Last week Britain’s oldest woman, 112-year-old Mrs Gladys Hooper, got a new hip.
I read the news with interest having recently gone bionic myself.
How, I wondered, had Mrs Hooper reacted to the idea of being admitted to hospital, undergoing an anaesthetic, and having a new spare part fitted involving the use of drills, saws and files?
Naturally I had gleaned this information from Professor Google well before my own operation and was now a bit of an expert. Acetabular cups, femoral stems, greater trochanter, lesser trochanter-the vocabulary was down pat, I just needed to figure out how to put it into sentences. Hip surgery has apparently been carried out since the 19th century, but the man who revolutionised the technique 52 years ago was John Charnley, a surgeon with an engineering bent. His interest was piqued when a patient came to him with an unusual problem. He’d got a new hip, but each time he reached for the salt at meal times, his implant emitted an unpleasant squeak which quite put his wife off her dinner. Working at the Wrighton hospital in Lancashire, Charnley designed a new type of implant along with a surgical procedure that revolutionised the procedure and presumably saved a few marriages.
So there I was at my first hospital appointment armed with ten pages of incomprehensible notes. The surgeon gave a detailed explanation of what would happen (‘lots of blood’ ‘risk of embolism’ ‘staple up the wound’) while waving a model of a large ball and socket.
‘Any questions?’ he asked.
Hmm. Remember the opening scenes of Annie Hall? There’s Alvy Singer saying ‘I have a hyperactive imagination…my mind tends to jump around a little and have some trouble between fantasy and reality…’ It’s just after the bit where the young Alvy is taken to the doctor’s suffering from depression. The good doctor wants to know why. ‘Go on, tell him,’ says Mrs Singer.
“Alvy: The universe is expanding.”
The scene flashed through my mind, along with images from all those DVDs my nephew helpfully keeps me supplied with: The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, The Day After Tomorrow, Twister, Independence Day.
I had questions.
So, Doc, let’s see if I have it right. You’re gonna cut a big hole in my side, saw out my faithful old buddy of a hip and replace it with a cotyle insert fixed to the inner wall of the cotyle thereby forming one of the prothesis’s two articular surfaces in order to accommodate the femur head?
OK, Doc, let’s just suppose, as a matter of purely speculative interest, a fire were to break out in the middle of the op, just after you’d got the old hip out? So, the old hip’s in the rubbish bin covered in germs, you’re in the middle of chiselling down my lesser trochanter to a size four, and suddenly you’re engulfed in flames? And then I wake up hipless in the operating theatre and all there are all these firemen running around and a bunch of surgeons lying on the floor in singed gowns and an abandoned drill and a size four stem and ceramic head on the table just to my left?
Alright, so the inferno scenario’s unlikely, and I checked, there are no volcanoes in the vicinity, also the Med is 150 km away and I don’t think they have tsunamis down there, as for the little green men with antennae they seem to prefer New Mexico to the south of France, but, but–what about The Airport?? That would be Toulouse International airport with 70, 000 passengers and 8,500 take offs and landings per month? The one with the really big planes? Was it a good idea to build a new hospital just below the flight path? I’m just asking. I mean I was looking out of the waiting room window and boy, those close-ups of the A 380 undercarriage are pretty impressive, you can see every strut….
The surgeon was waiting.
‘No questions,’ I squeaked.
I may suffer from Singer Syndrome, but I’m also from Yorkshire, not Brooklyn. There are stereotypes to be upheld. Le flegme britannique, ‘If you can keep your head…’ etc. My hip was rigid, but so was my upper lip.
And so on September 23rd I awoke to find I had a new hip. There were no signs of men in brass helmets or A380 debris. All had gone well. I was just one more happy statistic in a huge industry.*
Just over three weeks later, as was widely reported in the British press, another statistic was added in St Mary’s Hospital in Newport UK. But this one went down in the history books, with Mrs Hooper beating 102-year-old John Randall by 10 years. Her 84-year-old son reported that, following the operation, ‘the patient was ‘listening to music and chatting away’ while a BBC reporter added ‘Mrs Hooper said she felt ‘somewhere near 80’ in age.’
Hats off, Gladys, you’re an inspiration to closet disaster neurotics worldwide. All best wishes for a brilliant recovery.
Un grand merci to the Man with the Saw, Dr J.M. Combes, the Man with the Needle, Dr N. Hernandez, and the medical team at the Clinique Médipole Garonne, Toulouse, especially Fiona, Stefan and Sébastien, working 12-hour shifts with a smile and a joke (most of them about England’s performance in the Rugby World Cup, ouch, now that really hurt.) And another grand merci to physiotherapist extraordinaire, Adéline, at the CMRF, Albi, and my three companions in rehab, Hubert, Laurent, and Bruno, who proved that laughter is indeed the best medicine. A speedy recovery to you all. Last, but certainly not least, to all family and friends who kept my spirits up, you’re the tops. (Elizabeth, the trendy Desigual rucksack (see top photo) is a must-have for all hobbling hospital patients!)
*According to figures on the UK National Joint Registry site, approximately 160 000 total hip and knee replacements are carried out every year: http://www.njrcentre.org.uk/njrcentre/Patients/Jointreplacementstatistics/tabid/99/Default.aspx