I was climbing up a high ladder at the Duncan United Church recently to get a picture of the new solar panels that were being installed when I became very wary of where I was.
I was a little surprised by my discomfort because, as a younger man, I spent some time working with a roofer and it was part of the job to climb ladders with heavy stacks of shingles over my shoulder.
I had planned to get up on the roof of the church where the workmen were installing the panels, get the pictures I needed and then head back down the ladder.
But, instead, I got just high enough on the ladder to take the pictures without having to climb onto the roof and slowly made my way back down to the safe ground.
It has been many years since I climbed a ladder, but I’m pretty sure I know the reason why I found my short time on one so scary.
In 2015, after a physically painful and challenging year and a half of doctors trying to pinpoint exactly why I was having so much trouble walking and raising my legs just a few inches off the ground, they finally figured out that both of my hips had deteriorated to the point that they couldn’t figure out how I was able to stand up at all.
I was immediately put on the emergency fast-track list for hip replacement surgery, which meant I ONLY had to wait through another seven months of misery before there was any light at the end of the tunnel.
But at least the medical system finally knew what we were dealing with.
I spent the next seven months in pain and hobbling along with a cane both anticipating the upcoming surgery and terrified of it.
(I know I’m digressing but I will eventually get to the point where I explain why I’m uncomfortable on a ladder.)
So, seven months later, I finally found myself in a hospital in Vancouver where, I was told, the best hip doctor in the province was going to do a double-hip replacement in the same surgery.
The specialist, whose name currently eludes me, said it was rare for anyone to have both hips replaced at the same time, but I was in such a condition that there was no choice.
I had to go to a class at the hospital for people having joint-replacement surgery the day before my operation to explain what was expected, and as I entered the classroom, the doctor leading the class stood up, announced who I was and told everyone how brave I was for having a double-hip surgery.
At that point, I certainly didn’t feel very brave and what little confidence I had was quickly evaporating as I realized the other patients were looking at me as if I was going to be tortured.
The whole procedure took almost four hours and when I woke up afterwards, it felt like someone had rammed two pieces of rebar down my legs.
I was amazed and mortified when, just a few hours after that, a physical therapist was at my bedside telling me to get up and we were going to walk down the hall together.
I thought he was kidding at first, but he explained that they used to let people recuperate a few days after joint surgery before physical therapy began and discovered that waiting hindered the healing process.
So off we went down the hallway with me hanging off the therapist with my bum sticking out the back of the hospital robe I had on trying to learn to walk all over again.
I’m perfectly fine now, but (and this is finally why I don’t like climbing ladders) having metal hips seems to have left a certain amount of disconnection between the bottom parts of my legs and the rest of my body, which causes me to question my balance when in precarious positions like on ladders or on slanted roofs.
But I’d much rather that than have to go through all the misery again.
Robert Barron is a news reporter for the Cowichan Valley Citizen.