Wednesday, August 5, 2009

In Praise of Grabbers

This blog has been in operation for 48 hours and so far the ratio of "time Arley spends doling out useful advice about hip replacements" to "time Arley spends detailing the chafing/bruising on her ass" has been a little lopsided. To fix this, I thought I'd talk about one key tool in hip replacement recovery: the grabber (actually known as a "reach extender"). Why, you may be asking, does someone who's over six feet tall need to extend her reach? (You may also be asking why I have to mention the fact that I'm six feet tall in every post. I don't know).

The grabber is necessary because for 3 months post-surgery, you have a variety of restrictions: no bending past 90 degrees, no twisting, no crossing your legs, no lifting. This is supposed to prevent the hip from dislocating. No bending is the hardest restriction, since it means that if you're freakishly tall, you can't use any toilet that's not raised up (read: you can't go to the bathroom outside your house), and you can't reach down to pull up your pants. Enter the grabber.

My relationship with grabbers is a complex and ambivalent one. A couple of Christmases ago, I received one as a gift, since my mom had gotten it from a friend's dead grandmother and figured, "Hey, Arley bends as gracefully as a 95-year-old woman reaching for a Werther's Original. Maybe she could use this." You could tell it came from someone's dead grandma because her name and phone number were still written in felt pen on a strip of tape and it had a musty old-person smell. Nothing stokes the holiday spirit like a gift that says, "In honour of your declining functional ability, here's a little something to help you prepare for the fact that, one day, someone will saw off the head of your femur, hammer a metal stake into your thigh bone, and replace your old hip with one made out of ceramic. When that happens, use this to get your pants up." Merry Christmas. The dead woman's grabber featured a scary-looking black talon claw and a tip with two little fangs and before the surgery I wouldn't go near it. Now, it sits beside me on the bed while I type this and I swear it gives me crazy dreams.

The dead woman's grabber is not my only grabber. I have three: a fancy one that's my go-to grabber, the dead woman's grabber for retrieving things around my bed, and a fold-up one for my purse. It's good to have multiple grabbers because in the beginning it's hard to walk with crutches while carrying a grabber from place to place. Plus, when you drop one grabber, you need another to pick it up. (Hurray! Three days in and I've finally made a suggestion!)

Want to know how to get your pants on after a hip replacement? Most people do this sitting down, but I have mastered the art of dressing while standing up, which is more conducive to my active lifestyle of watching reality TV and eating frozen grapes.

1. Stand in the bathroom supported by crutches. Rest the grabber against the bathroom counter. Try not to look at the nasty-ass scar on your hip in the mirror.

2. Choose a pair of pants. (I've skipped the underwear step because it's the same and I wanted to spare you that mental picture). If the elastic is too tight it will hurt your hip. If it's too loose the pants will keep falling down. Do not attempt jeans, especially if they are of the skinny variety. Also, try not to have a hip replacement during a midwestern winter because you will either get frostbite or else die of the pure frustration of trying to layer your clothing.

3. The OT at the hospital said to put the bad leg in first, but after much experimentation I disagree. Put the good leg in first, then let the pants drop to the ground where they will get all dusty because your skin is freaking out so much about the hip replacement that everywhere you go you shed dead skin and it's covering the bathroom floor and my God you're sexy.

4. Grab the waistband of the pants with the grabber and fish around until you align the bad leg with the leghole of the pants. Wiggle your toes until your foot goes all the way through the leghole.

5. Grab the waistband of the pants with the grabber and pull up. Try to adopt a Larry Craig-esque wide stance so that if you accidentally let go of the pants, they will not fall back down.

6. Look at yourself in the mirror with your pants half-way up and your legs spread wide as you try to use a long piece of metal with a claw on the end to pull your pants up. Think, "Holy shit, how did this get to be my life?" Hum the Bob Dylan song "Dignity." Realize that, including putting on underwear, this has taken you 15 minutes.

7. Buck up! Hum "Eye of the Tiger!" Finish the job! Once you get the pants up to your knees, you will have to balance on your crutches and coordinate the moment when you reach to grab the pants with one hand as you drop the grabber with the other.

8. Pull the pants up the rest of the way and take a nap.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the excitement of my life.


  1. Oh my god Arley, you are seriously killing me. You have no idea how many times I've done the "Holy shit, how did this get to be my life?" stare. Most recently was in some cheap ass hotel where I slipped getting out of the tub and got myself wedged between the toilet and the wall. Like, I will die here and people are going to find me in three weeks with stray cats eating my face kind of wedged.


  2. I'm a young and hip RA patient (22 years young). Getting my left hip replaced in Dec and my right in March next year due to AVN in both of them. Came across your blog via Google. I couldn't help but laugh at this post, the way you word everything makes for a very entertaining read. Yeah I may be laughing now but I've got less than 4 weeks until I'll be experiencing all this!!

    Your bluntness and honesty is a breath of fresh air and I look forward to reading the rest of your posts!

  3. Good luck with your hip replacement! Hopefully you won't have as many post-surgical complications as I've had and you'll have a speedy recovery!

  4. What a great blog..thanks for making me laugh so hard in the mist of worrying about an upcoming hip surgery...LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE!!

    1. Good luck with your upcoming surgery! Thanks for reading.