Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Hip Replacement: A Storied Surgeon Does It All His Way -- With Remarkable Results.

Twelve years ago with both knees destroyed from years of ice hockey, I was creeping around like an old man. It looked like I was finished with my physically extreme life, such as playing tennis, building stone walls, and walking for miles around strange new residential neighborhoods (and not once arrested).

But then I saw players who had total knee or hip replacements running around the tennis courts on metal knees, with no pain. They played just like before -- and even better. I asked around and the name of the same surgeon kept coming up, Dr. Dennis Burke at Mass General in Boston.

I promptly contacted Dr. Burke, but because he was in great demand, I had to wait many weeks for an appointment. Finally, I got to see him and he eventually replaced both of my knees, though separately. He said that replacing both at once increases the risk unnecessarily.

Of course, I  wrote about that experience and knee replacements in general.

I have been running around the tennis court on those knees for 12 years and they are still going strong.    When Dr. Burke recently looked at x-rays of my titanium knees, he had only one word, "beautiful."

So when the pain in my left hip got worse and worse, and I was limping around and had to stop playing tennis, it was naturally back to Dr. Burke. By now we had come to know each other, joking and kidding around.

When he entered the exam room, we greeted each other with a hearty handshake and big smiles. I put on a serious face and said, "You sure you're not too old to be doing this? How old are you anyway?"

Without missing a beat, he replied, "62."

"Kind of old, but I guess that's okay."

He smiled. 

This is Dr. Burke, a people doctor like no other. But you don't need to take my word for it. Here is how the Orthopedic Journal at Harvard Medical describes him:

"Engaging charm."

"Leaves a patient feeling as if Dennis has just one patient in the world, you."

"If human effort and skill can make the operation succeed, this is the guy who can do it."

"His intelligence is exceeded only by his ingenuity."

"What more could you ask?"

To read  more, click here.

Without a doubt, when I see Dr. Burke I know he is thinking of me and only me. He sat down at his computer and pulled up the x-ray of my left hip. "Bone on bone, no cartilage," he said. The two of us are pictured below, clearly friends, with the x-ray behind us.

"It needs to be replaced?"

He nodded. "But your decision."

"No brainer," I said in one second. "Let's do it."

With Dr. Burke being in huge demand, it was weeks before I could get an appointment for the surgery.  But that day eventually came this past June 8. In this photo, taken by my wife Barbara, Dr. Burke checks my hip and initials it before we go into the operating room.

I have to tell you something else about Dr. Burke. In addition to being a friendly and easygoing guy, he is also a renowned surgeon with a national reputation.

He is Secretary of State John Kerry's surgeon. In fact, John Kerry was in the hospital the same time I was, but neither Dr. Burke nor I mentioned his name.

How did I know John Kerry was at Mass General? I heard his name whispered in the hallways. I also noticed the gaggle of Secret Service agents outside. Naturally, I had to take a photo of them, below. They could have been a little less obvious, don't you think?

When I woke up after the surgery, I asked Dr. Burke if he would have a photo taken of me with the operating room group. "Sure," he said. He took out his phone and snapped the picture. "What's your email address?" he asked. I gave it to him. He tapped his phone and said, "Sent."

Here is that photo taken by Dr. Burke in the recovery room immediately after my hip replacement surgery.

Have you ever heard of a photo like this taken by a surgeon immediately after he had performed major surgery? Neither have I. But then again, there is good reason. It takes a ... er... different patient like me to think of it immediately after waking up from a major operation and a one-of-a-kind surgeon like Dr. Dennis Burke willing to actually take the picture.

But Dr. Burke goes even more off the beaten track. Before the surgery, I mentioned to Dr. Burke that I was interested in seeing what my hip replacement surgery actually looked like. I asked him, "Do you think you could have a video taken of the surgery?"

"Sure," he said.

I thought he was putting me on. Yet after he signed off on me to leave the hospital after three days and we were saying goodbye, he handed me two disks.

"Videos of the surgery," he said.

I was blown away. "Thank you, thank you," I said.

"My pleasure, " Dr. Burke said.

I said goodbye to my main nurse at Mass General who had a non-stop smile as she attended to my every need. She is pictured below with that great smile of hers.

I was sent home in the care of my good wife Barbara who was at my bedside daily during my hospital stay. Now she would be my amazing, nonstop, caretaker for the next several weeks.

I don't know what I would have done without you, dear!

Unexpectedly, the next several days were sheer hell for both of us with two trips to the emergency room at UMass Memorial in Worcester. The first was from a piercing headache with a level of pain that I had never experienced in my long life, followed by another headache two days later.

Emergency room doctors gave me every kind of test in the book and still could not figure out the cause, though they ruled out stroke and blood clot. They gave me a couple of  pain meds through the IV and sent me home.

On my second trip to the ER in two days, one doctor asked if I was a coffee drinker. I said I was, but had not been drinking coffee lately. He told me about his headaches when he didn't get enough caffeine. So he gave me, believe it or not, a caffeine pill.

The two trips to the emergency room were probably from a lack of sleep from going to the bathroom every thirty or forty minutes due to an aggravated prostate problem, not eating much, taking pain meds and difficulty with bowel movements. Here I am at right in the emergency room, waiting for the pain meds to kick in, trying to ignore the pain.

After the second ER visit, doctors sent me home with five different prescriptions for headache pain and bowel problems. My primary care doctor then suggested Flomax for the prostate problem.

After several days of misery, I began sleeping better and spending less time on the toilet. And soon, with physical therapy and working out on my own and Barbara managing medications, I began to feel much better.

Barbara and I would have coffee at Panera in Shrewsbury. I would walk up and down with my walker. When people saw me with the walker, they rushed to get out of the way and open doors for me. I have to be honest with you, I kind of liked all the notice and deference.

Before the hip replacement, I was limping, walking bent over and in pain. Now I was standing and walking straight up, going from two  crutches to only one, having dumped the other one. I felt a couple of inches taller.

Six weeks after the surgery, on July 21, I had my follow-up appointment with Dr. Burke. With both of us looking at the x-rays of my new hip, Dr. Burke pronounced everything as it should be. "Could I have a copy of this x-ray?" I asked.

"Sure," he said and set up his computer and asked my wife Barbara to type in my e-mail and hit send.

She did.

And now ladies and gentlemen, the moment you no doubt have been waiting for: a chance to see my new hip, in the x-ray Dr. Burke had Barbara e-mail me. Drum roll please ... drum roll ... and here it is:

Look at that left hip. Beautiful, don't you think?

Next came exercising at home, and then out-patient therapy three times weekly with professional therapists at Greendale Physical Therapy in Worcester. But I was still limping a little and not progressing as fast as I had hoped. Besides the three sessions a week at Greendale I was also working out twice a day the other four days and also taking thirty minute walks.

When I told my physical therapist Kim at Greendale how much I was working out at home, she gave me a stern look. She let me know in no uncertain terms that I was not superman and that I could be hurting myself. She said I "should back off on the exercise and see if that helps."

I did. The recovery sped up. And I owe that to Kim who put me through new and more challenging exercises as I grew stronger. Thank you, Kim, for putting me in my place!

I now expect to be back on the tennis court in late September or early October. "You should be good for doubles then," Dr. Burke said. Already my crutches and walker are distant memories.

Organized by my good friend Rich Pyle, I recently got together for lunch with some of my tennis friends at the Nu Cafe in Worcester. Below is a photo of the group, with me standing and drawing attention to myself as usual. Rich is at my left elbow, Marty is beside him, Sam is far left, and Jim is at my right elbow. (I use my elbows to keep them in line.)

So guys, sorry to tell you this, but I'm coming back!

P.S.  Later at home, my wife Barbara and I sat down and watched the video of my hip replacement. We were stunned at what we saw: the sliced hip opening; Dr. Burke's hands moving swiftly clearing flesh with one delicate small instrument after another; retrieving and holding my socket in his hand; and, most amazing of all, pounding my new socket into place with a hammer. Unbelievable!

So long and keep moving.

Comments welcome. Send to: pollock.george@gmail.com. For info on my background and books, click here.

NOTE:  My latest novel is Something Tells Her.  Go to Amazon. 

Jane is abandoned at birth and then placed in ever-changing, uncaring,  and often abusive foster homes. At age 12, her latest foster father makes a sexual advance on her and, with something telling her this is not right, she runs out the door. On the street, alone, no family, nobody, not even a last name, how is she going to survive? 

Other E-Books by George Pollock

"State Kid: Hero of Literacy" is fiction based on his real-life experiences growing up in foster homes; "Last Laughs," is the true story of how five foster kids (he and four younger siblings) found their way in life and each other. "Killers: Surprises in a Maximum Security Prison," is the story of his being locked up for 23 hours with killers in a maximum security prison; "I, Cadaver" is about his postmortem adventures and mischief in the anatomy lab at UMass Medical School. “A Beautiful Story” demonstrates the art and process of creative writing as a 16-year-old boy goes all out to write a story that literally saves his life. 

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