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The Miracle Operation That Enabled Me to Become An Anti-war Activist

By JoanWile - Posted on 20 October 2010

by Joan Wile, founder, Grandmothers Against the War and Founding Member of the Granny Peace Brigade
author, "Grandmothers Against the War:
Getting Off Our Fannies and Standing Up for Peace" (Citadel Press, 2008)

When I was 72 years old, I felt like 100. Now that I am 79, I feel like 35 (well, most of the time). What caused this turnaround? The scuttling of an arthritic old left hip and its replacement with one made of cobalt chrome and polyethelene.

I had been suffering for more than a year with lots of pain which gradually immobilized me to the point where I couldn't walk more than a quarter of a block without having to sit down. A normally active person, this was, to put it conservatively, a decided nuisance. I visited the eminent New York orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Phillip Bauman, who informed me that I would ultimately require the replacement surgery, but that it was up to me to decide when. Being an inveterate coward, I kept postponing it even long after the miserable old bone had become intensely painful to keep in my body. Finally, the discomfort and inconvenience became great enough to overcome my bounteous lack of courage, and I scheduled the surgery.

Dr. Bauman is right out of Central Casting. He is slim and handsome with just enough gray hair peppered among its darker neighbors to add a big dose of distinction. He is soft-spoken, sympathetic and reassuring. His stellar reputation helped a great deal to give me the guts to undertake the cure. I knew he had operated successfully on many of our great ballet dancers, and I saw that he had been chosen for many years as one of New York Magazine's 100 Best Doctors in New York. How could I go wrong?

Well, I couldn't. The surgery was relatively untraumatic, and I recovered quickly with little pain. In five or six weeks I was walking without a cane and without discomfort. From a crippled old woman, I had materialized into an active young woman again. I asked myself, as does practically every hip replacement veteran who postpones surgery beyond a reasonable time, "Why on earth didn't I do this sooner and spare myself all that agony?"

Within a year of my operation, on March 20, 2003, the United States conducted its immoral and unjustified Shock and Awe assault on Baghdad. Like so many other right-minded people, I marched in protests prior to the actual attack -- MARCHED, mind you, inconceivable without my new hip -- and then, once the war was an awful reality, became a full-time anti-war advocate.

A few months after we invaded Iraq, I saw a photograph in TIME Magazine of a 14-year-old boy, Ali, who had lost his arms, was hideously burned all over his torso, and, as if that weren't enough torment for a child to endure, lost his entire nuclear family -- his parents and many siblings. These tragedies were caused, to our eternal shame, by OUR bombs.

I thought, "I have to DO something." And, I did. I started a group, Grandmothers Against the War, and initiated a rally at the Eleanor Roosevelt Statue in Manhattan's Riverside Park. Next, I began a vigil on Fifth Avenue in front of Rockefeller Center on a freezing January day in 2004, which continues every Wednesday to this day. It began with just two of us and now has escalated to an average of 15-20 people. I could never have possibly even considered such an action prior to my surgery. There is just no way I could have stood on my feet for an hour and done the walking necessary to get to and from the vigil site.

Our next big event was the arrest of 18 of us grandmothers, our jailing and subsequent six-day trial in criminal court for attempting to enlist in the military at the Times Square recruiting center. We were arrested because, denied entrance to the recruiting station, we all sat down on the concrete ground and refused to move, knowing we were within our Constitutional rights to peacefully dissent. Even with my artificial hip, getting down on the ground was a laborious effort. Getting up was even more problematic. I looked like an ungainly elephant as I untangled myself from the ground and clumsily pulled myself up. But, because of my faux new hip, I did it! Sitting in jail later for five hours on a hard wooden bench would have been unthinkable, also, with my old diseased hip. I tell you, that surgery really opened up new vistas in my life! After all, who wouldn't want the fascinating experience of being incarcerated in a prison cell? Incidentally, we were acquitted of all charges. The whole episode created quite a media stir.

I was able to participate in many activities -- song-and-dance performances by us grannies in shows we created; a trip to Berlin to give speeches to peace groups; a ten-day trek from New York to Washington DC with stops along the way at various cities and towns; marches across the Brooklyn Bridge, and many other endeavors requiring LEGS and, therefore, HIPS. By the grace of the good Doctor Bauman, I was able to do all this.

I wasn't the only granny in my group to have a hip replacement. Three others had them, and one, Beverly Rice, had a double hip replacement in one surgery. All recovered well and have marched, protested, stood for long hours, and gone to jail without any physical limitation whatsoever.

There are now 500,000 hip replacement surgeries performed in a year, a huge increase since 1990, when there were 119,000. In Dr. Bauman's vast experience, for instance, he has performed hundreds of such operations. Though it has been reported recently that certain implants have been found to be faulty and are being recalled, Dr. Bauman fortunately never used any of the deficient ones. The increase in such miracle surgeries is attributable, of course, to the fact that so many people are living longer. And, the Baby Boomers, now entering their 50's and 60's, are requiring this type of surgery in large numbers, perhaps because of the exercise and fitness craze indulged in by that generation which wears out joints more rapidly than previous generations with their less physically active life styles. And, even people of advanced ages can have their hips replaced. Dr. Bauman did so recently on an 85-year-old person.

Many complain about the failures of medicine, and its pitfalls. Yes, it is deplorable that there still is no cure for cancer, for Alzheimer's, for ALS, and a slew of other awful diseases. Yes, it is terrible that so many deaths occur in hospitals because of mistakes in medications, and rampant staph infections.

But, modern medicine has made stupendous strides forward, too. Were it not for this advance in orthopedic surgery, I would now be living in a wheelchair, loaded up with painkillers and anti-inflammatories, cranky from pain and restless inactivity. The fact is, Dr. Bauman gave me back my life. In fact, he enabled me to start a new life I had never contemplated. I am able to do what I consider my patriotic duty and go out on the streets to oppose the misguided foreign policies of my government. At this stage of my life, that feels damned good.


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