Hip, But Not With It

I know, I know: it’s been an unconscionably long time since you’ve heard from me, and since I started this particular post four days ago, it may be never that you really hear from me, but I feel this time I have an excuse while not good is certainly legitimate: Lynn broke her hip in mid-April.

About an hour into her shift at the Post Office she caught her foot on some pallets and by all accounts went down hard, so fast that she didn’t even put a hand out to catch herself, and so painfully that no one was allowed to help her until EMTs arrived with drugs and an ambulance.

I didn’t know any of this right away, having so much trouble finding my phone, lost in the depths of my backpack, when it rang that I let it go to message and then promptly forgot about it for half an hour. Imagine my chagrin, then, when the message turned out to be from Lynn’s boss.

I got a second call, this one from the hospital, as I was arriving at the parking lot, but then I got told to wait outside our fortified emergency room because they were administering a nerve block to Lynn.

Wait. That turns out to be what you do in a hospital, whether you’re the patient or the impatient. When I was finally allowed into the emergency room, I was told Lynn had broken her hip.

“Hip” turns out to be kind of a nebulous concept, and really what Lynn did was fracture (in closed fashion) her intertrochanteric femur. So I keep saying hip because I think it conveys the drama better, while Lynn keeps telling people she broke her leg, which may be more accurate but probably leads people to think of a calf-high walking cast. It’s a serious break, whatever you want to call it, and although she could have been fully weight-bearing if she wanted (she didn’t, and doesn’t, yet) the day after surgery, the knitting could take up to a year, or more.

If you are going to break something like this in a small town, you want that town to be Gunnison, with more orthopedic surgeons per capita than probably anywhere in the world. And not just run-of-the-mill orthopedic surgeons: the one on call that day has done several tours of duty with U.S. Olympic and other national athletic teams.

Lynn’s primary care doctor is leaving Gunnison and so far no replacement has been found for him, but our small hospital positively teems with medicos. The emergency room doctor told us surgery would have to wait until noon or 1 because Lynn had eaten breakfast. Then we saw a “hospitalist,” a physician’s assistant who is also our neighbor’s son (“Oh, then you’ve probably heard my kids,” he said, and we have — they sound like they have great fun at their grandparents’) and then a different hospital doctor and also the surgeon, who said Lynn could have surgery at 3:30 or 4 but the operating room wasn’t available, so it would be 5:30 or 6. In reality, it ended up being 7:30, a time no one bothered to relay to me after taking Lynn to the OR at 4:30 and telling me I couldn’t go “because there were too many people up there.” Just wait, all right?

In the meantime, all these doctors stirred the pot by deciding Lynn might have other health hazards, heart, lungs, maybe cancer in the colon . . . I know this sounds conspiracyish, but there are times when I think the doctors of Gunnison Valley Health work on commission, a portion of the cost of each test directed their way.

Mostly the tests checked out — no cancer in the colon — although she does have a follow-up with a pulmonologist in Montrose late next month, but the real value of all these trips to the CAT scan lay in the radiology technician, who apparently was the only one in the hospital who understood how to make the bed adjust once it had been laid flat. He had to make yet another return trip to Lynn’s room to show one nurse, and then I was able to show the next one.

Lynn, hopped up on fentanyl, acetaminophen, bupivacaine, lidocaine, ketamine and whatever else on her five-page hospital bill of nearly $68,000 (excluding the multitude of doctors) is pain med, wasn’t too worried about any of this, but I was a nervous wreck — and the delay, delay, delay of surgery wasn’t helping me, especially since I was never let anywhere near the surgical center. Once they got around to inserting a $6,000 nail into her femur, it only took an hour and went very well.

You know what didn’t help? Waiting.

I’m sure it’s an old joke that the reason they’re called patients is because everything is about waiting in a hospital, but I didn’t find it funny at all. I believe Lynn was well taken care of throughout her five-day stay, but my time was not well served. It’s not supposed to be about me, but with two sick animals at home — Bear was excreting blood and Na Ki’o was just excreting everywhere — and Lynn with a blood pressure so low her systolic was down where her diastolic should be and all these test results hanging in the balance, I was not doing well with the vague assurances that the doctor would be in “in a few minutes” when they really meant “not until tomorrow mid-morning.”

In my world, “we’ll be right there” means like within the next five minutes. In a hospital, apparently that means 15 to 30, if we remember you called. One nurse — she was Lynn’s day nurse for the last three days, and we liked her a lot — was visibly peeved that no one had notified her that we had called for assistance so I ended up doing the assisting.

My impression was that no one seemed willing to say what was becoming obvious to me. How hard would it have been to say, “We’re a little light on staff and everyone is needed for an emergency in the birthing center”? And how hard for, “Our computers are down (seriously?) and the doctor can’t get the report to tell you whether your wife has a colon full of cancer (I don’t even know why they thought that), so she will not be in in a few minutes, but is going home for the night instead”?

Ultimately, everything worked out, except maybe my nerves and the exhaustion that comes from waiting on tenterhooks for this doctor, that nurse and the physical therapist who didn’t really do much because Lynn would go so white as her blood pressure dropped from just standing. The surgeon had told Lynn it would be one to four days post-surgery in the hospital, and Lynn took all four, except that she was quite ready to go by the morning of the last day, and of course we WAITED until nearly dinner.

Bear and Na Ki’o got medicated into improvement; Lynn excelled at home health so well they sent her to the hospital for physical therapy after only two weeks; a week after that I finally felt like I was getting caught up and this past weekend I allowed myself the grace of some extra sleep and now it feels like I can talk to the world once again.

While it’s difficult to find the good in a broken hip/leg/intertrochanteric femur, there have been some positive points. Number one, we feel quite validated in our decision five years ago to undertake construction of a single-story home, and I have especially impressed myself with winning the argument against steps leading to the front door in favor of a concrete ramp.

I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but we’ve been able to borrow almost all the equipment Lynn has needed, from walkers and the cane Lynn hasn’t quite graduated to and shower stools from friends, so we’re not treading new ground and many of our friends know exactly what she’s going through.

And then there are all the people who have done so much to make this a smooth journey. Lynn’s supervisor has been nothing but kindness and concern, and her co-workers have all told her to take her time getting back to work (she may try very light duty, part-time, late this week) even though they are now desperately short-handed.

And my Pat’s peeps — what can I possibly say about the best people in the world? I absolutely dropped everything [very proud of myself for — for once — filing my sales tax forms early so they were already done] for a week and a half, and they not only picked up the slack but took care of Bear, both in the shop and at home and Ki’o. Kara, the best friend anyone could ever ask for, organized a Meal Train that somehow surpassed the three consecutive days of Arby’s and McDonald’s I consumed and kept us in food for three weeks.

Of all the little gifts given me in this time, though, there was especially the one of my sister Tia spending all those long hours when Lynn wasn’t in surgery but we thought she was, with me in a dark and uncomfortable hospital room, those hours when no one could tell me what the test results were because the hospital computer — which gets replaced next year, I’m told — was malfunctioning. I did not think I needed any help waiting, but it turns out I did, and Tia was there.

So we are back on our feet, at least three-fourths of them, along with some percentage of the other one. Sorry it’s taken so long to tell you all that.

3 thoughts on “Hip, But Not With It

  1. Continued safe and speedy healing! What an ordeal but glad to hear all is on the upswing. I had my hip replaced 5 years ago because of bad hip genetics and wear and tear and now it works like a charm. Except sometimes when I sleep on that side too long…
    Anyway – happy healing! ~Annie (Brillig Works friend…)


  2. Hey, Hope she feels better everyday. Broken hips in fact all the body feels bad. When she can go out and feel some SUN she’ll fell better

    .John Lake From Gunnison GHS 1960 WSC 65 and MBA 69


  3. Its so ironic that I see you this morning and knew NOTHING about this ! Now I understand your concern about Lynn’s driving.

    Sending healing thoughts your way, Lynn .


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