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Workshops and resources for women over 50

Hip, Hip, Hooray!

Everyone with a new/replacement hip, stand up and do a jig!!! Because you likely can! I’m fascinated by the “changed my life” stories I hear from other new hipsters. And I also found we like to talk about our stories.

My sister had the same surgery a year before me (appropriate as she is 13 months older) and didn’t have the luxury of having compadres that knew and deeply understood her experience. She missed out on the “who’s doing it?” and “did you get the big pink pillow?” conversations that seem to have dominated my life for the last year. So she was excited to have me join her hip “club”.

Here in Chicago hips and knees are big biz. So we have rockstar docs (Dr. Berger with his outpatient surgery) and traveling teams that perform at sister hospitals on different days (Dr. Hopkinson and his cute residents from Loyola). And we have “institutes” and more physical therapy places than fast food joints.

The hip community that flocked to support me was overwhelming. Offers of sock-putter-oners, elevated toilet seats, and bath chairs abounded. Neighbors came to my aid with meals – and were disappointed when 4 weeks after surgery I was driving and didn’t need the glorious home-cooked meals, complete with fabulous desserts and wine, any more. Flowers appeared in my home and angels of mercy went grocery shopping.

My biggest surprise – and I think this is shared by everyone with a successful hip replacement – is there’s just no pain. Things normal people take for granted, like being able to walk and having a relatively fog-free brain, are wondrous results to someone who has had her life limited because of joint problems. Soon after surgery I cut out the painkillers I had been using for about 10 months to get to sleep. And I woke up without “pain brain”, what I imagine to be similar to “chemo brain”. Yes, you will be smart again.

What I hadn’t expected on this long journey was the physical and emotional challenges I faced for far too long. From the physical pain caused by deteriorating hip bone to the emotional pain of having to use a walker (WHAT? That’s for OLD people!) to how small my world became as I found going anywhere was just too hard, I saw what life looks like when our bodies let us down.

There are upsides to a health event such as this. We’re required to be much more creative to solve problems we never had – like using giant covered coffee mugs so you don’t have to get up for refills and throwing laundry down in pillowcases instead of using a laundry basket. And we have to be much more organized to make one trip to the closet instead of many. And using one pair of shoes because they’re comfortable. Personally, I also understood how many true and wonderful friends I have and learned how to ask for support.

On the downside, I saw how we waste so much of our lives when we’re not at our best. I learned how easy it is to turn to reality TV or Netflix movies to occupy my mind. And I saw how easy it is for fear and depression to sneak into our lives. Suddenly I realized what an easy target I would be for a mugging or home invasion. (Fortunately nothing like that happened!) And how hard it was to find positive thoughts to counteract a negative spiral, simply because I didn’t have anything positive to think about.

And I realized how little we are prepared for “aging”. Most of the challenges you face with joint replacements are those that old people face as their bodies wear out. No one has shown us how to walk with a cane or showed us the motorized carts many grocery stores offer. Nor have they prepared us for the emotional impact of going to a social function with a walker and how you feel like you’re in everyone’s way. Yes, it was fine when I was shuttling around my 87-year-old father and his walker, but not mine!

In doing research for a former grad project on self-esteem and aging I was intrigued by the work of Nathaniel Brandon. He said that self-esteem is made up of two components: self-efficacy, the confidence in our ability to think, learn, choose and make appropriate decisions and self-respect, the confidence in our right to be happy in our achievements, success, friendships, respect, love and fulfillment. Health issues tend to rattle our confidence in both these areas, thereby truly undermining self-esteem.

So often the first things to go after health are your purpose in life, your joys and your love for others. You may have seen the drawing that shows life stages using “wheels”. We start being pushed in baby carriages, we move to bikes, then cars, then walkers and then wheelchairs. That move from cars to walkers can be devastating to all the good things in our lives.

My goal is to help ease the impact on self-esteem as we age. Lofty but I’m working on the strategies to make this happen. One way is to invite women to share their stories so we know we’re not isolated on this journey. My sister will tell you how much better it is with a cohort.

Another strategy is to deeply understand the emotional and physical territories and what needs are not being met. And then take these insights to retailers, manufacturers and service providers who can help.

Another strategy is to become an advocate for women as they age, writing my blog, speaking at conferences, and writing to the media to help make aging an easier part of life.

We’re not our maladies. I was not a BAD HIP, I had a bad hip. I’m sure I’ll have other things in the future – but I will not “become” one of them. We should not feel any less of a person for using a walker, wearing sensible shoes (though PLEASE try to find cute ones), using Depend undergarments, having a hearing aid, walking with a cane, being in a wheelchair or asking for more light to see a menu in a restaurant.

I’m asking for your help with your stories. If you’ve had a life-changing health event that bumped your self-esteem and would like to chat , shoot me your email address and a brief description and I’ll get back in touch. Let’s share what we’ve learned so it’s not as hard for those who come after us. And please watch for more  resources and news.

And you hipsters…you can stop doing the jig now. Congratulations!


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