Posted by: HAT | January 29, 2011

A Letter From Camp Hip Replacement

This is someone else's picture of a wild turkey, but there was a BIG one outside our window this morning -- that was exciting!

Hi, Gang!

As I have already told a few people, I am probably having too much fun at Camp Hip Replacement (aka Southern Indiana Rehab Hospital). I don’t know whether or not this means that the state of my joints is significantly related to my personality, or not. On one hand, I think I generally try to “make the best of it,” whatever “it” is; if I can have a good time in the hospital, I am probably one of those people who can have a good time just about anywhere, and my joints have little to do with it.

On the other hand, I have little doubt that over time, if joints deteriorate and there is nothing to be done for them, and they come to be the source of intractable pain for which there is no hope of future relief, that would wreak some havoc on anyone’s personality, mood and outlook. There were some days there before surgery that were about nothing but pain, that was getting worse and not better, and trying to accomplish something half-way human in spite of it. Making the best of that was a challenge; I was not winning.

Maybe that’s why I am having so much fun. I’m still in pretty much continuous pain, ranging from around a 2 or 3 out of 10 at best, and around a 6 or 7 out of 10 if I’ve been sitting at right angles on the edge of a dose of pain meds. But it’s a different kind of pain. I have good reason to believe that this pain is going to improve over time, and that if I do my exercises as prescribed, get the tight muscles stretched out and the weak muscles strengthened, and don’t let up, I will eventually get my whole body back to “normal” or something pretty close to it. THAT’S GREAT NEWS!

So it is maybe not “joints” specifically that are related to personality and mood, but pain and suffering generally, in my life most immediately and dramatically taking on the form of a severely osteo-arthritic joint, and then the sequelae of hip replacement surgery.

The idea of utopia is intimately related to idea of the relief or the conquest of suffering. So Camp Hip Replacement, it seems to me, lies in the direction of utopia — it’s far from utopia proper, but it’s on that side of the freeway. That may contribute to the fun of the place, too. The dream of a better world hovers around the place.

I am not making up the “camp” analogy. There are definitely elements of summer camp present in the experience. It is “time off” from work-a-day life. [With exceptions for crises! Maybe more about that another time.] Our time is structured; we have free time, and then we have individual and group activities, that include exercising and games, and small motor things sort of like crafts: physical therapy and occupational therapy. There is lots of colorful equipment. During the day, the two gyms, the inpatient gym and the outpatient gym, are full of people working on their programs in tandem with their therapists and assistants.

The physical therapists and occupational therapists have a number of characteristics in common with counselors. They need to be skilled in the activities so they can demonstrate and coach, and presumably are also skilled in knowing which activities a person needs to do, and how that is related to their physical condition; but they also need to be cheer-leaders: they are resolutely upbeat, cheerful and encouraging without being too pushy, but when necessary they become disciplinary; most of the therapists seem to have a real sense of call for this work, another point in common with counselors I have known; plus, they all wear polo shirts, track shoes, and lanyards.

The group activities director arranges something for just about every day: bingo, seasonally-themed competitions, group lunches with word games, movie nights. [I learned that the group activities program has something to do with the presence of “sub-acute” patients, which in turn has something to do with the facility’s eligibility for Medicare placements. For me, it means I now have a small squishy koala bear and a planner as my winnings from last week’s quiz lunch, and a set of thank-you cards and a magnetic refrigerator photo-frame from yesterday’s. Plus I have met some of the other campers (er, patients). Everyone has a story.]

The meals are perhaps more dorm-like than camp like: heavy on the pasta, mashed potatoes and soft vegetables, light on the corn on the cob and bar-b-q. Then again, I have an atypical menu, because of being vegetarian, so there may be a little more bar-b-q than I think, on other people’s trays. We don’t have to report to the dining hall to eat, but we can, in which case there are more possibilities for conversation, and the questions are a lot like college dorm “what’s you major?” transforms into “what’re you in for?”).

And then there is the slightly Disney-esque quality of the inpatient PT gym, which has a whole side that looks like a stripped-down Main Street, USA, with a sidewalk, including ramp and curb; a grocery store stocked with food-facsimiles and a check-out lane; a life-like Victorian front doorway, with four steps and a landing; and a cozy, liveable apartment with a living room, kitchen/breakfast area, bathroom, and bedroom. The outpatient gym has a car in it, and a set of stairs with various surfaces (carpet, cement, wood). The whole point here is to be able to practice the Activities of Daily Living in more realistic surroundings, so that the adaptations we need to learn will be easier for us to remember.

We have bunk mates. Our families send us care packages, and cards. I have been taking “bucket baths” and washing my socks out by hand every night.

The only thing that is really missing compared to more traditional camp is the “nature.” Unless you want to count the human body as nature, which would make sense. Or our window, which looks out on an open courtyard, and beyond that a little woods. This morning, a very large wild turkey decided to put in an appearance. I would have taken a picture, but my cell phone just didn’t have the range. So that was this morning’s nature walk.

Taken on the whole, and all in all, Camp Hip Replacement has been a fairly pleasant quasi-vacation. (Thank you, God and Everyone!!)

Even so, the familiar homesickness that perennially accompanies camp is also beginning to trouble the edges of consciousness now. I am looking forward to getting on the bus for home.



  1. I think this outdoor activities are really enjoyable to chilldren. Thank you for all Campinga from Camp Hip Replacement

    • Yes, no doubt outdoor activities are extremely beneficial for children. Although I think that is a little inapposite vis-à-vis the post.

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