gay men who have seriously cultivated their aesthetic lives. This visit became more eventful toward the end of our time together when I asked him, “So, tell me about your partner.” He looked at me with some surprise and answered, “Partner? I don’t have a partner. But,” he continued. “Tell me about your partner.” I had the same response: “What partner?” Suddenly, our mutual assumption that we were each romantically unavailable evaporated. Before I left Distant Lands on Saturday, May 17th, I realized that I really wanted to create a loving, intimate relationship with Lorenzo. That knowing was sweet, comforting and very, very hopeful.

In spite of the surge for my heart in Seattle, taking the anti-inflammatory pills had no noticeable affect on my pain. For a day or two, I was shocked, but then I decided: Why wait? My next step, clearly, was to schedule the hip replacement surgery. When I returned to San Francisco, I called Dr. Cox and said, “I’m back.” I also phoned Lorenzo, told him how exciting it was to have deepened my feelings for him and included him in my decision to have surgery as soon as possible.

Through an increasingly uncomfortable summer, I flew to Portland on several occasions to help my folks get ready to move from their home of 52 years. I traveled to Santa Fe for opera, and I looked forward ever more fervently to the surgery and the promise of no more hip pain. My mantra became: August 28th, no more pain! August 28th, no more pain!

At the urging of my psychic teacher Victoria, I attended four sessions of hands-on and channeled guidance at the Aesclepion school in San Rafael. There, the healers worked to clear me of any resistance, competition or indecision about my upcoming surgery.

To balance this attention to pain, let me say that the Spring and Summer months were some of the happiest of my life. My professional life was busy and productive, working with people I admired. Time spent on the Board at Maitri Compassionate Care brought interesting challenges; also my membership on the HIV Planning Council brought me into realms of City government that were new and inspiring. I’d get up in the morning, put I clothes that pleased me, say hellos to all my friends at the bagel store and the coffee shop and go into work with a lot of human contact already nourishing me. Every day I had lunch with someone who I cared about, and during this period I discovered Boulette’s Larder at the Ferry Plaza Building. The food there honed my palate to a new level of refinement. I had tickets to opera, ballet, and the recitals that interested me. On weekends, I drove to my home in Glen Ellen that I shared with my land partner Ann. Work on the property took me back to the soil, to the worlds of plants and bugs and critters. Life was very, very good.

Finally, I emailed a wide circle of friends letting them know that I was going to have my right hip replaced. I put together a calendar for September, my first month of healing. After doing bedside care during the first fourteen years of the AIDS epidemic, I enjoyed organizing the care that I’d need once I returned home from the hospital. I asked a couple of friends in the food biz to help me with their catering skills, I asked other friends to visit me once I returned home to feel the warmth that our friendship created. I went on a field trip to the California Pacific Medical Center’s California campus to visit a hospital room and hear about what to expect from a nurse, a physical therapist and an occupational therapist.

In the last weeks of August, my ability to move around degraded alarmingly. I had always walked a lot, but now there were times in the days before surgery when I had to stop on the sidewalk and not move for a few minutes. After almost two years of increasingly severe pain, I was sooooooo ready to be healed.

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