Pic © Steve Hall, UNP
In her 40s, Karen Willcock started to feel pain in one of her hips, but like so many of us tried to ignore it and got on with life. But the pain didn’t go away and in her early 50s it became more intense, affecting her for weeks at a time. Slowly but surely, the gaps between flare-ups got shorter and shorter until she was awake all night in constant pain.
Karen’s GP recommended exercise, then she was referred to a physiotherapist. But after just three sessions, Karen was told they couldn’t fix her problem either.
It took months of painful exercise and further referrals before Karen was diagnosed with arthritis in her right hip.
But Karen, now 58, didn’t want to make a fuss. “It wasn’t a lack of confidence,” she says. “Rather I was thinking of those worse off, and trying to cope because I thought I should.”
'As an otherwise healthy lady in her early 50s, I thought I was way off needing a hip replacement'
Indeed, Karen thought it far too early to consider major surgery. “My 91-year-old aunt is on the waiting list for a hip op,” she says, “and I was comparing myself to her. As an otherwise healthy lady in my early 50s, I thought I was way off needing that sort of procedure. And, I was nervous of having an operation full stop. I was prepared to do everything I could before accepting that surgery was necessary.”
Karen struggled on, relying on prescription painkillers, while friends met for walks and shopping trips that she couldn’t join in with. She became practically housebound. “I couldn’t drive, let alone walk,” she says. “All last year I didn’t go into town once.”
On two occasions Karen even had steroid injections in her hip – a painful hospital procedure – but after weeks of waiting, there was no improvement.
And her resolve to battle through wasn’t the best approach, as the drugs she was given to take did more harm than good.
“I went for a routine blood test,” remembers Karen, “and my GP phoned the same day to say I had to stop taking my painkillers immediately.”
That seemed an impossible task while she was in such pain, until it was explained that taking painkillers over a prolonged period had caused kidney problems.
“That was a real shock,” Karen says. “I’d gone from having a bad hip, to stage three kidney failure as well. I had no choice but to stop taking the drugs.”
Other types of stronger drugs were available, but Karen wasn’t confident about taking them. “I couldn’t live the rest of my life on medication, especially when I didn’t know what other hidden damage it could be doing.”
By the end of last year, the only way to combat the constant agony was to stay at home. Then spring arrived, and garden-lover Karen was still stuck indoors. That was when she realised the situation was no longer in her control.
“I couldn’t get down to do anything,’ she says. “The garden was overtaken by weeds and that really got me down. I was still frightened to death of the operation, but I just wanted the pain gone.”
So Karen went back to the GP for help and at her next consultation, the surgeon told her she needed a total hip replacement.
“He showed me the x-ray and my hip looked like a car crash,” says Karen. “I signed the papers there and then, to say I’d have the op. If only I’d seen the state of it before, perhaps I might have gone for surgery sooner.
‘My GP phoned the same day to say I had to stop taking my painkillers immediately’
“You try to cope, so although my partner and family were incredibly supportive, I don’t think they realised how bad things were,” Karen says. “And I hadn’t done myself any good, by putting off the inevitable.”
Karen was looked after by The Barlborough NHS Treatment Centre, which she says is ‘a well-oiled machine’. Her operation was just eight weeks after that first appointment in March, and she was overwhelmed by their standards of care.
“I had the operation on Thursday, was walking on Friday, and home by Saturday. I could tell the difference from the moment I first got out of bed. They were really impressed as I was on crutches from the word go. I thought I was dreaming! All those years, and all that pain, for what? The whole process was just so easy.”
Then it was just a case of taking things easy for six weeks. Now Karen’s back to doing the gardening, housework and shopping, as well as returning to work full time. “It’s never too early to fix these problems,’ she says. “Arthritis affects any age, no matter how young or old and you have to respond accordingly. Quality of life is more important than anything else."
And Karen’s making the most of it, taking weekends away with partner Alan and Peg the dog. “I’m able to live again,” Karen smiles. “Now I keep asking myself, ‘what was all that fuss about, eh?’ ”
Arthritis of the hip: symptoms and treatment
If you have arthritis in one or both of your hips, you’re most likely to feel deep pain at the front of your groin, but also at the side and front of your leg, in your bottom, and – in some cases – even down to your knee.
While there is no cure for the condition, there are ways in which it can be managed for a fuller, more active life. If you are experiencing hip pain then make an appointment to see your GP.
- Formore information about arthritis, call Arthritis Care on their free confidential helpline, 0808 800 4050, or visit www.arthritiscare.org.uk
- For more information about The Barlborough NHS Treatment Centre visit www.careuk.com
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