You get a number of aids, depending on need – I already had walking sticks adjusted to my height, a sock aid, a long handled shoehorn, a Helping Hand and a raised toilet seat. I was measured and asked to check the height of my toilet with the seat raised – i.e., just the porcelain pan; my armchair and my bed. Before my last operation, Russell had made wooden blocks to raise the spare single bed, so I knew that was all right. When my sister had her hip replacement, I lent her the wing armchair that I’d sat in and it had gone rather well in her sitting room, so I suggested she keep it (it had actually been one belonging to our mother, so ‘gave’ it to her isn’t the word). However, mummy had also had a reclining chair and we found that would be fine, with a cushion underneath the seat cushion at the back so that it was level and didn’t slope backwards. Dining chairs are also high enough. I have short legs and so it’s quite easy to make the small adjustments necessary, the long of leg might have to do more alterations. The NHS has lent me a chair for the shower and a second toilet seat for upstairs, this being an actual seat with arms – there was concern that I might find it difficult to stand up unaided. I really think it’s unlikely I’ll need to use it though, I’m already over the initially riskiest stage when I’m awkward and clumsy.
The single most useful aid is the Helping Hand. I have continued to use it frequently, to pull curtains without having to go round a chair, to pick things up from the floor without bending, all sorts of things. But it’s absolutely invaluable now.
The getting dressed technique is an interesting one – if you’re putting on trousers or even just underpants, it’s easier to pull them on over socks as then your toes don’t catch. So you position a sock on to the sock aid (the one I’ve linked to is a fairly basic design but they all do a similar job), drop it on the floor while holding the tabs and manoeuvre your foot in, pull it up and wiggle the aid out. Repeat with other foot – actually, I haven’t put socks on yet as it happens, but I will as soon as I want to go out of the house or if the weather turns very cold.
Then you need your Helping Hand. You grab an edge of your knickers with it and hold it down by your foot – lift the foot and bend a bit, you mustn’t go tighter than a right angle – and wiggle your foot in. Pull then up to your knees, grip again the other side and let it down so you can put in your other foot. Then pull up again and stand to finish the job. Trousers, you do in just the same way. It takes a minute’s patience, it’s a bit fiddly but not hard. Your top half you can dress as normal, of course.
When I first got home, as I said, I sometimes needed a hand getting into bed, just to lift my operated leg. It’s better if you can get in with your good leg first, but my bed is against the wall and that’s not possible. Sometimes I could, sometimes it was too tired and I couldn’t lift it. I will have to sleep on my back for several weeks and, for the first few days, have been tired enough that I wanted to spend some time in bed during the day, so we brought lots of pillows down to prop me up. I also have a pillow in the bed – in hospital they use a wedge to keep your knees apart but it’s lovely to have some support under the knee of the bad leg. So I have the pillow half under that knee and half between my legs to stop me turning over or crossing my legs. I also have a little cushion under my feet as they started to feel sore. It’s self-indulgent, possibly. Which is a good thing.
When I sit down, I hang the sticks somewhere within reach, feel for the chair or bed with the back of my knees, put my bad leg out a few inches while taking my weight on my good leg, then sit carefully. It’s best to have a chair with arms to start with, to hold on to. I shouldn’t twist my leg – in Norwich, they’re very risk averse in regard to dislocation. When my sister had her new hip in Salisbury, she wasn’t given anywhere near the warnings that I was. I suspect this might be because Norwich pioneered the op and I know (because my surgeon has told me) that they sometimes take on difficult revisions (second-time operations, especially when the first one went wrong), so advise precautions to everyone. For me, the risk of dislocation is pretty low but it’s a potentially very serious matter and I’m ultra cautious. Anyway, last time, at my check-up after the op, I asked my surgeon about movements I could make in the longer term – crossing my legs, for example, which I certainly mustn’t do now. He said that’s all right – he compared the joint to a jointed doll, the sort I knew as a child where you could roll the hip out of its socket (and very difficult it was to get in again). He said, it’s the outward movement that holds the risk. So I never, even seven years on, with that leg (and now will not do it with either), put my leg out at the back and twist to look at the sole of my foot.
Up to now, I’ve just been washing in the downstairs washbasin. I really wanted to wash my hair though, so braved the shower. LT supervised me going upstairs (and asked me to call him to watch me down again) and then left me to it. Actually, the shower chair wasn’t needed. I hung my sticks on the towel rail and then just got into the shower and washed as normal, standing up. It was awkward to get past the chair to get out, so I lifted it to one side. Once out, I realised I couldn’t dry my lower legs, so lifted the chair out onto the bathmat, dropped a hand towel on the floor and pushed it around my legs and feet to dry them. It was fine and that’s where it will stay, I think. If I’d had a shower in the last couple of days, I think I would have wanted to sit down, though.
I’m very lucky, I know. I don’t have any other physical problems, am quite fit and mobile and so am better able to overcome the temporary limitations. A lot of people would still be on crutches at this stage and there are no prizes for casting them off sooner. When Lee the physiotherapist spoke to me before I left hospital, he said that his only concern was that I might do too much, too soon. I said, I knew just what he meant. It was so lovely to be able to walk without arthritis that I was tending to hurry. But, I said, I’m taking responsibility for myself. If I dislocated the hip, I know how agonisingly painful that is and that there’s an increased risk of it happening again. If I don’t look after myself, the hips won’t last so long and so it’s in my interest to get it right. I was evidently convincing, he relaxed. And it’s true. I will use two sticks while I need to (probably no more than another week, but we’ll see) and then I’ll use a stick until it’s more nuisance than help. It’s not any matter of pride to me to manage without. And some people always have to use a stick, for one reason or another – if I had to, so I would: a limp or any other disability is nothing to be ashamed of.