No kid says, “When I grow up, I want to be on disability.”
I certainly never said that. But there was a time not too long ago when that was a very real possibility.
The most important things in the world to me are my family and my job. Everything else is a distant third.
My colleagues and I have all said that the minute we don’t feel like we can do the job, we’re out. Because it’s not about a paycheck, it’s about helping people. And if we can’t do that, then we have no business being there.
I’m sure you can imagine the physical demands of being a firefighter: carrying heavy equipment and patients on stretchers; climbing up and down stairs and ladders, and in and out of trucks. Even when you’re in top form, a busy day can really wear you out.
About four years ago, I started having pain. At first I thought it was my knee and then maybe my back. It hurt to walk and carry heavy loads. As it got worse, I found that I couldn’t move as fast as the rest of my team because of the pain.
In our job, we’re part of a tightly knit team, where each of us relies on the other. We pull our weight, and we’re there for our buddies. To have something like this affecting my ability to support my teammates? It was simply unacceptable. It was time to get help.
My doctor told me that the problem was actually my hip. My left hip had a bone spur that was causing the pain. What’s more, my right hip wasn’t far behind.
I’d eventually need new hips, he said. But despite the amount of pain I was in, he said I didn’t need to take that drastic of a step yet. Because a hip replacement doesn’t last forever, he recommended I wait as long as I could, and then around 60, I could go ahead and get new hips.
I was 51 at the time, and planned to work right up to 60. But I couldn’t work with this pain. This would end my career, not only taking me out of doing what I love but also affecting my ability to provide for my family.
This firefighter was in crisis.
So who helped rescue me? I’d say my wife.
Refusing to accept that this was my only option, she started doing research. That’s when she discovered a technique called Birmingham Hip Resurfacing — a less drastic and safer alternative to a total hip replacement. She said, “Here, this looks like something you could do.”
I’d had some exposure to UW Medicine in the past, and admired their work educating other doctors. I thought that if there’s a new, leading-edge technique, this is where they’re going to have it.
So my wife checked the
UW Medicine website and found Dr. Manner’s name. When she called his office, they told her there was an expert panel that reviewed potential new patients to see who would be a good candidate for the procedure.
“That’s great,” she said. “When do they meet next?”
After a somewhat frantic call from my wife, I dropped my X-rays at UW Medical Center on my way home that day. I didn’t expect to hear anything for a while.
The phone rang the very next afternoon. The panel had decided I was exactly right for this procedure, and we scheduled an appointment to get started.
At my first appointment, they took more X-rays and confirmed that I was indeed a good candidate. So we scheduled the surgery.
It was truly that fast.
Dr. Manner (UW Physician, UW Medical Center) walked me through every step of the procedure beforehand, so I knew what I was getting into. And as far as I was concerned, the more information, the better.
At one point he asked me what my goals were for the surgery. I told him that I wanted to be good enough to keep working. “Good enough won’t do,” he said. “You might be saving my house one day; I want you better than good.”
I liked the sound of that.
My left hip was first. The surgery went perfectly, and three months later that hip had hardly ever felt better. The pain was gone. But
Dr. Manner warned me of a downside: once my left hip was feeling better, I’d realize how bad my right hip was.
He was right, so that was next. Again, the procedure went off without a hitch, and a few months later I was back at work, 100 percent pain-free.
Dr. Manner said he was going for better than good, and he delivered it. I feel amazing. Today, I remain free of pain and feel as strong in my work as I ever have. Not only am I able to support my team the way I need to, I’m back doing what I was always meant to do in my life.
I honestly never thought I’d be able to work without pain again, but
Dr. Manner changed that. And he changed my life.