How I Walked Into the Emergency Room With a Broken Hip
Why I'll Be Taking a Short Hiatus for My Health
On Wednesday afternoon, easing into the long, favorite four-day weekend of the year, excited for Thanksgiving, I set out on a run intended to help me enjoy overeating the next day.
Almost two miles into a not-quite three-mile run through the neighborhood, I hopped off the sidewalk, where I like to run, to allow a neighbor to finish sweeping his sidewalk after mowing the lawn.
As we exchanged pleasantries about prepping the yard for the family gathering, I tripped over the unseen speed bump on the street in front of his home. Most runners have a few trip-and-falls over their careers, and this was not my first. It was my last.
As I hit the ground and attempted something of a roll, I whacked my hip hard on the pavement. I knew instantly that I would not be finishing this run.
As I lay in the street, nearly unconscious from the pain in my hip—with my hands both a bit worse for wear—my neighbor attended to me. Another neighbor, who turned out to be a nurse, stopped to help and assess.
Within a minute, I’d regained some mental clarity and could reopen my eyes. The mowing neighbor found and replaced my glasses. She sat me up and then stood me up pretty quickly. I could bear weight painfully.
She recommended we call an ambulance, noting that I’d get better treatment in the ER. Not having a great insurance plan, I accepted her not-preferred backup offer to drive me home. (We learned upon arriving that we had just purchased her mother’s home—unbelievable coincidence.)
My plan was to sit in the recliner to rest for a few hours to see if the pain eased. I lasted ten minutes. I called an Uber. I walked out of the house to the Uber. I dismounted the Uber and walked into the Emergency Room, hoping to confirm I’d bruised rather than broken my hip.
It is interesting how the big crises of our lives are reduced to forms and formulas in the ER—and other places of social service. Our universal endeavor to improve performance using technology places a rigid barrier between common sense and data-driven accuracy.
The result was that the ER’s process for treating someone who says, “I might have a broken hip,” is to presume that is not the case until the data says otherwise. So, from the time I arrived until four hours later, when a Radiologist interpreted the x-ray and spoke to a surgeon, I was pushed around in a wheelchair and asked to move from chair to chair as if I had no broken bones.
I must say, however, that high from the focus of the prior 24 hours, on my Thanksgiving post called “Good Sh*t Happens, Too,” about a friend’s chemo playlist, I remained in good spirits, kind to all I encountered for the next 24 hours. I have to admit, this is not standard Devin; this is Devin at the very top of his game. I’m grateful for the strength I drew from her playlist gift.
When I had the x-ray, I asked the technician if I could see the image. He invited me to walk around behind his shield and showed me the image. For me, this was the most human, common sense act anyone employed in my care over the time I was in the hospital.
When I took a look, it was pretty apparent that I had broken my femur right at the head that fits into the hip socket. It was a weird moment to be simultaneously standing on that broken bone while I looked at it. A PA later explained that the pieces might have offset in such a way that one piece inserted itself into the other, providing a tenuous, delicate stability that allowed me to support my weight.
Insurance plans being what they are, I was required to transfer to another hospital, where I spent the night in its ER without formally being admitted. Then, I was admitted and provided space in their overflow area, which was not nearly as nice as the room I had in the ER. (There was another similarly situated patient who got quite upset at not having been properly admitted and assigned a room; presuming that they ended up with me in the overflow, I suspect they, too, missed the ER and may have regretted their holiday impatience.)
Though folks in both ERs often assumed I’d get surgery in the ordinary course on Thursday, I never anticipated that would be the case. It gave me a day in managed pain before surgery on Friday to conduct some emergency business working to postpone SuperCrowdBaltimore, which was scheduled for this week, to February or March. Details are still pending.
Spending Thanksgiving in the hospital was a blessing. I feel a bit guilty for enjoying it so much. I was able to spend more one-on-one time with my son than I have in years. I joyously got to spend quality time with him and his brilliant wife, who is a distinguished Stanford scientist. Not being allowed to eat in anticipation of surgery most of the day, food wasn’t a distraction from meaningful family time. In so many ways, it was wonderful. Gail, my spouse, wasn’t well and couldn’t participate, but we were in constant contact via phone and text.
On Friday, I learned about 10 AM that I’d been scheduled for a total hip replacement at 4:30. It began by 5:30 and by 8:00, I was back in my overflow cube for recovery and a good night’s rest on helpful meds. As I emerged into conscientiousness, my brain slowly but cognitively formed a simple message for the nurse attending me: “It hurts.” More drugs. Less consciousness. Good rest.
Saturday brought a simple test from the physical therapist: walk about 50 feet on my new hip. Well, pain-treated (if you get my meaning), I made a mid-morning attempt. My blood pressure, dropped by the opioids into a nice healthy range, my doc and I wish we could see more often, collapsed soon after I took my feet. Watching me nearly pass out, the physical therapist called the attempt a failure and put me back to bed.
Forgoing any further opioids and allowing another four or five hours for my head to clear, the therapist returned for a second trial. She had faith in me. Never has 50 feet seemed so far. The pain was endurable, but those 50 paces exhausted me. But I won my freedom. Two hours later, I was in my brother-in-law’s SUV, heading home with Gail! I’m grateful to Dave and Becky, his wife.
Within hours, I realized that we were not up to the job alone, Gail and I, so I accepted an offer from my kind sister Tiffany in Utah to fly in Sunday morning and take charge of us for a few days as we settled into a new routine.
As I write this, I’ve been home for 48 hours. With Tiffany’s help, progress is right on track, if not ahead of schedule. The support system is in full gear. Monday, a home care nurse came to check on me. Today, I expect a home-based physical therapist to come give me more exercises and instructions to get me back to full strength as soon as possible.
The surgeon explained that full recovery is slow. Typically, patients recover about 90 percent of their abilities within 90 days, but full recovery takes a year. And he emphatically recommends shelving the running shoes, opting for a low-impact exercise routine instead. I’m convinced. Hence, my confidence that I will never have another fall while running.
Overall, I’m grateful for the tremendous network of people who’ve helped me, from the neighbors who got me home from my run to the professionals who cared for me, the family far and wide who have rallied around to help and comfort me, and the colleagues who have been working over the weekend to help postpone SuperCrowdBaltimore. Note that a group is gathering this week at the scheduled time for a taste of SuperCrowdBaltimore. Click here to learn more.
This week, I’ll be taking a hiatus for recovery. We’ll plan to return to our regular schedule next week. I appreciate your patience and your good vibes, thoughts and prayers on my behalf.
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