After my 4th hip surgery, remembering what once was
In my lifetime, I've traveled over 20 times to the Dominican Republic. It was and remains my favorite place on earth. Although I've not been back in over 10 years, in my heart, it remains a symbol of what once was and what will likely never be again. My physical and mental deterioration has occurred slowly and progressively over many years. There has not been one specific defining moment where I suddenly went from "able" to "unable." This is what most would consider the natural evolution of the aging process. Alas, it is. However, in my case, I've been stuck in fast-forward for years. At 52, I feel like 92. And today, I ask the question, "How did I get here? How did this happen? How did I suddenly find myself on the other side, unable to get back?" It has been tormenting me for a long time.
A legend in his own mind
My mother's brother Marc, my uncle, was "the guy" I wanted to be. A motorcycle-riding hippie with exceptionally good taste in the finer things in life yet did not have these items around. Despite some unusual character flaws and irritating habits he possessed, he was a uniquely special person with wonderful attributes who lived his life by his own rules, which meant "move out of the way, here I come!" However, this is not who I am fundamentally, but it is who he was. He was not a bully by any means, but he could be beyond persuasive; he just had a way of seeing things that pushed him to act in ways that were innovative and inspiring but, at the same time, could also be quite irritating. Although not tested, I believe he was a genius. He was rarely, if ever, wrong about just about any subject, which makes conversation a challenge (think Elon Musk). We were very different people, but his desire to live outside of the rules and the box created by modern society was also in me; I just was never able to break out of the box. There is a big part of me that is still quite conservative (not politically) in that I like to live in the confines of a steady, committed relationship and live a good clean life where I adhere to the system and to society's expectations of me. But I also yearn to be free.
In the early nineties, Marc presented an offer to me and my girlfriend Lana at the time; move down to the Dominican Republic and work for him in his fruits and vegetables/juice bar business. I was 22 years. I had just recently moved into an apartment with Lana, had a brand new job working as a paste-up artist for $7.50/h for a toy importer, and was starting my life as a young adult. I remember the temptation to just "leave it all behind" was so alluring. Ultimately, we chose to stay here in the land of snow and ice, Montreal, Qc. Was it a mistake? Did I make a RIGHT instead of a LEFT at Albuquerque, as Bugs Bunny would have said? Would Lana and I have stayed together and had our child Sascha? Or would that have been removed as a possibility in our destiny? I'll never know.
Not long after that offer had been tabled, I was diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis, which changed the course of my life forever. Would I have gotten sick had I moved down there, or would I have remained relatively healthy due to the laid-back lifestyle and natural environment? Or would I have ended up just coming back home to pursue what has become a 30-year-long journey of living and fighting with diseases and all that entails? Again, I'll never know. Perhaps we are all presented with a fork or even fork in the road at one time or another. Many books and movies have been created that revolve around this very phenomenon. "Illusions" by Richard Bach is an excellent and worthwhile example. Of course, Scrooge is the classic example of the "what choices you make now will affect your future" story we are all so familiar with.
Playa "Where dreams are made of"
So why am I writing about this today? It's January 23, 2023, and I'm currently convalescing after having had hip revision surgery, the 4th hip surgery in 20 years' time. I'm staying at Lana's house with her husband, Andrew, and their twin boys until I am strong and able enough to manage on my own. Yes, that's correct; I'm living at my 1st wife's house as a guest and being cared for. (I've since come back home and am now living alone once again) With absolute certainty, I can confirm that the cliché "never say never" is real, and I have lived it more than once in what has turned into quite an unbelievable life story. This morning, fighting through depression, wondering how I'm going to get through the next few days, weeks, months, and even years, given my current state of health, I stumbled upon a channel on T.V. broadcasting a fixed webcam-style video of a beautiful beach, Playa Madama in the D.R. I immediately recognized it as the D.R., despite never having been to that particular beach. (As with all my writing episodes, there is always a song that either sparks the idea to write or comes along and starts to play at the exact moment that matches what I'm writing about. This just happened. A song called "Tres Hermanos" just began to play. I've heard it once before. It transports me to the Latin land of beauty that I am in love with and comforts me.) I look at the image of the beach, hear the waves lapping, see the fishing boat anchored in the sand, the mountains and palm trees completing the scene, and am filled with melancholy.
Television; The illusion of life
Traveling has become nearly impossible for me for many reasons. Will I ever be able to get back there? To the land of beauty, freedom, voodoo, and magic? To the land where anything seems possible and impossible at the same time. I don't know. All I have in its place right now is a 4K reincarnation on a huge flat-screen wall-mounted television in a luxury home in Beaconsfield that is counterbalanced by snow lining the basement window wells as a reminder that I am not there. Just pixels arranged in such a fashion as to allow me to view but not touch, feel, smell, or taste the world that I cannot get to. As I shuffle along the smooth exotic hardwood floors that were used to build this home, I can't help but ask myself, how did I get here? How did this happen? I never imagined, when I was last in the D.R., that it might be my last time ever being there. I had plans to move down there as a retiree, something I realize now will never happen. I'm 52 years old and have been forced into early retirement because of my health, despite being nowhere near having the financial security I would need to retire.
The River of Suffering (in the middle of the night)
After waking several times in the middle of the night with gastric pain and discomfort, I decided it was time to push through and get my carcass out of bed to do an enema. Lately, I've been slowly trying to break the habit of daily enemas by skipping as many days as I can tolerate. Upon returning to bed, I inserted my trusty earbuds and tuned back into an "on-demand" episode of Afterdark, my favorite late-night radio show. I discovered a song that encapsulated how I feel at this stage of my life. As each line was delivered, I could not help but think, without being self-absorbed by it, "This song was written for me, about me." The phrase "I need a boat to cross the river of suffering" reminded me of the humble little Dominican fishing boat I saw gently swaying in the sand and water on television the day before and how, for me, it represented the end of suffering. Simple yet so profound, the song genuinely captures the pain, suffering, and heartache I've experienced and continue to experience.
The River of Suffering – K.S. Rhoads
An excerpt from "The river of suffering"
We’re only getting older
The sky is getting dark
The ones you love, they get to dying
And it takes chips off of your heart
The sun is sinking slowly
Like a red guillotine
I need a boat to cross the river of suffering
Pain turns into sorrow
And sorrow is how you heal
The point of this blog is not to give me a forum where I can lament and complain about my circumstances. Its purpose truly is to give me the space I need to try to make sense of it all and to share the perspectives I discover along the way with all of you, some of which are also having to cope with serious health issues. And even for those who aren't, it's always a good reminder to know that our health is far and away the most important asset one can ever have. I'm sitting with one butt cheek on and one butt cheek off of a high bar stool-style chair, with my staple stitches pulling down the side of my hip, typing away at this chapter, doing my best to ignore the discomfort. I've had my breakfast, my palm full of pills, my Kratom, and my pain medication, and now, I wait. I wait for the medication to start doing its thing. I wait for some relief. I wait for my breakfast to go down before lying down again. I am waiting for my first post-op visit from a physiotherapist at 10 AM. My body is waiting for me to say, "It's okay; let's go lay down again and rest." Life used to be about going, doing, moving, and actively being a part of the gears of life, and now, it's all about the wait.
Inside and Out, I wait
Now that the ticking time Cobalt poison bomb has been removed from my body, I wait some more. I'm told I have to wait 3 to 6 months to see a decline in the levels of Cobalt and chromium present in my blood. Everything, it seems, when it comes to health, takes 3 to 6 months. I've lost count of how many times I have waited 3 to 6 months for some change or improvement in some facet of my life. 3 to 6 months is the time it takes to recover from hip surgery fully. I was able to hold on to the parts that were removed from my hip, both as a souvenir and for legal purposes. As you will see, the two pieces (ball and socket) appear to have never been used. They look brand new. This is because the implant itself was designed to be extremely durable and last a lifetime versus wear down like the plastic ones do. (I learned that Cobalt is used in manufacturing the vault doors in most banks!) However, in this case, we are talking about microns of metal being worn away over years which are imperceptible to the eye. And as such, they are microscopic, which means they easily enter the bloodstream and wreak the havoc that I describe in my chapter "The Cobalt Blues." It's a shame that the material had to be toxic because otherwise, I'd still have that hip inside me doing its job - keeping me walking.
Conversely, the outer representation of this revision surgery is a harder one to look at. Surgery produces a lot of bruising, even in areas that are, in fact, far away from the actual incision. My leg looks like a frozen leg of New Zealand lamb! The staples came out today, one week after surgery. However, the nurse had to come back and dress the incision because it was starting to bleed in a few spots.
These were some cute characters that the admission's desk had on display at the hospital!
NOTE: The image below is of a graphic nature depicting the stitches and bruising that accompany hip revision surgery. Simply click on SHOW IMAGE should you wish to view it clearly.
Nothing is "As It Was"
Harry Styles holds the record in 2022 for the most listened-to song on Spotify with the song "As It Was." Those were the words that came to my mind when I saw the D.R. video this morning. Specifically, "You know it's not the same as it was." The song speaks to a relationship between two people; I'm borrowing it and giving it a new meaning; the relationship between a person and a place in time - a person and a place that are no longer what they were. And I struggle with that. I see myself being eclipsed by the new generation, the younger, fitter, stronger, and faster in all areas of life crowd. My physical ability, mental and emotional capacity, elasticity, adaptiveness, career, and family are all vanishing before my eyes. So much has happened in the last 10 years of my life, so much has been taken away, it prompts me to ask, "Should I have turned LEFT instead of RIGHT at Albuquerque?"
Wow Pat! That’s some serious Ouchies! Once again, thank you for sharing your story. Always here if you need to chat <3 Courage <3
You are braver than you realize. Thank you for sharing your journey with us and I wish for you the best outcome from this surgery. Hopefully one day soon you will visit your beloved Dominican Republic in good health and spirits!