Squeaky hips leave customers' noses out of joint

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When I was a kid, my favorite Wizard of Oz character was the Tin Man. The Lion was furry, but obnoxious, and the Scarecrow was nice, but a little too spastic. Toto was a yappy little dog and Dorothy was a girl and everyone else was just too damn weird looking. The Tin Man, though, was warm and caring, could blow steam out of his head, and made all kinds of fun sounds. He was just too damn cool.

I thought about the Tin Man recently because of some problems that Stryker Orthopaedics has been having with some of its replacement hips. Apparently, the company has a line of ceramic-lined hips that are guaranteed to last far longer than conventional plastic hips.

On the bright side, the hips have, thus far, lived up to their promise: in most cases, they are showing far less wear-and-tear than their plastic competitors. On the down side, 1-7% of these implants have developed an obnoxious squeak. Unlike the Tin Man, however, Stryker's customers can't get rid of their squeaks with a precise application of oil; they need to get their hips replaced again, a costly and intense surgical procedure with tons of potential complications.On one level, this seems pretty funny. After all, most of Stryker's squeakers aren't feeling any pain from their squeaking joints, nor are they suffering from dislocation, infection, or any of the other life-threatening problems that are often associated with prosthetic installation. The replacements are still good, and will probably continue to function for decades to come. On the other hand, after listening to the sound of a squeaking hip, I realized that this is no laughing matter. Having to constantly hear the sound of a chalkboard every time I walk would drive me crazy. Add in the fact that, as one patient complained, "it can interrupt sex when my wife starts laughing," and you've got a real quality-of-life issue here.

Hopefully, I've got a few years before this becomes an issue for me; one of the best parts of being a member of "Generation X" is that I've got the whole "Baby Boomer" cadre standing in front of me, waiting to work out the kinks on any new technology. That having been said, I hope that Stryker can find a way to square things with its hip customers!

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. He is hoping that brain transplant surgery is a reality by the time he's in his eighties.

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