Behind every metal-on-metal (MoM) artificial hip that fails, there is a person and a story. Artificial hip manufacturers may see only a faceless crowd of victims. These defendant companies may attempt to resolve the claims in bulk and move on to market the next blockbuster medical device. But in that crowd of plaintiffs are thousands of individuals uniquely injured by a product that was implanted in their bodies. The product failure often requires revision surgery, and the injuries that result from the artificial hip failures change lives forever: accomplished tennis players no longer play tennis; couples no longer travel or walk together on a beach; others have to resign from jobs they love because they cannot sit a desk for any length of time. Each of these people has a unique story to tell.
In the next three posts, I will share one woman’s story. “Suzanne” [not her real name] received a metal-on-metal (MoM) artificial hip in 2006 after years of pain from arthritis. The hip was recalled in 2010, and Suzanne was forced to undergo revision surgery in 2011. This is her story:
I have been home in North Carolina from my two month sabbatical in Costa Rica for almost four months now. The memories of my time there, the simple routines, new friendships and the feeling that I would return home and make significant changes in my life after “re-entry” have faded into the urgency of daily demands from work, family, relationships and most urgently: my body. Any time I am away from home I look forward to the pile of mail waiting for me when I return, most of it is junk, I know, but I still get excited by post that is addressed to me personally. Now after two months away from home my stack of mail was significant and I settled into the comfort of my screened in porch in anticipation of what I had missed.
After separating the junk from the catalogs, the catalogs from the bills, the personal emerged and that is where I started. What was waiting for me on that September afternoon among the pile of letters that were a combination of known and unknown, was a curious letter from Duke Diagnostic Clinic. I read it twice to make sure that what I was reading was true and then with an unsettling feeling growing in the pit of my stomach, I looked for my husband John [not his real name]. “John, you are never going to believe what I am reading here in this letter from Duke University. It seems that the artificial hip I received four years ago has been recalled.”
The letter went on to say that only a small percentage of recipients would have complications, but I didn’t need to read any further to know that these were going to be my complications–my life–starting now. Since then I have been traveling the two hundred plus miles back and forth to Durham, the home of Duke University and the Duke medical complex to find that every test that I have taken indicates my device has not only failed, but has been poisoning my blood, damaging surrounding tissue, and quite possibly–we will not know for certain until the surgeons are inside–infecting me.
In the past I spoke of bold action and, with trust, falling into the arms of the universe. Now, faced with major surgery in four days and all of the unanswered questions surrounding this endeavor, I feel like I am falling, but I’m not sure where.
Today was my last day at work before embarking on a two month medical leave to have my left hip re-replaced due to a device “recall.” I left work feeling almost completely satisfied that I could face the impending circumstances with almost no work-related stress or unfinished business. I just have to let it go. I’m finding that I am letting go of a lot of things these days. I will no longer be able to run after my bionic-titanium parts are replaced with more fragile parts. Ceramic, plastic and metal will probably not invoke words from my surgeon like the words after my first hip replacement: “Do whatever you want as long as it does not cause you pain.” Not that pain has ever stopped me before. No pain, no gain, right?
I will miss running though, and I’ll have to face other limitations head-on as they come. Since I am returning home from the hospital mere days before Christmas, I am letting that go too. My family, my husband, and our two children have been trying to create a family holiday experience as far from the consumer, commercial version as we can, spending our time making gifts, cooking food, playing games and music–and if we are not on a traveling adventure–staying home and just having fun. Two years ago our kids, they are twenty six and twenty one now, squirreled away and wrapped random objects from our home so when we woke on Christmas morning, John and I really thought Santa had come. The gifts were spilling out from under the tree, until I looked closer at the bicycle with the big red ribbon tied around it, noticing the rust and dirty tires–who’s bike was that?
In the days leading up to this week I have amassed a stack of books to read while recovering. I have selected various tomes for friends and family as gifts this season and that is all I am doing. Cooking, traveling, creating, taking care of family and friends, I’m letting it go. The first time I had total hip replacement surgery was four years and four months ago. John and I are amazed that we have almost no recollection of what happened the first time I had surgery. We are trying to put the pieces together in order to prepare ourselves this time around, but we have hardly any memory of the experience. This time I have the full support and care of a loving man–my husband of almost twenty seven years. And it’s funny because this second surgery, this “do-over” is like another chance to make all my stories right, to let go of those stories and parts that “no longer serve me,” as one of my wise friends noted.
And so here it is, another chance to let go, another chance to continue creating my story.
Disclaimer: This narrative is not intended to represent any specific person or specific product. Names and details have been changed.