Hip, Hip, Hooray!

Pop Quiz. What’s this?hip-prosthesis No cheating.

Chances are, you probably said it was a trailer hitch, gear-shift knob, or a hip replacement prosthesis. If you said C.) prosthetic hip, you’re right! If you find yourself in need of one of these little babies, you can expect them to set you back about $7000 each. I’ve got a pair. They cost me considerably less.

Fascinating anecdote. A guy I work with is from India, and when I showed these off, he mentioned that his mother had hers replaced back in India. The cost of her prosthesis? About $4000, because they sell them for less over there, since people can’t afford to pay as much. The cost of the surgery itself? $450. Hip replacement is not a trivial procedure. Why so cheap? That’s just what the going rate is over there. Thus, India has recently become something of a mecca for surgical tourism, like Thailand has been for years. Over the past several decades, a huge number of Indians have received western educations, and brought their skills back to India, to improve conditions there, educate citizens there, provide medical care more cheaply, and still make enough money at it to create an industry around cutting edge surgical tourism. The prosthesis cost nearly *10 times* the cost of the operation and recovery, and that was the discounted price. I guaranfuckingtee you this thing didn’t cost thousands of dollars to make. I got mine for $40.

So, how do they work? Well, I hope you’re not squeamish. First they cut you open, and dislocate your hip, so they can get to the exposed ball on the end of your femur. Then they lop it off. Don’t worry, they’re making you better, faster, stronger. Next they drill a hole down the center of the bone, and they hammer the spike on the prosthesis into that hole. This is not a gentle process, but if they hammer too hard, they risk splintering the bone, then you’re hosed. They either use a special cement to keep the spike in there, or in newer prosthetics, they scuff up the surface, making it porous, or sometimes even include holes, so the bone can grow into it, fixing it in place more firmly. Then they scrape the cartilage out of the joint, and replace it with a fancy plastic cup, presumably not made by Dixie. They pop the joint back into place, sew you up, and you’re off to the races — in 6-8 weeks.


Implanted prosthetics like this are made of a special titanium/vanadium/chromium alloy. Interestingly, the shiny bits at the end, aren’t chrome plating. In fact, it’s not electroplated at all, it’s electropolished. What’s that? Well, in electroplating, you deposit a thin coating of a different metal on the surface. In electropolishing, you’re ablating the surface, plucking away the jaggy bits until you’re left with an ultra-smooth surface. It’s sorta the reverse of electroplating, but in a specially controlled way. The last thing you’d want is little chips of chrome flaking off inside yer fancy new hip joint. Polishing is the only way to go, and electropolishing doesn’t involve placing mechanical stresses on the surface to polish it, which would weaken its crystalline structure on an atomic level, at the surface, precisely where it needs to be strongest in order to resist corrosion, scarring, and prevent things from growing into it like the spike on the bottom.

They’re hollow inside, which surprised me a little, but it makes perfect sense, presumably to reduce the weight as much as possible. They’re the real thing, with serial numbers and everything. They couldn’t be used anymore, because they’ve been a little scuffed up on the surface after being banged into each other, and otherwise handled. They’re still pretty shiny, but not perfect anymore. I wonder how much it would cost to get them re-electropolished?

I’m not really sure why these particular ones ended up in my hands, instead of a patient. Perhaps they were samples or something. The guy I got them from originally had a dozen of them, but was selling them like hotcakes to people who were using them as fancy gearshift levers. He had two left when I got there, so I took ’em both. One guy who actually had a prosthetic hip had a cane made out of one. Props to that guy. I might do something similar, I’m not sure yet. If I put it into a cane, it might not be very clear what it really is anymore, unless I mounted it sideways or something. I’ve got two, so what the hell? Why not keep one as a display item, and make something kickass with the other? Now, to think of something suitably awesome…Raptor claws? There’s gotta be something better that still preserves it’s own character.

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3 thoughts on “Hip, Hip, Hooray!

  1. I had my left hip resurfaced (not replaced) in November of 2008 and I am doing great. The procedure I had is called Birmingham Hip Resurfacing (BHR). Lots of Americans have had that surgery in India, partly because of cost, as you pointed out, and partly because the FDA took a long time to approve the procedure. I am grateful that option was available when I was ready for surgery because a THR, quite frankly, sounded too creepy for me to consider. (I do think the gear shift idea is hilarious, though.)

  2. this site is a very interesting combo of cool and creepy. nice to know my interests are not as odd as I thought they were.

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