In dark December I found myself hobbling into an urgent care clinic for x-rays. A few clicks by the technician, a glance by an orthopedic PA, and I received my diagnosis: severe osteoarthritis. Never mind that last summer I hiked several 4,000-footers and ran a 5k. Now I am rehabbing after a total hip replacement. Apparently I’m not alone. The Boston Globe ran a piece this spring titled “How the hip replacement became the hot Gen-X surgery.”
Now that my bone-on-bone pain is gone and the incision is healing, what has this slightly older than Gen-Xer learned? First, when I was told my hip replacement was “elective,” what I heard was that it was unnecessary, indulgent even. This descendant of New England Protestants does not put excessive mayonnaise on a sandwich or make-up on her face. Only when I could barely walk did I schedule the surgery. It turns out that “elective” just means that it can be scheduled in advance. Make the appointment. Joint replacement is not a sign of moral weakness.
Second, friendships are vital. Nothing comforted me more than the meals, grocery deliveries, visits, cards, calls, texts and rides my friends provided. What surprised me, though, was the camaraderie of new acquaintances made while waiting for the operation. I joined a water exercise class to keep in shape. As New York Times contributor Bonnie Tsui has observed, “At my community pool, the locker room is a tableau on aging.” At the YMCA I found a community of folks who had already discovered the ease of slipping one’s aching body into the water, abandoning gravity and decorum. Flailing about in chlorine-faded swimsuits, the gang laughed, sang to the music, and exchanged tips such as where to thrift canes, walkers and commodes. My fellow aquacizers’ good humor got me through the hardest months. They helped me find joy and courage.
Third, although any diversion, from game apps to crochet, might keep one occupied, for me it was reading. I laughed, cried, and worked my way through everything from Bonnie Garmus’ comic novel Lessons in Chemistry to Marcus Zusak’s YA treasure The Book Thief, to Jill LePore’s These Truths: A History of the United States. I hope to get back to the mountains, but meanwhile I’m happy and grateful to be where I am.