I have been living in the near future for a couple of weeks now. Anticipating what my hip surgery is going to be like and what I will feel like after it is done. I find myself saying, “This time next week . . .” as if it will magically pull me out of the inner turmoil of my present state of unknowing what to expect.
I feel so very lucky to be living in a time where there is even an option for hip replacement. And more to the point, to be living in a country where such an operation is considered common-place and is paid for by insurance. My gratitude extends to the designers, engineers, and manufacturers who created the amazing devices needed to restore me to functioning. And I have no small amount of admiration for the medical personnel who will perform this operation.
To them I may be but a statistic or a teaching opportunity. A name on a checklist that will pass through their portals for 24 or 48 hours, and then be seen post-op and forgotten. I don’t mind that. I have no need for notoriety with this procedure.
It never ceases to amaze me how I can look calm on the outside and be a crazy-mess on the inside. Thoughts range from scientifically nerdy (this is a well-established procedure and is being done at one of the preeminent hospitals in the country) to outright whoo-whoo (don’t jinx the whole surgery by thinking bad thoughts). There is a part of my mind that watches over these debates and occasionally giggles at the absurdity of it all.
I know that we carry the evolutionary successes of our ancestors in our brains, but also some of their quirks. The amygdala, a part of my brain no bigger than an almond, can create such dire alarms that my entire body is flooded with adrenaline in seconds. My prefrontal cortex rivals Shakespeare in the dramas it creates and then plays out. And my hippocampus remembers every horrible failure and mistake and serves them up to me for review, resulting in reinforcing my already-reached conclusion that I am doomed.
But as my training has taught me, these are but thoughts. Imaginings created by my mind that are woven into a story. When I am paying attention, I can edit and improve that story, or erase it completely and start over. As a matter of fact, I can set up a whole new conversation by using hypnosis, which I have done for this surgery. I adapted a script from my mentor, teacher, and dear friend, Arthur Hastings, Ph.D., whose work has been preserved on CD. I have been listening to a recording of my own voice providing me with hypnotic suggestions on what my body is expected to do before, during, and after the surgery. There is a part of me that wants to keep this secret and see if the surgeon notices anything remarkable about my surgery and recovery. I am convinced that I will benefit tremendously from this ‘mental pre-hab’ and the result will be a return to normal functioning quickly and effortlessly.
There is much research that supports the use of hypnosis in conjunction with surgery and rehab. Seeing ourselves healthy and functioning seems to have a positive effect on our immune systems and on our ability to recover. Studies suggest there is less pain during and after a procedure, healing appears to happen more rapidly, and there is less need for on-going pain medications afterwards. Maybe this stuff isn’t so whoo-whoo after all?
I really like my privacy and at the same time enjoy having people fuss over me. There is a fine balance, however, between fussing and doing. My stubborn insistence that I am able to do things myself has, in the past, created outcomes that I would prefer to avoid this time. With that said, however, I never, ever want to be dependent on others. This not an uncommon theme, not just with myself, but also with my patients.
I plan on using this hip replacement to also replace some of these ideas of self-sufficiency that originate from my 3 year-old self, rather than my older, wiser, self. I am learning to ask for and receive help without feeling that I am incapable or somehow lacking. The outpouring of assistance that has been offered me is deeply reassuring. Learning to let others help, accepting their kindness and service, is as much part of my rehabilitation as the exercises to strengthen the muscles and ligaments that were stretched to implant the new hip. I am being stretched in many ways.
I was raised to be of service to others, but never quite got to the follow-up lesson of receiving help graciously. I still have the belief that if something is given to me, I need to give something in return. But it has taken me many years to understand what this is really about. What I have learned is that I can accept kindness and give back a smile. I can accept advice, and give back changed behavior, I can accept help and give back gratitude. These exchanges are the true quid pro quo.
This time next week I will be home, recuperating. I have generous offers from friends who will bring healthy meals, and physical and emotional support from folks near and far who will temporarily take over my life until I am able to be back on my own. This time next week, I will be planning future outings, doing my physical therapy, and enjoying the company of friends who are dropping by to wish me well.
I might even be writing a blog!