Over the years, retired mental health clinician Billie Ann Primmer tried her fair share of the many treatments for joint pain.
She saw a chiropractor for a bulged disc. A massage therapist for sciatica.
She had both knees replaced—the right in 2012, the left in 2018.
And then her right hip began to give her grief.
“My doctor recommended physical therapy and weight loss,” Primmer, 62, said. “I tried to swim to stretch out the muscle. But the pain got so bad that you would have to peel me off the ceiling.”
The resounding message from those who evaluated Primmer: Go see an orthopedic specialist.
Primmer’s primary care physician, Melissa Brown, DO, a Spectrum Health family practice specialist in Coopersville, Michigan, encourages patients to try more conservative treatments early on, with more substantial options introduced progressively.
“Billie Ann tried them all,” Dr. Brown said. “But when your activity becomes limited and affects your overall wellness, surgery may be the right option for you.”
Dr. Brown referred Primmer to the Spectrum Health Medical Group Orthopedics team. She went to an appointment at the Orthopedic Urgent Care Clinic in Grand Rapids the same day.
“I was in so much pain and I was losing mobility by the minute,” Primmer said.
Quality of life
In mid-November 2018, Primmer found herself sitting across from orthopedic surgeon Charles Sherry, DO, chief of adult reconstruction with Spectrum Health Medical Group.
“You know how some doctors always seem to have their hand on the doorknob?” Primmer said. “Not Dr. Sherry. He listened to me and educated me on what needed to happen.”
Dr. Sherry described the cause of Primmer’s hip pain: a condition called primary osteoarthritis, which can degrade the joint. It is the most common cause of hip arthritis.
“Billie Ann’s pain was debilitating,” Dr. Sherry said. “And so we talked about how to improve her quality of life.”
In Primmer’s case, that would involve hip replacement, or arthroplasty, a surgical procedure in which the doctor removes the diseased parts of the joint and replaces them with artificial parts.
“Hip replacement surgery permanently fixes the problem of arthritis and it restores mobility without pain,” Dr. Sherry said.
Primmer underwent the procedure on Nov. 21, 2018, at Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital. The surgery lasted about 1 1/2 hours.
“For me, I know anesthesia takes a long time to leave my body,” Primmer said. “I knew that from previous surgeries, so it took me longer to get moving again after surgery. I had to be able to walk at least 150 feet with a walker before I was allowed to go home.”
A friendly visit
Primmer had two weeks of home care for her new hip before progressing to physical therapy in Grand Haven.
“I was able to start swimming every day, which I had done with my knee surgeries as well,” she said. “And that felt good.”
She used a stationary bike to build endurance, as well as spending time on stair climbing and balance exercises.
Her biggest lesson? “Not to compare my progress to others,” Primmer said.
“I had a cousin undergo similar surgery who got better faster,” she said. “I don’t yet feel normal and stairs are still a struggle, but I am walking without a cane now. Dr. Sherry reminds me this is major surgery, after all.”
Coming from a family that has suffered from severe arthritis, including parents and grandparents, Primmer considers herself blessed.
“I know at this point it’s up to me,” she said. “I have to continue moving and doing the exercises and rest when I need to. I know I will eventually be completely back to myself.”
Primmer recently went on a cruise with her husband. She has gotten to catch up on all the birthdays and anniversaries and special occasions that hip pain forced her to miss.
When she returned from her trip, she scheduled a follow-up visit with Dr. Sherry.
“I haven’t wanted to hug a doctor in a long time,” Primmer said. “But I hugged Dr. Sherry. He’s given me my life back—and that means the world to me.”