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Welcome to the new hippie (hip replacement) movement

Today's topic is the rebirth of the hippie movement.

The number of Americans who have hip replacement surgery is expected to jump from about 250,000 this year to more than 500,000 in 2030.

To be clear, no Americans with hip replacements will jump. They can't. The numbers will.

Unlike the 1960s, for this movement you'll need serious cash and/or really good health insurance. The cost of a hip replacement is about $50,000. And it's not like you can buy a discount hip and upgrade later. I know. I checked.

But hot new social trends should not be missed, and pain can be ignored only so long. So I had the procedure done in late June.

The surgery went fine and the people at the hospital were wonderful. I have less pain and more range of motion than before. But the recovery is not as easy as you may have heard. You're walking around with about a pound of metal in you that wasn't there before, and that's if you only had one hip done.

This can lead to complications, such as deep thigh discomfort and sudden urges to listen to Judas Priest and Black Sabbath.

• • •

Here's a myth that needs to be debunked: It's not always elderly or overweight people, or those who injured their hip, who need a replacement. I'm 58, I exercise daily, I've never been overweight, and other than covering the Florida Legislature, I've never been seriously traumatized.

But I developed osteoarthritis, which is a Latin term meaning "there goes any thought of a vacation.''

It can happen to anybody, and this is how it starts:

• It keeps getting harder to run or walk short distances.

• Getting in and out of low seats takes longer and longer.

• People keep asking why you "walk funny.''

What's happened is that there is little or no cushion left between the ball of your hip joint and the socket. This gets increasingly painful and in some people, you can even hear a clicking sound, a bizarre Morse Code message your body is sending.

Translation: "This is bad. Get the checkbook.''

• • •

There are other, less radical procedures like resurfacing the joint. But mine was too far gone. I bought the whole package.

I had my surgery at St. Anthony's Hospital in St. Petersburg. But before that could happen, the surgeon and the hospital wanted about $6,500 as a down payment. Like I was buying a Buick. The anesthesiologists hit me up later for another grand, and then there were the home health care people who had to come to my house and change my dressing the first week.

Even with health insurance, my out of pocket cost was about $8,500.

Now, I don't even have pockets.

Purely by coincidence (or so I told myself), the morning of my surgery — June 21 — the St. Petersburg Times ran a front page story about wrong-site surgeries in the bay area. My surgeon and I had a little chuckle over that just before I went under. He took a marker and wrote YES on the bad hip. I offered to write SEE YOU IN COURT on the good hip. That's the last thing I remember.

• • •

Important tip: DO NOT log onto YouTube and watch an operation you plan to have. It's not like you can assist in the surgery, and it's only going to make you want to toss some clothes in the car, drive to Wyoming and live under an assumed name.

I broke this rule and watched an entire 90-minute hip operation. With narration.

I did learn this: Hip replacement surgery is like advanced shop class. There's sawing, hammering, dust, and all the doctors look like Bob Vila.

WARNING: Here comes the gory part. A 6-inch incision is made toward the back of your hip, the head of your femur is sawed off and a metal ball and stem are hammered into place. The socket is reamed and fitted with a metal cup, with a smaller, plastic cup inside, and the new ball joint is attached.

Then a guy with "Ned" on his shirt wakes you up and tells you your car is ready.

Total time: about 90 minutes.

This is the exact same procedure used to replace legs on La-Z-Boy recliners. Except the chairs take twice as long.

• • •

When will someone who's had a hip replaced be completely better? I asked my surgeon, Dr. Robert Swiggett, that question.

It depends on your age, gender, weight, physical condition and the type of procedure, he said. "It could be three months. Maybe four or five.''

"Patience,'' I said.

"Is a virtue,'' he said.

Right on.

• • •

Postscript:

This has turned into the Summer of Pain Tour 2010. As my hip was degenerating, I was also developing a hernia. Even my watch stopped. I had the hernia repaired laparoscopically as an outpatient Aug. 4 and was home the same day with only mild discomfort.

Until I read this the following day:

Ex-Lightning Coach Demers: I Was Near Death After Doctor's Error.

MONTREAL — A doctor's mistake during surgery for a hernia ended up nearly killing former Lightning coach Jacques Demers this summer, Demers says.

Sometimes you can know too much.

Tom Zucco is a former Times staff writer.

Welcome to the new hippie (hip replacement) movement 09/24/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 24, 2010 4:31am]
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