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O.R. Director Talks About Her Hip Replacement; Shares Secrets to a Successful Surgery

Mary Rivera, RNAfter nearly three decades as an operating room nurse and manager, Mary Rivera, R.N., learned the hard way that standing on cement floors day after day takes its toll on your joints. At first the pain in her hip was manageable, but over time it grew worse.

"I had to hold on to the roof of my car just to get in and out of the driver's seat," recalls Mary. Eventually, she got to the point where she could barely get out of a car at all. And she was only in her early 50s--too young to be having such difficulty.

Her doctor confirmed what she already knew: Mary would need a hip replacement.

As a longtime surgical nurse (and the current director of Perioperative and Interventional Services for El Camino Hospital), Mary knew a lot about hip surgery. She observed these procedures every day. Plus, her sister had had both hips replaced years before, and Mary was there to help her through the recovery. So, she had seen the whole process--from start to finish.

She also knew that there were different ways to replace a hip. Her sister had a posterior hip replacement (where the surgeon goes in through the back of the hip); unfortunately, this type of surgery has a long recovery, and Mary needed to be able to get back to work soon.

So Mary decided on a newer approach, known as the anterior hip replacement. In an anterior hip surgery, the surgeon replaces the joint through an incision in the front of the hip. It's a smaller incision than with a posterior, and doesn't involve cutting through key muscles, which helps with recovery. "With anterior hip replacement, there's also a reduced risk of dislocation," notes Mary, which was the key factor in her decision.

Mary says her recovery was just as quick as she had hoped. "I walked immediately after the surgery," recalls Mary, who had very few physical restrictions after the operation. (And Mary was able to go home after just two nights in the hospital.) Today Mary is back to working full-time, and has no limitations with exercise--she can golf and do Jazzercise without a problem.

Mary says she is sharing her story publicly because she wants to help raise awareness of the anterior hip procedure, which isn't done at every hospital or by every surgeon. But most major hospitals do offer it.

Mary also gives her "top 10" tips for anyone who is considering a hip replacement. Tip #1: Do your research!

Mary's Top 10 Tips for a Successful Hip Surgery

  1. Do your research. Consider the anterior hip approach and talk to your surgeon about it.
  2. Recognize when your pain becomes too much to handle--and don't put off the surgery if you need it. Talk to your physician about how much pain medication you're taking just to get through each day, and take a hard look at your quality of life. If you need surgery, get it.
  3. Find a top surgeon. Ask how often he or she does the procedure, and which method of procedure (anterior vs. posterior). Ask about complication and dislocation rates. Talk to more than one surgeon and compare notes.
  4. Make sure your hospital has a specialized joint replacement program, which includes both pre-operative and post-operative education.
  5. Ask if your hospital has a dedicated nursing floor for joint surgeries and whether nurses are experienced in taking care of joint patients.
  6. Find out if your hospital has an orthopedic nurse coordinator available to chat with you on the phone prior to your surgery. (Most joint programs offer this service.)
  7. Ask if your hospital's nursing program has earned "Magnet" status, a measure of excellence in nursing.
  8. Ask your anesthesiologist about the use of general vs. regional anesthesia for your surgery. (Many folks overlook the anesthesiologist, but this role is a critical part of your surgical team.)
  9. Talk to other patients who have had your particular surgery to get a sense of what to expect.
  10. Learn about the recovery process, in and out of the hospital. When you wake up from surgery, realize there will be a lot of equipment around you (or attached to you); know what to expect so you aren't taken by surprise. And be sure to have someone at home to help you once you're discharged!

Thanks again to Mary Rivera, R.N., for providing these excellent tips!

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