Surgery in the Time of Coronavirus

I sat in the early-morning dark of the hospital parking lot, my phone clutched in my hand. I’d been in the lot since 3:30 am. The charge on the phone—my lifeline to my husband—was running out. No one else was in the lot. A fluorescent streetlight blinked. Was the pain in his leg a blood clot? Was he in danger? My gaze flickered between the door to the ER in case a nurse came to update me and the impersonal messages of the phone: Patient has been admitted. Tests have been order for Patient. Patient has been given medication. Together, my phone and I waited.


I have been isolating at home with my husband since he was discharged from the hospital March 5 following hip replacement surgery. Early on, I made a couple of grocery runs after the home health nurse called to tell us to gather 2 weeks of food and 1 week of water. We already had somewhat of a supply on hand because (1) you cannot leave a hip replacement patient alone for any length of time until 10 days post-surgery; and, (2) I’m not our cook so I wanted to have what I needed to fix meals.

About 2 weeks ago, when our ability to get physical therapy in New Orleans seemed in jeopardy, we came over to our beach house. We haven’t left the house since arriving…except two nights ago at 3:30am when we had to go by ambulance to the ER at the local hospital when Tom’s hip dislocated. It was terrible. The pain was extraordinary.

Tom’s surgeon did not want him returning to the hospital in New Orleans because the coronavirus made it too dangerous. So, in a move right out of M*A*S*H, the surgeon talked the ER doc through a reduction, which is when they put the patient under anesthesia and wrestle the hip back in place. The ER doc had never done the procedure before. She has now.

The reduction gave Tom immediate relief. The hip is now in an immobilizer to keep it from moving an inch. We have placed great faith in the immobilizer, which he will be in for 3 weeks. We are counting the hours until we can talk on the phone to the surgeon next week with our many questions.

The bad part of this experience has been the uncertainty generated by recovering from surgery in the time of a pandemic, not only in the world but in our city. The intersection of the two this weekend was awful: access to needed care was cut off by the virus.

Each day, I tend to rollercoaster between what needs the most worrying about: Tom’s hip or keeping us safe from the virus. This has meant washing everything that came into the house from the ER including clothes and shoes; disinfecting everything the EMTs touched in the house; disinfecting medicine bottles and disposing of packaging without bringing it inside; washing my hands before and after almost all daily activities. And so much more.

Some of the things I’m thankful for:

  • Tom’s bad hip kept us from mingling with the Mardi Gras crowds—we could walk no further than the base of our apartment and waved at those walking by on the sidewalk across the street. I wasn’t wearing a mask, but I was wearing an astronaut helmet.
  • We still have running water and working electricity. You might wonder why this is even a concern, but we’ve lived through 3 hurricanes. This feels like a long, slow-moving hurricane when you lose water and electricity. We are glad we haven’t.
  • The ER doc. And ER nurses. And the careful surgeon.
  • The young man at the post office who is bundling our POBox mail and sending it to the house. The systems Walgreens put in place to get medicine with the least contact possible. The many genuine offers of help we have received. All the folks who are being flexible and doing their best to help—thank you.
  • Every single person who has sent us prayers. I am reciprocating. For the first time in my life, I actually have a written prayer list. And I’m using it.

What I’m not grateful for:

  • People who can stay home and distance themselves from others but, in pathological self-centeredness, are not.

But mostly I’m thankful for my husband’s freedom from pain, his resilient attitude (the ER nurses told him he was their favorite patient of the week), and his beautiful smiling face.

I got this from my friend author Linda Williams Jackson. I am praying it every morning.

surgery during coronavirus

Comments (14)

  • The weight (lol, which is saying a lot since you know how much I weigh now, gasp) of my love sailing through the ether to wrap itself around and bind the two of you. Not now, I know, but your—and my and all of our—Universe will be better than before. Dame Julian and I know. Oh! Here comes the blanket of love. Grab the corners and wrap

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      “Oh, that’s nice!” That’s Tom’s response to your comment. He’s right, as usual. Thank you for this assurance of hope. Sending our love to you and allllll of yours.

  • Bless y’all, and remember I’m just down the street if anything is needed. I’ll leave it on the steps and we can holler up at each other!!

  • Ellen,
    I have been thinking of you and Tom. Hoping he continues to have lessening pain and you have lessening fear. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

  • You should be feeling the hugs from Phoenix. What a crushing experience. How could we even have imagined such a thing a month or two ago?! Still praying for you both!

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      Thank you, Luanne. Hugs and prayers have brought us through this. And, yes, the quickness of change during this time is disorienting. They say as humans, change is one of the hardest things we deal with. Surely unrelenting quick change is the worst.

  • Oh my God, Helen. These healthcare workers are truly heroes. It seems that every day they’re having to step outside their comfort zone and find new solutions to keep patients safe. I’m so glad your husband found some relief from his pain. There are so many people to be thankful for in this terrible time. Sending you love and light.

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      Aren’t they? We were so grateful for their willingness to make this work. Thank you for the love and light–across the miles. ellen

  • Post-op after my second knee replacement in August 2015 in Montgomery, Alabama, my AC unit died before I got discharged. My son and his wife and daughter were there for their two-week vacation, so I had face-to-face help from multiple hands. We were all miserable , but I had pain meds, friends who delivered nine fans, and decision-makers to deal with the heating-and-air company. Thankfully, the world was right-side-up and somewhat predictable at the time.
    The stress you two are coping with so admirably puts my inconvenient experience in perspective.

    My daddy, a Southern storyteller, always said, “if it’s not good news, it’s a good story.” You two have a grrrreat story to write and tell. Stay well. Stay safe. Know you are loved. Thanks for sharing.

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      Oh, gosh. No AC in Montgomery—I’m sure that was miserable, but thankful you had such good support. And I hear you about having a story. Perhaps I’ll hold onto that: one day, I can fold these emotions into a story. Thank you for coming over to read and comment, and thank you for the good thoughts. Hope you and yours stay well.

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